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Jul. 10th, 2013


Boosting the signal for one of my favorite people

My great friend Elizabeth Leggett (Or, as she's known here on the rare occasions that she posts, archway has, over the last year, created a beautiful set of paintings conceived as a Tarot deck. To bring her art into the envisioned form of a physical deck, she is running a Kickstarter campaign. Go take a look! I've been watching this for the last year as she painted each piece, and I can't wait to see the finished product!

Jun. 21st, 2013

Glass Blowing

Glass, again!

Wednesday this week I had, I do believe, my best night ever at the glass studio. I made three bowls, all of which included both color and cane, and this time I trusted the process and it worked!! (This is in contrast to last week, where the best piece of the night was ruined in the last 30 seconds, because I didn't trust myself to finish it off right, so I chose an alternate method which in fact was a) unnecessary, and b) proved to be the downfall of the piece of glass).

My glassblowing buddy didn't fare so well, his 2nd & 3rd pieces didn't make it. We've been told on several occasions that a piece of glass isn't beyond salvage until it's shattered on the floor. (sometimes it'll drop off the iron but won't shatter; you can sometimes pick it up and keep working at that point). Well, he lost two pieces in succession that way: they came off the iron and shattered when they hit the ground. (Until then, though, they were doing really well!)

Behind the cut are pictures of the 4 pieces I made last week:Collapse )

In this week's ventures, I made two more bowls just like this last one, but they *didn't* break (or at least, I'm pretty sure they weren't going to), and then I made a third bowl with cane in it (not Michelle's cane, just other stuff that I had) that didn't go at all as I had planned, but turned out pretty cool all the same. Because it hadn't gone according to plan, I played with it. I took the opportunity to play with the shape some, and flared it out into what I believe is called a "handkerchief bowl", something with a rippling shape reminiscent of a falling handkerchief. I also put a delicate spiral of glass running all the way from bottom to top of the piece! That's one of the more collaborative moves that requires a lot of work on the part of my glass buddy, since he needs to do a lot of work to prepare the glass I'm going to use to make the spiral while I get the piece ready to receive it. It went off pretty well, though, and one of the students taking a class that the studio was teaching at the same time we were in there working took a couple photos of it.

Hidden, because I love you and want to be kind to your friends page!Collapse )

I'll post pictures of this week's finished pieces as soon as I get them back!

Jun. 19th, 2013


Not all jobs, for sure, but sometimes...

In my weird world of IT contracting, it's easy to switch jobs often, it's easy to find work that sounds fun, and it's REALLY easy to find work that, once you get into the routine, will bore you off your ass. I know a lot of people who are miserable in their jobs because they've become bored.

With some of them that I work with, I see that they're miserable because they've *allowed* themselves to become bored, not merely because the job is boring.

I had a few jobs that were completely unchallenging, unrewarding, and uninteresting. But I was able to turn those jobs into something I loved, because I found ways to add extra dimensions to what I did, found ways to make it meaningful, or helpful, or useful, or somehow otherwise worthwhile. (I've also been phenomenally lucky, and had an unreasonable number of jobs that were easy to love without my having to try at it. I admit that. But it doesn't change what I learned about the other kind, too!)

If you have a job that you don't like because it's unrewarding or you're bored, You just might be able to find ways to make it better.

Jun. 13th, 2013

Glass Blowing

Back in the Gaffer's seat

The Gaffer is, in this case, the one driving when we're making something in the glass studio.

I got back to the glass studio last night for the first time in what I think might be 8 months, and rather than the potentially horrendous night of failed piece after failed piece, we knocked out 7 pieces between the two of us (2 paperweights and 5 vessels), and all of them went pretty much perfectly.

Alas, I think that the final piece that I made isn't going to make it through the annealing process (wherein the glass is slowly cooled down to room temperature). I made the bottom of the piece a little too thin for my comfort, and so I wanted to break off the little bit of glass holding it to the metal punty iron by dripping water on the glass-to-be-discarded so it would shatter easily. Instead, the water made it all the way to the thin bottom of my bowl, and cracked it instead :-( A network of 5 cracks erupted from the center of the piece. I aimed a blowtorch on it for perhaps a minute or two to try to get some of the cracks to mend, but I am unconvinced that it will work... but I can hope. It's one of the coolest bowls I've made so far, employing both a layer of color AND the inclusion of some swirly lengths of color (cane) supplied by my friend Michelle, who does glass beads and things of that size (she has a rockin' collection of sea creatures, and at this point TAs the sea creatures class at Corning) on a torch setup.

Pictures when I get the pieces back, but I'm very happy with how it all went!

Jun. 10th, 2013


The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

Jun. 9th, 2013


Sequestration: Now, I'm job hunting.

As I'm sure you've heard a lot about if you live as close to Washington, DC as I do, the federal budget's Sequestration circus is causing a lot of people some heartache. Some (idiotic) members of Congress were "shocked and appalled" that cutting back the budget of the FAA meant long delays at major airports, and claimed that they had been taken completely unawares -- despite some pretty accurate and widely broadcast warnings of precisely that consequence, so I think they've got nothing to blame but their heads being stuck far enough up their own asses for not knowing what effects their (lack of) actions would have. Me, I've only had a few airline snags, and no delays lasting longer than 3 hours, the worst of which was due to snow in the midwest rather than the FAA's shortage of folks to push tin.

What happened a few weeks ago, though, was more exciting, but not in a good way, and a lot more personal. I'm a contractor, which means I work for one company - a Raytheon-owned technology firm - either uses me to fill a job on a contract that they've won, or they rent me out to someone else looking to do the same. For the last ~3 years I've been working on a contract that Northrop Grumman won (they're called the Prime Contractor, in this case) and Raytheon submits applications from Raytheon employees for them to use (Raytheon's the Sub-Contractor in this arrangement). People have come and gone, how much money is available for various work shifts due to changes in the priorities and funds from whomever is paying for the work we're doing... and then a few weeks ago Tuesday, me and 130 other folks get the word: "Thanks, it's been grand, clean out your desks tomorrow, and good luck."

Each company has its own way of handling such a situation. Most of them want to keep their employees -- they believe in the investment they've made in their people and believe that they benefit from longevity of the workforce -- but how long they'll pay someone who isn't earning the employer a profit varies. Some will keep you on "the bench" for a couple weeks, some for a few months, and some will keep you for a day or two while they try to find a new contract position for you. After your bench time runs out, though, then you have to find something outside the company, because they're not investing any more money in keeping you around as an available asset.

Three years ago, when I left my first company, I was hired by a company named Seismic. when I joined up they numbered ~180, and it was a small-feeling place: everyone knew everyone, there was no anonymity of passing and nodding at someone in the hall, and it felt like everyone cared about each other. A month or three after that Seismic joined forces with AST and Pyxis under the combined name of AST at ~1000 people, and it felt a lot looser -- three unfamiliar groups of people who didn't know each other, all thrown together, all frustrated by trying to get their health care and email systems coordinated, trying to lean a new department head and VP... I didn't like it as much, but I can't say that anything went substantially down hill. A few months after that, though, AST was bought in whole by Raytheon (~80,000 people), and we became R-AST: bogged down by all the anonymous "This is how we do things" crap, in addition to all the nice work I got to do.

Back in the Seismic days I'd have had a few months on the bench. I'd have looked at job descriptions, worked with my manager and with HR to get submitted to those positions, perhaps taken some classes or certifications in the meantime. But under the new layers of management at Raytheon and the (in my opinion) short-sighted (read: crappy) decisions made by some of them, I had no time whatsoever that the company coule carry me. It took a day or three for the paperwork to go through, but essentially from the day I came off contract, Raytheon didn't have the cash to pay me while they looked for a new spot for me to work. they'd cover my benefits for 90 days, but if I got a paycheck it was because they were digesting my accumulated vacation days from the last three years to make the money appear, and when that ran out I'd be high and dry.

Well. You can imagine that loyal as I am -- and if you don't know me in person, I'm pretty damned loyal -- knowing what the prospects looked like at Raytheon, I started talking to other companies, too. Last time I was suddenly off a contract I was scared and flailing: minimal experience, few contacts, no idea how the job-hunting game was played. When I changed companies a few years ago and went to work for Seismic, a few more people knew me and knew that I was looking around at new opportunities, and I got something like three or four offers. This time I spread my resume out to perhaps a half-dozen people the night I was told my contract was ending the next day. In 24 hours I had one contingent offer and contacts from a dozen more folks than I'd initially talked with. In 48 hours I had a list of ~20 companies that I'd had conversations with. Two days after that (plus a weekend) I had three dozen companies I'd talked with, and a week after that I had six contingent job offers and three more interviews scheduled.

A contingent job offer is an odd thing. A company decides they're interested in hiring you -- but only IF they can find a contract for you to work on. So you sign a piece of paper that says they'll hire you for sure if you can get on one of their contracts, which then gives them permission to submit your resume to the contract positions that they have available. It's bad news if multiple companies submit the same person for the same contract, so you need to pick and choose which companies are allowed to try to place you on which contracts, but the important part is that none of it counts for anything until you interview for a contract position -- and the people you're interviewing with don't work for your company, they work for the contract and interview people from dozens of different companies. So, when I had half a dozen contingent job offers, it didn't mean anything more than that I had at least half a dozen interviews getting set up so that each of those companies could try to make a profit off of me.

Two weeks into my job hunt I heard back from a very busy guy who I worked with for the last few years. He and I had a half-hour conversation just before midnight where we talked about his company and the work they were interested in me doing. The next morning I had a firm job offer -- not contingent on finding me a contract, just that they wanted to hire me ASAP -- and the day after that I informed Raytheon of my resignation and sent my regrets to the companies I'd been having conversations with during my job hunt.

The new company, WaveFront Technologies, is ~100 people strong. It feels close and friendly, it's been doing solid business for something like 17 years, and I know a few of the people that work there and I trust that the place will continue to feel good for a while longer. I'm teaching myself new skills while we try to get me onto a contract position that I'll be really excited about if I make it, and I'm working with my new manager whenever there are questions in either direction (from me to him, or from him to me). I was in no way looking for a new branch in my career, but I am thrilled with how this ended up, and I can't wait to see what happens next!

May. 2nd, 2013


Well, that sure felt good...

I've been hammered at work lately. (Lots of work to do, I'm not drinking on the job!) When I joined the team nearly three years ago I was the junior member of 6 people. Now, I'm the only one who is left on my contract, and my former boss is able to help me out a little, but mainly I'm now doing nearly *everything* for half of the computer systems we handle, instead of doing 1/6 of the work on each of the systems. As such, I haven't been getting out to go climbing much lately -- usually I'm there on Mondays, but Wednesday and Friday I often miss the climbing gym for one reason or another.

Today, I got out of work at the climbing gym. I didn't climb, I didn't have a partner or the strong desire, but I did need to get some exercise in. I'd planned to walk around the neighborhood for an hour or two after work, but because I escaped work at ~9:30 I decided to use the machines instead. 25 minutes on the exercise bike with a faster pacer than I've used in the past, with good results. I gave myself a minute of recovery/stretching/water, and then decided to check out the rowing machine, which I've never used before, but have seen other people on for a minute or two. Ten minutes later I had figured out a nice easy sustainable pace: I did 2km sustaining a pace of 2:16/500m with only a second or two of variation, and I liked the way it felt! And because it uses a fan as the resistance, I had a real nice breeze the whole time, too :-)

Then, the extra fun part. A while back, lilwolfgirl22 posted a video of a guy holding one of those big platter/disc weights by gripping the edge, flipping it up in the air, and catching it by the opposite edge. I gave it a shot once before, perhaps a month ago, and the hardest part was getting the timing on the flip of the weight right. Today, it went great: I did a 35# platter 5x in each hand twice, then a 25# weight ~10x in each hand, and then a 15# weight in each hand for 30-40 seconds. A rather wiry dude doing a little light weight work in the same room looked me up and down (I'm not exactly the poster boy for a rock climbing gym, or any kind of gym!) and asked if I also broke rocks with my bare hands in my spare time, with that kind of grip strength. I laughed and told him that wouldn't be very nice to the rocks! One of the folks that works at the gym was coming through to clean up the equipment (this was just before closing) and heard the exchange, and asked me if I was scaring the members... all in all, it pleased and entertained me a great deal. As I said, I'm not exactly what you expect to see in a gym, whereas most of the people who climb and work out there are really well-muscled and have much less 'insulation' than I do. Getting noticed (in a good way) makes me feel kind of awesome :-)

My food tracking is going beautifully. I've added a few more stats: rolling 30-day averages, and a monthly average so I can see not just the how-it's-going-without-all-the-bumps-and-squiggles, but also have a good visual cue for how things are progressing every period of time. I've been slowly creeping up in how much I eat, corresponding to how much working out I've been doing, and how much I'm capable of doing in cardio, and how my body is changing shape (even if my weight still hasn't budged in 16 months). So while initial estimates of my BMR were around 3100 calories, I'm now thinking that I'm up around 3750 calories a day. (when I started tracking, my average intake was ~1900 a day, now I'm up to about 3000 a day. So 16 months ago I was burning off ~1200 calories a day, and right now I'm down to burning off only about 750 calories a day. My belt continues to need new holes, though, and even when the belt stays steady, the way the rest of the pants fits continues to change!)

So, that's how things are going in my world of health these days. A little rambly, but I don't really have much of a point. I just had a really good evening.

Apr. 3rd, 2013


Sneaky exercise... I win?

I feel like Buttercup post-wedding in The Princess Bride, when she's baffled that she's married. She didn't intend for it to happen, it just sort of.. happened.

I've never really liked cardiovascular exercise. I don't like to run, it makes me huff and puff and get out of breath. For half the year or more, that triggers a really mild asthma attack, and I wheeze (mildly) for hours afterward. But January of 2012 I made a few decisions about my health and my body, and I've been sticking to them as much as physically possible ever since:

1. Log everything I eat every day (this makes me think about it, and therefore only eat what I'm willing to admit that I ate. So, I only eat when hungry, which is way better than not thinking about it at all and eating a LOT MORE, which has been my pattern for years!).

2. Really actually go to the climbing gym thrice per week, unless I really actually can't.

3. Every day I'm at the climbing gym, do 30 minutes on the treadmill (walking!!).

It's worked out pretty well -- I've babbled about it before -- but at some point months in to this routine, I realized that while I'd started off wanting to get off the treadmill before 10 minutes was up and *forcing* myself to stay on for half an hour, eventually I had to remind myself to stop at 1 hour and get my butt on the climbing wall. My stamina went up, and with it, my enjoyment.

I broke my foot and had to take a while off. I got the 2-week-long flu and had to take many more weeks off to let my lungs recover. Yesterday I had a good night of climbing, tomorrow I'll be climbing too, but I got there Monday late enough that I had NO time for cardio, and so after a really long tough day at work I headed to the climbing gym: 30 minutes on the bike, and then a water break followed by 45 minutes on the treadmill. Stretching a LOT after. And you know what? I felt completely wonderful.

This is a way I never expected this kind of exercise to make me feel. And I really like it. I'm sure this is tied in large part to how much my body (appearance and ability) has changed in the last 15 months. I'm excited to see how things continue as I, too, continue!

Mar. 31st, 2013

Music Is Life

I may have outgrown iTunes...

Hi, my name is Benjamin, and I have way too much music.

585.86 GB of tunes. 107,925 songs. 325 days of music. If I pushed play as the ball dropped on Newyears, the last song in my collection would finish playing some time on November 21st.

When you've got that much music, iTunes has trouble thinking about all of it at once. It probably doesn't help that I have a computer with a not-all-that-huge internal harddrive, so my music is actually stored in a larger-capacity external drive. That means that it stops spinning when it hasn't been used recently (I get to define what "recently" means, and so it shuts down pretty quick after I'm done listening to music, to drastically increase the lifetime of the drive), which means that there's a delay of a handful of seconds the first time I touch the program after I've left it alone for a while. I'm okay with that, but ... the delays get bad.

I'm pretty sure that iTunes just isn't cut out to think about as many songs as I've got in it right now. Most people can sync their iTunes and iPod with no trouble. The biggest iPod they make right now is a 160GB device, which holds about 1/4 of my music. Mine is only 60GB -- I hardly even use it any more, now that my commute is so short! But the inability of iTunes to even let me type in the name of an artist or song for it to search for without a 15-second spinning-wheel-of-potential-doom is kind of frustrating. An update came out recently that showed a marked improvement... but now, as I was doing some stuff today, adding new albums I just bought at a concert last night, it was back to its previous slowness. I wish it scaled up better than this... I'd like to love it as much as I used to.

Today I tried to burn an MP3 cd, and I got an error that all the files I were trying to put on the disc couldn't be put on an MP3 cd because they're not MP3s. (I rip my CDs to a higher-quality compression format called M4A, better sound than MP3.) I thought it would be easy to convince iTunes to do the task anyhow, but it's a completely unnecessarily irritating process:
--Select MP3 as the format iTunes will now import CDs as (even though I don't want to import things as MP3s)
--Select the tracks I want to put on the MP3 CD (That's easy, I made a playlist just to make this easy!)
--Right-click and select "Convert to MP3 format" (Before completing step 1 a moment ago, I could only have converted to the higher-quality M4A format that they are already in!)
--Note that none of the tracks in the playlist are MP3s, they're all the original M4A files
--Go to the album itself in iTunes and note that there are two copies of each track. One's a M4A, one's the newly created MP4. Two copies of track 1, then two copies of track 2.... and not a single thing to indicate the difference between them unless I summon the detailed information on each.
--Note that the MP3 is not reliable in whether it's the first or second copy of each song. *Grrrr...*
--Pick out each individual MP3 copy of the songs I want to burn to CD, and drop them each into a new playlist
--Burn the damned disc.

If I had listed my expectations for how this routine would go, there'd be a couple options.
**I'd be able to convert any tile to any format without having to change my selected format for importing a new CD
**MP3 versions of files that used to be a different format would have a tag on them so at a glance I'd know which was which
**If I got a "These files aren't MP3s!" error when trying to burn an MP3 cd from an otherwise acceptable playlist, there'd be a button to click that would create temporary MP3 format copies of the songs, burn the damned disc, and then throw away the unneeded files. Seriously! Is this such a stretch?

It's sometimes frustrating being a technology engineer saddled with not-as-good-as-I-want-it-to-be technology from one of the companies that advertises itself as one of the best technology companies in the world.

Mar. 29th, 2013


My life as an engineer

In the very odd work of engineering contracting, I work for one company (A) who in turn rents me out to a different, competing company (B). At Company B I work on a team of half a dozen people, some of whom work for B and some from other companies like mine (C, D).

The work my team does is paid for by two contracts, Y and Z. Company B is in charge of the work for both of those contracts, so a manager from B is who hands down the orders for who does what.

Contract Y is ending, and Contract X is beginning. The work covered by contracts (Y+Z) is the same as what's covered by (X+Z). However, Contract X isn't part of Company B, it was won by a bid from Company E! Company E didn't want to hire folks from A, B, C, or D, though. And since the work is kind of specialized, it's tough to find someone who hasn't been working on this stuff for a year or two already who would just be able to be assigned to the project and start being useful and productive real fast. (It takes ~6 months to learn enough to be really good at this).

Once E figured out that none of its inexperienced people were going to be able to learn their jobs fast enough, they started scrambling to hire anyone they could from A, B, C, and D. But some people actually have company loyalty, and so eventually E had to make agreements with the other companies to rent out their people like B rents me from A.

My team has been shrinking, as people head off for other opportunities. I still kind of work with some of them, but in the last year the team has shrunk from 6 to 3.

This week, the other two guys on my team transition from contract Y to contract X. I'm still on contract Z. And suddenly, I'm the ONLY person in my team, working on Z. Everyone else doing the same thing as me has gone to contract X.

This is a little scary. I'm an engineer, not a department manager. I don't really love doing managerial things... I really like doing engineerial things instead. (It's why I'm an engineer! Go figure...) As before, all the work (X+Z) is all the same work as before, so I'll continue working with the guys who have been on my team, but there's a slightly odd divide between the X and Z contracts, and the way that the work is divided up is a little odd to us too. But, whatever, we'll get it all done.

Now, I need to start attending the daily department planning meetings. Used to be that the head of my team went to them, and we all got our daily marching orders from him. Now... it's just me. It's not like I've leveled up, the old head of the team was in a first-among-equals position rather than a higher=ranking one. But still, it's a change of mindset.

The other part of this transition is that when there were three of us on the team, we each could do everything, but we also each had specializations. I've spent the last 2 years working on one part of the process, and doing only very little amounts of the rest of it. Ditto with the other two guys -- they worked together do to the other 2/3 of the process, but relied on me to do pretty much all of my 1/3. So now, they get a crash course in doing "my" stuff (while I help them through) and I get a crash course in doing "theirs". Luckily for me, in the years that I've been working here, I've filled up 5 1/2 250-page notebooks with everything I've learned and everything I've done, on a daily basis. So, I've got more than a little bit of reference material for how to do... um... everything I've ever had to do, even once.

Well, there are my work-related brain-droppings for the day.

Mar. 17th, 2013


Pirate Swing: What I spent my week doing in Ann Arbor, MI!

As you may or may not know, I'm a swing dancer. I started dancing back in my freshman year of college, because I saw some high school friends doing it and it looked like fun, and a week or three later asked if anyone in our crowd wanted to sign up for dance classes at the university arts center. One of the classes on the pamphlet she had was Swing/Tango/Foxtrot (I wanted to learn swing dancing) and so I was in! I had a blast, started dancing several times a week, dragging along everyone I could get to come with me, and in general totally loving it.

The next year, I made a new friend Jesse, and introduced to dancing. She took to it with a vengeance, and we danced A LOT for a couple years. She surpassed me and started dancing with people better than me, and then graduated and went off to grad school in Ann Arbor, Michigan. There, she became heavily involved in the dancing scene, and ended up on the organization committees for a couple events in the area. Her boyfriend Zach also got into it (she took him dancing and he took to it -- it was a lot like how I got her started in undergrad!) and eventually the two of them decided to create and run their own event: Pirate Swing! And they asked me to help run it.

In (my edge of) the social dance world, there are several types of events (which differ greatly from dance competitions, and Im' not going to talk about). There are regional events, like local dances: a DJ or a band comes and plays at a venue, people in the area go there to dance if they want. There's an entry fee somewhere between $5 and $20 depending on the venue, music, and duration. There are Dance Exchanges, where for several days (such as a Friday afternoon through a Sunday night) there are 6 or 7 dances arranged, each with live or DJ'd music at a variety of venues in a local area (such as, around Washington, DC, or downtown Pittsburgh). There's a single fee ($50-$100) for the whole weekend, and people come from a 1-day-drive radius and sometimes fly in for the event. Typically locals volunteer to house folks who are traveling, so you only need a hotel if you really want one. Then, there's a workshop: also about three days long, but with lots of classes during the day and then dances in the evenings. Again, housing is a big thing. There are some number of instructors who will teach the workshop classes, and in general, the bigger / more expensive the workshop, the better & more famous the instructors are. Usually, if there's live music, the more expensive workshops will also have bigger-name bands. A workshop usually costs something between $65 and $250, depending on how big it is. People come from further away than you'd expect for these.

Pirate Swing is a workshop in Ann Arbor, MI. 2010 was out first year, and we had a little bit of experience in what we were doing, in large part because Jesse and Zach were so heavily involved in planning other events and running them already. We had about 135 people sign up, two live bands, 6 instructors, and a whole bunch of classes and dances. We had a (pirate-themed, of course) costume contest at the Saturday night dance where we gave the top winners passes to other swing dance events, and all in all everyone had a fantastic time.

Last weekend, I was back up in Ann Arbor, MI for Pirate Swing 4. Jesse and Zach now live near me in the Baltimore/DC area, so we drove up on Tuesday, which took approximately 9hrs, and then slept in, in anticipation of a lot of prep work about to come.

Wednesday: After a light breakfast of a couple ladles of squash soup and a half of a grilled cheese sandwich, I had one main task for the day: building shelves. As you may know, I'm rather good at designing and building shelves, I've got several walls of built-in shelves all over my house. For the dances at our Friday-night/Friday-late-night and Saturday-late-night venue, we knew that our registration numbers were substantially higher than last year, and so we knew we'd need to be more efficient in how people stowed their stuff at the dance. Usually there's a rim of chairs against the wall at this place, and people's stuff goes on/under some chairs. Then there's people sitting in the chairs, people walking around the edge of the room in front of the sitting people, then a ring of people standing getting ready to ask someone to dance (or waiting to be asked to dance), and THEN there's the dance floor. Well, that works ok up to a point, but we needed to use a lot more of the dance floor space as actual dancing real estate. So, no chairs, no stuff on/under chairs, and no people sitting in chairs. Instead, I made over 100 cubbies in three shelving units, and set them up in out-of-the-way locations in the dance venue. My design for the shelving units was a simple one that would let us break down / set up quickly and easily. Zach's dad (who lives up in Ann Arbor) had the lumber at his house when we arrived, and so my task for Wednesday was to turn all the raw lumber into shelving units that could be easily transported and assembled on Friday. It took about 6 hours in the workshop, but with some help from Zach acting as ballast, I pre-drilled the holes for every dowel and screw in every piece of wood I was going to use, and before our dinner of chicken we were ready to go with the shelves.

Thursday: Foodies who live near Ann Arbor, Michigan know about Zingerman's Deli. Foodies much further from there know it, too: I was accosted once in a store in downtown Pittsburgh by a guy who asked if, the next time I came back, I could bring him a sandwich (I was wearing a Zingerman's shirt at the time). Jesse and Zach and I went out to breakfast at Zingerman's on Thursday to power us for the long day ahead. If you go to a workshop like this, there's a bunch of event swag that goes along with it. Usually there's a t-shirt that you can buy, and Pirate Swing does that. We also give, to everyone that registers for the event, a bandanna with our logo for that year printed on it (the same design as the t-shirt). We picked up three large boxes of t-shirts and bandannas, and then headed onward to Office Depot for the annual Folding And Stapling Of The Brochures.

See, we have a 4-sheet / 16-page brochure that contains all of the information you need as an attendee for the event. What we do for an hour or two is take every set of 4 pages, staple them down the center, and then fold them over like a book. We had somewhere between 250 and 300 of these to do this year, and with a few sore muscles and minimal grumbling, we got them all stapled and folded in record time.

Then, we headed off to a community theatre we like, because they were going to lend us props! We walked out with three looks-like-they-washed-up-on-the-beach barrels, 4 antique lanterns, a treasure chest, a little globe of the earth on a funky swivel stand, a little rigged sailing ship, and a pair of steel manacles connected by a foot of chain. Perfect! These would all adorn the sigh-in table and might make it into some of the costume photos on Saturday's big dance. All of these fit into the car, along with the box of brochures and three boxes of t-shirts and bandannas, though Jesse had a few items piled on top of her in the back seat!

I had the evening off, and went to the local climbing gym with a friend of mine in the area, and her regular climbing crew. I didn't do too badly for myself, considering how little I've been climbing in the last few months. My grip was ok, grip stamina not as good as I'd have liked it to be. I'll be back on the wall at home soon, so I'm not too worried.

Friday: If you're going to have 250 dancers, a band, and 8 instructors, you're going to need to feed a lot of people. In general, registrants/attendees are responsible for their own food, but at the late-night dances we like to put out enough food that people can dance as late as they like. And since our Saturday late-night dances run until 5am... we thought we'd make sure that nobody that stuck around to dance that late went home hungry. We also have a dedicated staff person whose job it is to prepare meals for all of our instructors, from the time we pick them up at the airport to the time we drop them back off: breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks. It's a ton of food! So, as you might imagine... we bought a ton of food. The food went to the venue with the kitchen, and then I picked up a rental car -- from this point onward, I was going to need to be able to travel independently.

As soon as I had my car, I headed to the airport to pick up a pair of instructors and two attendees. The instructors, I dropped off at their host home for the weekend, and then the attendees came along with me to the dance venue, where they were going to be indentured servants ("volunteers") until the evening. We didn't work them too hard, though.

Our chef began preparing a pad thai feast for the evening for the instructors and band. We set up the registration table, complete with barrels and lanterns, and then as the hundreds of t-shirts that people had pre-ordered were set up for easy retrieval and distribution, I began to assemble the sets of storage cubbies I'd prepared the parts for on Wednesday.

Once the cubbies were ready, I rigged a few carabiners and some light-duty rock climbing gear from the scaffolding at the ceiling of the building, form which I could easily hoist our Pirate Swing flag, a 7'x5' rendition of our logo, hand-painted by the awesome artist that designed it for us, another local denizen and the artist for all of our previous events as well. (There's a Hoisting Of The Flag during the Friday evening dance as we officially kick off the festivities).

At some point in all of this, we got a phone call from the band. One of the members, the bass player, drove in and was already present. The other 4 were supposed to fly to Michigan from NYC, but got the news that their flights had been cancelled. Not delayed, but actually canceled. As soon as they heard that, they rented a car and headed our way with haste -- but there was no way they'd arrive by the appointed hour.

At 7:30pm, registration / check-in began. By 8 a lesson was underway, and at 9pm, instead of the band kicking off, we had some DJ music to get the evening started. At 10pm, Jesse and Zach and I performed our song, where we re-wrote the words to Paul & Storm's "The Captain's Wife's Lament" and created "The Housing Girl's Lament", a tale of woe where a LOT of dancers sleep over at one person's house and drive the housing coordinator crazy, all with the goal of making sure that everyone at the event who was either sleeping at someone's generously offered house/spare room/couch/floor, or who was offering such space, knew who to talk to (Jesse, aka The Housing Girl) if they hadn't met their people yet. Soon after that, we had The Hoisting Of The Flag, to great applause and cheers from all assembled. At 10:15, the band arrived. We quickly fed them and got them set up on the bandstand, and by 11pm they were well underway. While we'd planned to have a DJ take us out till 2am, the band just played the entire time! So despite a little bit of a potential rough patch, the event started without a hitch and we had a lot of happy people having a very good time.

Saturday: Classes start at 10:30am on Saturday, but there's something we need to do before that. In this year's event, the most advanced skill level of dancers needed to audition with the instructors so that there weren't people in the classes who would hold the rest of the class back. There are always people who think they are better than they are, and that causes learning speed problems... so we have the teachers screen the students, and anyone that doesn't make the cut takes the next highest level, along with feedback from two different instructors on why they didn't feel that student was ready for the most advanced level, and corresponding "homework assignments" about what to concentrate on while in their classes for the rest of the workshop. I myself have auditioned for the advanced track in the past and made it once, and didn't make it the other time -- but because of the very specific feedback I got from a couple excellent instructors about what I wasn't doing that they wanted to see me do, I felt that I got a tremendous amount more about of the classes that I took than I would have otherwise.

Handily enough, advanced track auditions were held in the same venue that I was going to be babysitting all weekend (we like to have one in-charge person in each location, in case anything comes up), so I didn't need to go anywhere after auditions were done. At that point, one pair of instructors stuck around for the classes they'd be teaching, all the students who had made it into the advanced track took a drive to their class location, and anyone who had signed up for the classes I'd be babysitting the whole day were arriving and warming up.

We have three skill levels of classes, and three pairs of instructors. Each skill level meets in its own venue for the whole weekend; each pair of instructors teaches all three skill levels, and so rotates from location to location as the weekend passes. My designated location was that of the 2nd skill level, the one just below the advanced track. That's also the right level of classes fro me to be taking, so any time I wanted to, I could step into the class that was taking place.

I've had a bout of the flu which had kept me feeling crappy for a couple of weeks. As a result my lungs were crappy, my stamina was crappy, and I had very little desire to dance. I knew I needed to conserve energy -- we were running a 250-300 person weekend workshop with only a handful of dedicated staff, and I knew that last year with ~90 people less, I was exhausted by the end. I had to pace myself! So I listened to the classes and watched, but rarely did I get in rotation and dance.

Lunch break was an hour and a half long, and all the instructors came back to my venue, where our chef was running the kitchen and had prepared the individually designed sandwiches for each person (and the staff made our own sandwiches as well). Then the instructors all were chauffeured to their next class location, and the afternoon classes got underway. At some point I put into the oven the two lasagna trays that our chef had prepared the night before after the Pad Thai was completed, and so by the time everyone had finished the second set of classes and was dropped off at my venue for dessert, we were just finishing up making the garlic bread and everyone was ready to eat!

Saturday's big evening dance was held at the university's largest ballroom, and according to our numbers we had about 325 people in attendance that night. Our costume contest was 50-60 contestants deep, with 14 winners, two of whom had parrots on their shoulders, and one of the 'parrots' was a stuffed animal safety-pinned to her jacket shoulder, and the other was a live macaw, with a wingspan of about three feet at full spread. We had two photographers set up for both roving life photography and photo-booth setups, one as candid/self-posed photos in front of our awesome Pirate Swing Flag, the other with a portable Seamless White setup: a curved white background and a white semi-reflective floor, with strobes bright enough that the entire background drops out when the photo is taken, and the person/people in the photo are on a completely dead white background. Also, our band was already in town for this dance, and so everything there went off beautifully, with one additional bonus: one of our instructors just happens to be one of the band's favorite singers, and so she sang with them the whole night.

I should talk for a moment about the band. Gordon Webster is one of the best dance band leaders I've ever had the pleasure to see, hear, and dance to. Gordon is based out of NYC, and he's got a band. Not just any band... well, actually, yes. Any band. He's got a couple dozen musicians that he works with regularly, and for every job, he picks from them to assemble exactly the group he wants. Gordon conducts the band from the piano. And while I've heard that phrase used a lot referring to groups up to the National Symphony Orchestra, where the conductor leads by playing the piano and gesturing with his hands, Gordon doesn't just conduct... he creates.

A lot of the time, you go to a live music performance and the band is playing for you the music that they have played many times before. They have rehearsed it, they have practiced how it will go. They have a pretty good idea of when their solos are going to take place, how long the song will go on for, and just about everything about the performance has been determined before they start to play. Gordon Webster, on the other hand, genuinely creates the music as it is happening. I've watched him for a couple years now: he stands up as he's playing, signals with one hand to one member of the band, indicating who is going to solo and how long they're going to do it for. They have no idea what he's about to do, and I don't think he's got all that much of a plan -- he's also a dancer, and so he designs the song to match what he feels is going on on the dance floor. The eyes of all the band members are constantly on Gordon, and they go where he leads... and the results are stellar. The instructor of ours that Gordon loves to have sing with him is one of the musicians that he regularly loves to work with -- when he learned that she was on our instructor roster, he started begging us to let him have her to sing with him one night! We'd heard her perform with him before. We knew better than to even think about saying no.

The evening at the ballroom ended with Gordon Webster's signature piece "I Like Pie, I Like Cake", a 5-minute song that he stretches into a 12-15-minute piece that starts with everyone out on the dance floor, ends up in the middle with everyone pressed up against the stage mesmerized by what he's doing with the music, and ending with the dance floor going wild again before he finishes.

The Saturday late-night dance started at half an hour past midnight, but I didn't get there until about an hour after that; I was busy packing us out of the ballroom and helping getting all the sound equipment, the drum kit for the band, and all the stuff we still needed at the registration table into the cars to take to the late-night. I arrived at the late-night just as it was time to take one of our instructors, who had been DJing for us for the first hour of the dance, back to his host house to sleep for the night. It was about a 35-minute round-trip, which meant that I arrived back at the late-night just as a big treat was getting underway. See, Gordon Webster was only advertised for the Friday and Saturday dances, and late-night is always a DJ. But Gordon like an idea that Zach and I came up with: at some point on Saturday late-night, the DJ would end a song but not start another, and Gordon would start playing piano instead. We'd set up microphones on the piano that afternoon for this to happen, and it worked seamlessly: People in the back of the room didn't even know that it wasn't the DJ any more until the end of the song, and there were murmurs of "Oh my gosh, it's stealth Gordon Webster!" He played for about half an hour, and then DJs took it the rest of the way to 5am. That was also the night we lost an hour to the stupid time change, so our bodies thought it was 4am. Which, I can tell you, is still plenty late enough at that point. There was an hour of cleanup and then we were all able to be in bed by 6:15am. 9:45 we were up and about, which, really, is a pretty good nap.

Sunday: One of the great things we offer at Pirate Swing is Office Hours: 5-minute one-on-one lessons with the instructor of your choice. Since our instructors LOVE to teach, we need to forcibly rein them in at the end of their 5 minutes, and so I built a bunch of 5-minute timer boxes that (at the push of a button) show 4 minutes of green, 30 seconds of yellow, 30 seconds of yellow+red, and then stay on red after 5 minutes have passed. Well, the teachers ran past their 5 minutes last year, so we changed it this year to turn red after 4:30 (4 minutes of green, 30 seconds of yellow, and then red) and things worked out rather beautifully. Designing, building, and programming the timer boxes was a big project of mine last year, and I had to pick between two methods: The Old Way, which involves a few rudimentary circuit elements (resistors, capacitors, simple 555 timer chips) and a LOT of tweaking to make everything come out right. Or The New Way, which involves making a simple circuit board with a little computer the size of a single computer chip, and which can be reprogrammed in a matter of seconds. I went with The New Way, and when this year I had to add 2 more boxes and reprogram the 6 that I made last year, I was very glad that I'd chosen the way I did!

At some point during office hours I was tasked with making the sandwiches for all the instructors' lunches (they'd told us via a web form we put up what they wanted for pretty much every meal!), and then once I and a couple volunteers finished making everyone's sandwiches, I got to make myself something to eat as well ("Breakfast"!) and then I headed back down to my regular venue to open it up for afternoon classes with the third set of instructors.

Classes went off without a hitch, except that a lot of people (like, 2/3 of the folks) were late getting there after lunch, which was kind of irritating. We try to start all of our classes exactly on time to discourage people from showing up late like that. Well, it seems that Saturday's training hadn't taken effect :-( Also, I couldn't figure out how to get the volume on the sound system in the venue high enough. Previous days we'd had a sound board plugged into the house amp system, Sunday I had only the house amp system... we needed another stage of amplification between the instructor's iPhone and the speakers. We managed to make it work, but since it was a musicality class, we'd really have liked a bit more power. Well, we'll know for next year.

After that class ended, I got a couple people to help me carry the cubby units from their various locations to the back door of the place, so that I could take them apart and load them into my car with a minimum of carrying of heavy piles of wood. I sent the instructors to their next spot along with all the remaining food. A volunteer swept the floor and dumped the bags of trash that I collected, and then... for the first time in 5 days.... I was alone. I didn't realize what a difference it made, but after those days of 100% go-mode with dozens or hundreds of people around, and the only time I was solo I was driving somewhere to get someone or to meed a lot more people... suddenly, all the hard stuff was over and I was alone and didn't have a time-restricted agenda. Well, not a tight one.

I sat around for a while and reveled in the fact that I wasn't on my feet. I eventually got out the screw gun and disassembled each of the sets of cubbies, and stacked the wood into my car. I think I gave myself a good two hours to decompress -- including some time on the piano -- before I finished sweeping out, closing up, and driving myself to the final destination for the evening, where we were having our sunday night dance and late night food.

When I arrived at the Sunday night venue, a jam band was in full swing, being led by one of our more musically inclined instructors. My mandolin had been delivered (we'd brought it from MD and I'd left it at Zach's dad's house) specifically so I could join in, and I got about 45 minutes of music in before we switched over to a DJ. For a couple tunes I was able to use someone's violin, which is easier for me to play (for short durations) than the mandolin. After that I headed downstairs and had some food, and began to relax for the evening again.

The relaxation wasn't to last, though, because we needed to shuffle a great deal of stuff between my car and Jesse&Zach's. The drum kit we'd rented for the band needed to go back to its owner, and I was so tired that while I was having a great time visiting with people, I was unlikely to dance more than once or twice more. So, it was decided that I'd go back to the hotel and sleep, and then I'd be the one to chauffeur the instructors on Jesse's duty roster to the airport while she slept in. It turns out this was a very wise trade, since she was up LATE cleaning up the Sunday night venue.

Monday: Since I'd gone to bed early the night before, I got more than twice the number of hours of sleep I had the previous night, and was up and showered in plenty of time to drive 15 minutes to pick up instructor #1, and then drive 15 minutes right back to the hotel to pick up instructors #2 and #3, and drive everyone to the airport before 8:30 for their various flights.

On my way back to Ann Arbor, I was still reveling in the fact that I didn't have a serious agenda with a timetable attached to it, so I stopped off at a Tim Horton's near the hotel and had breakfast. I thought about going back to Zingerman's -- I really wanted a ruben, and hadn't gotten one when there for breakfast a few days before -- but I didn't really feel like driving that far out of my way. (But I really wanted the ruben.) After breakfast, I went back to the hotel. I'd been gone long enough that it was clear I had stopped somewhere other than just the airport. Jesse knows me well, and asked right off whether I'd gone to Zingerman's and gotten a ruben! I told her I had thought about it, but hadn't in fact done it.

An hour or two later we were packed and ready to go out of the hotel. We stopped off at Zingerman's (several locations, actually, for several different types of food), and the last one was the deli, where to my delight I got a ruben to go! Then we dropped by Zach's dad's place to drop off the wood from all the cubbies, pack everything that was coming back to MD with us into one car, and piled all of the pirate props (barrels, lanterns, etc.) into my rental car. We stopped by the theatre and gave them back all of their wonderful props, and then dropped off my suddenly-now-empty rental car. Then, we got on the road and headed back to MD, driving for 8.5 hours through a two-hour-wide rain storm that had exactly the same path as us. We'd drive through it, get ahead of it, and need to stop for gas or a bathroom... and when we got back on the road, you guessed it, we'd be driving through the same rain storm again, as it had caught up with us and passed us!

So, that was Pirate Swing 2013. We had an amazing event, and we're already eager to do it all again, because we're insane, or something like that.

Mar. 2nd, 2013


The flu & electronics

Not that the two are related, but both have been going on lately.

I got a flu shot in December, and then a couple weeks ago I came down with... the flu. Not a stomach flu, just head/throat/lungs congestion and ick, and a fever. It lasted for something like 4 or 5 days and has been tremendously slow to clear up, and now it's two weeks later to the day and I woke up with a fever. AGAIN. And more coughing. I'm getting rather tired of this... I'd prefer to be healthy, thanks! I was supposed to visit friends today, instead I stayed home and felt pathetic on the couch. Tomorrow I'm supposed to help a friend build a table in her house, I'm not yet sure whether I'll be fit to move then either. BLAH, I say! Yae verily, it do sucketh... I'd like to be better, now, please.

Pirate Swing 4 is around the corner, I'll br driving up to Ann Arbor, MI in a couple days to help organize and run what is shaping up to be a 250-person three-day swing dance and blues workshop: 4 tracks, 8 instructors, three nights of dancing and two days of classes. We're getting pretty good at it at this point, I'm rather excited about it! One of our neat things we like to do we call "office hours", where each of the 8 instructors is available for little 5-minute one-on-one lessons. Students queue up and each one gets a few minutes. The first two years it wasn't tremendously well organized, but last year (#3) I built some little timer boxes that used red/yellow/green lights traffic-light style to let instructors know when their time is drawing to a close, and when it's up. Well, last year we had only 6 instructors and this time we've got 8, and so I made a couple more of the timer boxes in the last few days -- check them out!

I could have used some standard components to make these timers, like a few NE555 or 556 timer chips, some resistors and capacitors, and a bunch of fiddling and tweaking to get each one working just right... but I bought some programmable microcomputers instead (that computer chip? It's a complete computer! Not a big one, but surely big enough for everything I asked it to do!) Not only is it easy as hell to tweak, but if I ever wanted to reprogram the boxes to work differently, or time out a different period of time, it would be the work of a minute or two instead of the work of hours to implement the change.

This round of changes, I realized that I was so deeply ensconced in the programming task last year when I made the first 6 timers that I had left myself approximately no notes whatsoever on how to reprogram the chips! I commented my code pretty well -- that was easy, and always a good habit -- but how do I compile the program for use on the specific piece of hardware? How to I package it for loading onto the device, via this USB attachment I built for my computer? NOTHING. So this time I read all the tutorials (again) and learned how to make everything work (again), but this time I left myself a ton of notes. In a "read me" file on my computer where I was doing the development work, even as comments inside the program itself! The next time I have to do this, it'll be way easier :-D

The only big thing I need to work on now before we leave for Michigan is practicing this song we perform on Friday night to introduce everyone to the Housing Coordinator, since we're going to have something like 150 people sleeping on other peoples' floors for the event! We re-wrote the Captain's Wife's Lament to suit our own purposes and called it The Housing Girl's Lament, but it's been ~6 months since I played it! Time to break out the chords and see if my fingers still work!

Ok. Back to sitting on the couch, trying not to cough and enjoying season 2 of Dr. Who. I hope I'm more lively tomorrow, 'cause this current state of things absolutely sucks.

Feb. 16th, 2013

My Insane Schedule

The time has come to speak of many things...

It wasn't just the walrus that said it. He's simply the most famous.

It's been a busy-as-hell couple of weeks. I've worked nearly 100 hours and delivered the impossible, for the essential, on time. Drove to South Carolina and back for three days of classes & dancing (blues and lindy hop) in the middle of those two insane weeks of work. Remembered that there's an outside world, and got to visit it a little bit. Destroyed my last working pocketwatch, and just ordered a couple more. (Actually, that's not true. The weekend of dancing (I *think*) with the watch in my hip pocket got a bit of sweat inside the watch and it stopped working. It was the one before that that I destroyed. It might have survived the trip through the washing machine -- MIGHT -- had I dried it properly. I discovered, though an experiment that I don't intend to repeat, that subsequently running it through the dryer wasn't the ideal way to care for the wet watch. Oops. Perhaps I can avoid either of those fates on the new watches I just ordered? We will see...)

March is going to be amazing. I'm going to be in Michigan for a week running my annual pirate-themed swing dance workshop; I'm going to be in Florida for part of a week for my family's annual Passover celebration; I'm going to be in Virginia for a friend's party; I'm going to be in Delaware for a fantastic house concert. That'll be 5 states in just that month.

A few weeks ago I had my annual physical. Is it still an annual physical if it's the first one in 15 years? Whatever, I'm not worried. I wasn't lectured, chastised, threatened, or worried over. My blood pressure was in the "slightly elevated" range, there was nothing alarming in the checkup other than the prodigious amount of earwax, something I'm quite used to dealing with. My weight didn't come up, which is a first for me when at a doctor's office. I'm now 13 months in from when I started paying consistent attention, and last week for the first time I can remember, I didn't look fat to myself when I looked in the mirror. I'm still rounder in the face and belly than I'd like to be, but I don't look at myself in profile or head on and think, "Ugh. I look so fat." I'm not sure if it's a recent physical change or just a mental one, but either way, I'm ok with this. I've long been ok with how I look, but it's been a while since I've honestly *liked* it.

I've got the opportunity to recommence making the log home that I designed and planned for back about 5 years ago. I haven't 100% decided yet, but I think I'm going to do it. If I do it, the house and property will then be for sale afterward. If I enjoy the project as much as I think I will, then I'll probably start planning soon after to make another, with a lot more knowledge and experience under my belt to help guide me. It will be a ton of work, and it'll eat most of my weekends for the next year or two. But I've been wanting to do it since the idea first came up something like 7 years ago, I still have all the plans and designs, and just recently I got a couple people at work turned on to it too. Just last week I got email from some folks who are about to move to NC and want to build a home, and wanted to know how my project was going. And for the first time in my life, I've got enough money saved that I can undertake the project. It's staggering to think about... it's one of those things I've thought about for so long that being able to take action is almost odd. This is the kind of odd I'm ok with.

So, that's what's going on in my corner of the world. I'm still having fun with the 3D printer, with music, house projects, friends, cooking, and everything else that's normally on my plate. And I hope that now that this insane thrust at work is finished, I might have a little bit more of a life, too. I'm a little under the weather -- dancing with 150 strangers three states away tends to expose you to almost as much gunk as a kindergarten classroom, and doing it on a half-measure of sleep weakens the immune system something special -- so I'm going to go see what a full night of sleep will do for me.

Potluck tomorrow, introducing a friend to some awesome stuff in DC the next day, and dinner with my parents to finish off the weekend. No rest for the wicked, but every single item is something I love. Life is good... exhausting, but good.

Feb. 4th, 2013

rock climbing

Climbing: hurts so good!

Another good day at the rock climbing gym. I got there more than half an hour later than I wanted to, so I only got in 20 minutes on the bike before it was time to get my harness on. But in those 20 minutes I was putting out about 20% more wattage than I was 2 months ago. So, win! Progress happens. Since I'm spending this coming weekend dancing, I've got no complaints that my legs are stronger than before :-)

Once on the wall, I banged out a 5.8 with a serious overhang at the top on a wall the shape of a reactor cooling tower, followed by a 5.9 on an arete (holy crap, were my abs unhappy with me by the end of that one - and not only that, but I fell 4 times and had to switch to an easier climb for the last 8 feet because I didn't have the grip to make the real moves) and then, in the last 10 minutes before the gym closed, a 5.intro that still used up 95% of what forearms I had left. All these climbs were the full 40 feet of the gym, though, so I got a good 12 stories of vertical all things told tonight. I'll take it. More Wednesday!

Feb. 2nd, 2013


Makerbotting my herd of minions.

OK, so, I haven't made minions yet, but I'll get there once I have yellow. :-D

I convinced the bot to make 4 at a time:

And now, I've got a whole lot of 'em!

Feb. 1st, 2013


Makerbot: The Legend Continues

What have I been up to? Well, a little bit of this, and a little bit of that...

Later, I'll post pictures of a herd of emergency orange bunnies. For now, though, I give you: Firefly's Serenity!

More pictures hidden here!Collapse )

More tomorrow, once I've slept.

Jan. 25th, 2013



I've been doing a little cleaning and handiwork around the house. I just vastly improved the storage for some of the stringed instruments in the basement:

The lap dulcimer on the bookshelf on the right, I'm going to put on some hangers that I'll mount below the fiddle and viola (lying pretty much sideways, with the large end below the light switch and a few inches lower than the other end).

After the lap dulcimer I'll only have two more guitars to hang up. Woohoo! Instruments *not* lying on tables and leaning against walls or bookshelves or tables. What a novel concept!

Jan. 24th, 2013


Let's get physical!

I just had my annual physical. Or whatever you call if it's your first physical in 15 years. Anyhow, I passed with flying colors: they like what I'm doing for myself, like the results, and said to keep doing what I'm doing. Their only suggestions were to decrease sodium and starches/pasta/bread from my diet. Since I pretty much never eat pasta and don't eat many other starchy foods, and try to keep my bread intake to a minimum, I'd say I'm well on my way there. Once they got the thigh cuff out so they could get an accurate bp reading on my arm (138/80, instead of 160/80 with the too-small cuff) all was well :-D

Continuing ~1hr cardio every visit to the climbing gym
Not skipping visits to the climbing gym (3x/week)
Continue food logging (tracking total calories per day, to maintain awareness fo portion control)
...and enjoy life.

Jan. 23rd, 2013

rock climbing

Climbing: getting it back

Monday I managed three climbs, the last of which was a 5.8 on a 40' pillar with a lean-back over its entire height, and three minor overhangs to navigate. I needed to rest twice on that climb, as my grip entirely gave out and I needed to let it recover in order to continue climbing - I'm rather sure I spent more time resting on that climb than I spent climbing. the rest of that night and all Tuesday I was both sore and weak, though I gave a shoulder&back massage Tuesday night that seemed to make my hands much happier (go figure that one out).

Tonight, I was back at the climbing gym for more punishment. 4 climbs, I think 5.7 and 5.8, and I did great on them! There were a couple moments when my grip gave out and I needed to rest on the rope, but they were fewer and shorter than Monday. I call this significant progress!

I'm clearly still coming back from the 5 weeks I took off of climbing when letting my right foot heal from the broken bone. It's frustrating to me that it's taking this long, but I know I just need to deal with it and keep on doing what I'm doing. At least it's going as well as it is, and there' marked improvement from day to day...

Jan. 14th, 2013


Makerbot: Emmett's Gears

This is, by far, the coolest thing I've made on the makerbot yet. It's a cube, composed of 8 gears attached to a central hub, meshed together so that you can twist the corners and the whole thing rotates, resembling a cube not at all during the middle of its transit, but forming up again after a rotation of 90 degrees.

Images behind the cut, for there are many, and I am kind.Collapse )

I'm working on a way to print this out in a single shot, but for some odd reason I'm having trouble getting the software to be happy with the version of the parts that's all on there at once. I'm going to see about making my own - kinda - I can easily arrange it so that I'll get two cubes from three printings, but I'd like to get it to where I push a button, and it prints out a cube.

OK. Going to bed now, as once again it's way, way past my bedtime.

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