Nothing In It; Being the blog of Elliott C. 'Eeyore' Evans (hosted at his domain '')

These are all the posts:

Being the first post, ever

It has become increasingly apparent to me over the past few years that, for this web site to survive as a continuing concern, it will need to include a blog. As loathe and as late as I am to conform to societal norms, here it is. To perpetuate the proud tradition of outmoded 1995 technology exemplified by the rest of this web site however, this blog (and its RSS feed!) will continue to be coded by hand in a text editor. Welcome.

2007.09.24 at 5:00pm EDT

I love it when the web treats me bad

A few months ago, I jumped into the "Cat Macro"/"LOLcat" trend with both feet and LOL'ed the entire Rocky Horror Picture Show to create the LOLcky Horror Picture Show. This project didn't go unnoticed by the world, and I have the traffic stats to prove it. I was very, very disappointed when the Wall Street Journal article about the trend didn't mention my page, but I'm always delighted when virtually anybody else does.

Today I got the bright idea of replacing the 404 page for my site with an appropriate LOL image. I understand I'm not the first to think of this, as when I started doing searches I found several mentions of other sites and the ones they use.

This is a long prologue to me being delighted that this page about LOLcats links to me using the word "craze".

2007.09.25 at 10:00am EDT

Book Crates now for sale

The big stack of book storage crates I made earlier this year to hold books during our recent home renovations are taking up space in the attic, so I've decided to put them up for sale. Let me know how many you want!

2007.09.26 at 5:00pm EDT

It's like 2003 meets 1993 meets 1983

I repent of my rash pronouncement that this blog would be all done by hand. I've decided that's silly when there are shell scripts I could be writing. After a bit of research and asking around, I've found that instead of doing everything by hand I can do much of what I want with SSI and shell scripting.

Every time I start researching PHP or one of the other common ways of implementing a blog, I find out there at least a dozen files to install and learn how to modify, and maybe even some database to configure. Here's me with a directory full of entries, a few index files, and couple of shell scripts.

Yeah, that's right, I'm old school. In case you're interested, here's a link to the script that returns the ten most recent posts, and the script that returns the items for the rss. There are probably better ways to write these scripts. The two scripts just get called in the middle of wrapper HTML. Each post contains all its own meta information.

2007.09.27 at 5:00pm EDT

Friday Catblogging

Mischa (blue point) and Ethel (white)

2007.09.28 at 12:00am EDT

Udon for Lunch

My default lunch lately is a big steaming bowl of soup with udon noodles. Mmm. I have a whole set of supplies for preparing lunch at the office in the microwave.

Basically, I keep packages of noodles in the fridge or freezer. You can buy them frozen or even supposedly fresh at any good oriental grocer. If they're frozen I have to remember to take them out when I get to work in the morning so they'll be usable by lunch time. These are loads better than dried noodles you have to boil. Jumbo udon are thick (like 1/4 inch) and chewy.

The noodles almost always come with little packets of instant broth, that I typically never use. I have a bottle of concentrated soup base in the fridge. This can be difficult to find.

To turn this into a meal I keep dried or canned things in my desk or fresh ingredients in the fridge. Dried shiitake mushrooms, freeze-dried tofu, and dried wakame seaweed are a good kit. In the fridge I've had fish sausage, pickled daikon, and sansai mountain vegetables. I tried some frozen, fried fish patties last week and they were interesting. yesterday I opened a can of mixed "oriental vegetables" and that was good, though a bit heavy on the bamboo shoots.

Anyway, at lunch time I pour a couple of tablespoons of soup base into a bowl, add whatever dried or fresh ingredients I want, put the noodles in on top, and then fill with water from the tap. The bowl goes into the microwave and six to seven minutes later I have a yummy lunch.

Last time I was in Young's grocery on Forward, I saw that in the aisle where they have mostly packaged, dried ramen, they also had instant udon. These weren't dried, I guess they're just packed aseptically because they seemed soft in there. Some time I'll have to try a pack (79 cents) and see if they're wretched.

2007.10.01 at 12:00am EDT

I am freaked out

I started working on this blog last week, more because I was finally getting around to something than because I really wanted a blog. Sometimes when I put something up on my web site, I have to figure out where to announce it, that is, if I even want to announce it at all. Much of what goes on my web site is just documenting a project so I can refer people to it, and not to publicize anything. I figure if I have a blog then people can subscribe one central palce, and if they care that much about my web site then I can bother them when I care to publicize a new release.

Some of my friends have started blogs, updated them pretty regularly for a while, and then stopped. I usually stop looking at their blog after a month of inactivity, and they go back to posting to mailing lists or whatever it was they did before they started their blog. When I started this, I made the decision that I'd try posting to it at least daily for at least a month before I announced it anywhere. I added a link to this blog from my front page, and figured I'd leave it at that so at least when I finally give in to temptation and announce this blog somewhere there will be a backlog of posts for people to read through and not just a single post titled... well, you can see the title in the archives.

I am very curious about my site's web traffic, however, so I go grepping through my logs every once in a while to see where people are coming from and such. Today I noticed that this blog's rss file is getting pinged every few hours by some process at LiveJournal. Following referrer URLs, I see that someone found this blog, and subscribed to it using LiveJournal's aggregator. I have a reader.

Thank you, my one mysterious reader, you have freaked me out. Don't worry, I enjoy being freaked out. Tell your friends. If I can get one reader in less than a week, I can have 52 by this time next year!

2007.10.01 at 4:07pm EDT

Tuesday Tublogging

Liberty Tubes, Pittsburgh

2007.10.02 at 12:00am EDT


When I was younger, I always though it would be cool to be one of those people who travel a lot. You know, maybe some kind of business person with meetings and vacations all over the world.

When I actually had a job where I had to travel, I changed my mind. Even though I was only travelling once a month, and then for only a couple of days each month, it was too much. The planning, the logistics, the disruption, &c. were just too much for my apparently fragile state of mind. Maybe it's easier if you're an executive with some kind of assistant or something to at least arrange all your itineraries, but just thinking about it was a full time job.

Right now, I'm planning some personal travel for the next few months. These are mostly weekend things like weddings and conventions, and again it's just one thing a month for a couple of days at a time, but what a pain in the neck. Hotel reservations with three different chains, airline tickets, driving directions, JKMN.

2007.10.03 at 12:00am EDT

Pittsburgh's geekiest networking night

So, I'm thinking it's been about nine years that I've been going to Geek Night. A reporter called me earlier this week to interview me about the event, so I thought I'd write a few words about it here.

Geek Night is a social event, first and foremost. There are no dues, nobody takes attendance, and the closest thing to a membership list is a mailing list to receive reminders. There are no officers, no hierarchy, and nobody is technically "in charge". There are a few people who handle making the arrangements for the event and providing a personal front end, but the don't make speeches and I bet most attendees would be hard pressed to pick them out of the crowd. Geek Night is not a meeting, it is a bunch of geeks taking over a large percentage of a large bar. We eat, we drink, and we socialize.

Secondarily, it's a professional networking night. Some food is provided, and this is typically paid for by a local company that is looking to hire some geeks. Most people use it to keep track of former co-workers, and it's not unusual to chat with friends who are looking for new opportunities, or who are looking to help fill an opening at the company where they work.

Thirdly, Geek night is an excuse to go to the Church Brew Works for a few beers and some food. The beer is brewed on the premises, and is pretty good. The food is also good, and pairs well with the beer. The ambiance is unparalleled in Pittsburgh. The CBW is a converted church with high ceilings, good acoustics, and an altar to the spirits of zymurgy.

You should come.

2007.10.04 at 10:30am EDT


I've discovered your identity, oh my first reader. Oh yes, I have. This explains much. Come to my site looking for my email address, see the blog link right near the mail link, and follow it…

Now, I wonder who LJ reader #2 is. Hi!

2007.10.04 at 2:30pm EDT

Friday Catblogging

Dodger and his fantastic whiskers

2007.10.05 at 12:00am EDT

Fitting In

So over the weekend, I went to a kind of convention I'd never attended before. I went to a Furry convention. Here's the part where I'm supposed to deny actually attending the convention and claim I was only there as some kind of observer or ambassador (I'd been asked by some friends on the committee to run game demos), but you know what? I had a good time.

This particular subculture is much maligned and often misunderstood. While much of what you've probably heard is true to some extent, you're probably overestimating the extent, and there's probably a lot more "normal stuff" going on than you know. Most of all, these people know how to have fun.

Now, I was definitely an outsider. Most of the people there (there were about 100) already knew each other from other conventions and Internet communication, and only a few of them knew me. Everybody was very friendly, though. Everybody I smiled at smiled back, and everybody I said hello to greeted me back. They weren't all hitting on me, either. (There was one guy, but he was cute and didn't try too hard. He just didn't seem to notice my ring.)

I didn't see anything happen that I would have considered "family unsafe". I'm sure plenty went on back in people's hotel rooms, but like most adults, intimate acts were kept private. I've been to family reunions with more inappropriate behavior. There was considerably less swearing than I would have expected from a large group of primarily men in their 20's to 40's. I'd say there were probably about ten women there total, giving this group a higher percentage than the groups I used to hang around with in college.

Primarily, people were there to have fun, and hang out with people they shared an interest with. We watched movies. I played a bunch of games of course. There was an outdoor barbeque. People played frisbee and lasertag. People swung on the swings and lay around in the sun chatting. They put on a show.

One thing I'd never known (and was delighted to discover) is that most of the fur suiters are really good at it. They have characters and routines. Most can't really talk, so they have these elaborate pantomimes that are hilarious to watch. Over time I got to know which of the people were in some of the costumes (they rarely appear "headless", so it takes a bit of detective work) and the two personalities were often very different. Somebody who seemed sullen without their suit would reappear as a mischievious hyena or something. It really is like slipping in and out of a cartoon.

Sometimes when I go to conventions where I don't know a lot of people, I wind up feeling isolated. I didn't feel that here. Most people were ready to make new friends, and the people who weren't were just distant, not mean. I did see some people there who didn't seem as able to jump in and start talking to people, but hopefully they'll feel more open next year.

You know what? I hope I see them there.

2007.10.08 at 11:30pm EDT

Tuesday Tublogging

Exiting the Fort Pitt Tubes, Pittsburgh

2007.10.09 at 12:00am EDT

21st Century Chain Letter

Web 2.0 personal networking web site communities, I say. LinkedIn, that is. Following my spectacular blog debut, I figured I could only top that by following the crowd over to the trough of schmooze juice. I only denigrate because I love.

Man, I remember when got people to rat out all their friends and contacts back in the nineties. It was a rough time to be around. Nobody saw the point to these things besides giving out your information to people who wanted to make money off of you. Now, they're big business.

LinkedIn is probably the most professionally oriented, and in some professions/geographies it's become necessary for finding a new job. I'm not looking right now, but browsing its listings for technical writer positions found me better job leads than I've had in some time.

While it seems that joining a site like this decreases your privacy (Your relationship information is now known and you are cross-indexed to others. The site actually makes shockingly accurate guesses about who else you might know in its database.), its features actually seek to protect your privacy (at least from other individuals). You can restrict your contact information and force people to contact you through the site. Further, you an restrict the kinds of contact you want to receive.

If you're looking for a way to promote your professional services online without exposing yourself to marketing and other solicitations, I don't know of a better way. Furthermore, if you need to contact somebody you don't know, and you don't want your email to send up in that person's spam bucket, you can use LinkedIn to maybe discover a common contact who can vouch for you.

We'll see how I feel about it in the long run. Right now I wish I'd joined it six months ago.

2007.10.10 at 12:00am EDT

I need more icons

Look to the left of this sentence. Eek! It's the same generic icon from the very first post, used on a majority of the 16 posts to this blog. I've used that icon more times than this blog has actual readers. One post had a specially created "projects" icon, four were cop-out photo-posts, and one post had a picture of udon. All the rest had this icon. If a bowl of udon is as exciting as this blog gets, I don't see this blog being very exciting.

I was thinking, when I started this blog, that I'd come up with a bunch of icons, maybe one a week to add to the library so that eventually I'd have a nice collection of topical icons like Slashdot. So far, I have two, and I'm really at a loss regarding what more icons would be. I want to use photo icons, but it turns out that most things don't look like things any more if you reduce them to a 64 pixel wide icon. Although, if you do "View Image" on the udon picture, you can see a bit more detail.

A good icon for this post might be a picture of my navel.

2007.10.11 at 12:00am EDT

Friday Catblogging

Natasha (Tashi) inverted

2007.12.05 at 12:00am EDT

Doris Lessing

I'm absolutely euphoric that Doris Lessing won the 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature last week. Years ago, I saw the Canopus in Argos series in the Science Fiction section of what I refer to as "the library I grew up in", and I read the first couple of books. The first book, Re: Colonised Planet 5; Shikasta is fantastic. I don't know if I've ever read any other fiction book like it, let alone another science fiction book like it. The second book, The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four, and Five was somewhat over my head, in that it was told from the viewpoint of an adult woman and I was a teenaged boy, but even I could see its point.

Years passed before I decided to hunt down the other three books and add the series to my personal library. Each book in the series is markedly different from the others in tone, style, and message, but they all fit together and present a picture of the world that is encouraging and hopeful. Her books are patient with the reader, and more demonstrative than instructive. It's all allegory of course, but it's too easy to get caught up in trying to figure out what is supposed to be what, and lose track of what is happening. Getting to the end of the last book is to reach an epiphany. It all falls into place, though you may have to think about it for a while.

If I had to sum it all up, I'd say the point is this: "Those who would consider themselves our enemies, if treated with patience and compassion instead of enmity, will realize they are our equals and partners." To be more succint about it: "Don't fight, live." Yet, these books I have been praising are not even considered her most important works! That she has received one of the planet's premier accolades for writing and thinking presents a view of humanity that is as encouraging and hopeful as her books themselves.

(While doing some quick research, I discovered that Ms. Lessing had collaborated in the past with Philip Glass to create operas of two of these books. How beautiful they must be!)

2007.10.15 at 12:00am EDT

Tuesday Tublogging

Inside the Squirrell Hill Tubes, Pittsburgh

When I say "Tublogging", you all know I mean "Tube Blogging", right? Here in Pittsburgh, locals (known as "yinzers") refer to tunnels as "tubes." Just recently, I heard people using the word "tubes" to mean "Internet connection," as in "the hotel's tubes are down." Last year, we would have said "intarwebs". I suppose in the future, people hereabouts will refer to tunnels as "Internets", assuring that nobody has any idea what we're talking about.

2007.10.16 at 12:00am EDT

Truly, you have a dizzying intellect

The other day, I was having a literary/philosophical discussion with a couple of friends, and while listening to one of them speak I realized that I was just barely able to understand what he was saying. The conversation had reached that point where the words and concepts had become so thoroughly larded with advanced and previously introduced ideas that each word coming out of his mouth was a summary of a paragraph. I was so amazed and distracted by this state of affairs, by the grinding of the gears in my head that were processing this rich stream of thought, that of course I lost the thread and could only smile vacantly.

Let's go shopping!

2007.10.17 at 12:00am EDT

I appear to have peaked

After growing exponentially for three weeks in a row, my number of LiveJournal subscribers has stopped increasing. There are four of you, same as last week. Cleary, this blog is not going to continue its phenomenal growth without significant marketing.

As a first step, I have created a new icon that is wholy unrelated to this post.

2007.10.18 at 12:00am EDT

"Stripehouse" page updated

I finally added some explanatory text to the project page for my "Stripehouse" decorated Treehouse set. This was a fun little pieceniking project to squeeze in as a break during a longer-term project, and it approximates the look of a dream set I designed long ago.

The dream stash is mostly made of solid colorless crystal, with the edges and corners all in 1/8 inch solid gold. Obviously, the likelyhood of that ever happening is slim, but these plastic pieces with their edges painted gold are a close approximation.

2007.10.18 at 3:00pm EDT

Friday Catblogging

Natasha, Mischa, Ethel, and Dodger

2007.10.19 at 12:00am EDT


I've been a fan of Lore since the Brunching Shuttlecocks days, but now his output rate is a little erratic so I tend to ignore him for a few months and then see a link somewhere and spend some time catching up.

Dude wrote an article for Wired back in August that pretty much describes exactly the kind of PB&J sandwich I make:

Healthy bread needs to be the color of dust and have visible chunks of what may or may not be chaff. Healthy bread should suck the joy and life from a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, assuming you haven't already sucked the joy and life from it by using the sort of peanut butter where the oil rises to the top, and the sort of jelly that's essentially just fruit that someone stepped on.

…except I use three slices of bread. No, not to keep the peanut butter completely separated from the jelly until you start chewing (although that is an added bonus), but because without that extra slice of bread a PB&J sandwich just isn't enough food. I mean, typically I only make and eat PB&J sanwiches when I am too hungry to think, so two slices of bread just isn't going to fill me up. You got the jelly to boost short-term blood sugar levels, the bread for complex carbohydrates to fuel the next two or three hours (depending on the number of slices), and the peanuts to add protein and fat for long term needs.

That's the kind of thing I can only think of after I've eaten the sandwich.

2007.10.22 at 12:00am EDT

Tuesday Tublogging

Tiles of the Fort Pitt tubes

When a 1/2 hour drive to work is taking more than an hour, you have to amuse yourself somehow.

2007.10.23 at 12:00am EDT

Truly, you have a dizzying intellect

The other day, I was having a literary/philosophical discussion with a couple of friends, and while listening to one of them speak I realized that I was just barely able to understand what he was saying. The conversation had reached that point where the words and concepts had become so thoroughly larded with advanced and previously introduced ideas that each word coming out of his mouth was a summary of a paragraph. I was so amazed and distracted by this state of affairs, by the grinding of the gears in my head that were processing this rich stream of thought, that of course I lost the thread and could only smile vacantly.

Let's go shopping!

2007.10.17 at 12:00am EDT

Being the first month of posting, ever

In honor of my having completed the first month of this blog, posting every weekday for the entire month, I have created this posting icon.

You may not have seen this image before, but trust me, a very influential web comic says it's next year's new hotness.

2007.10.24 at 12:01am EDT

The Beatles

Ok, can we all agree that The Beatles are the band most representative of the middle of the 20th century? Expecially given the experimentation they brought to their music as they became more successful which enabled them to explore styles and subjects, the Beatles catalog stands (in my opinion) as the primary textbook for creating 20th century music. Can I possibly hold them with more reverence? Probably not.

However, this is now the 21st century. As much as I understand conservative forces that would like to keep change from getting out of hand and preserve things in an understandable form, I also recognize the inevitability of change and the necessity of adapting to that change. Here's an interesting quote from a review of the video for Gnarls Barkely's Crazy by Andrew Olson.

Imagine the Beatles music catalog like this great endangered bird living in a cage. We all get to walk up and look at it, but never get to touch it. The bird also sits in a cage and never is free to explore what is out there. The best music ever made needs to be freed from its cage and mixed into new forms.

Olson was referring specifically to DJ Dangermouse's Grey Album, but I think it covers how I feel about the (non-unique) situation occupied by The Beatles in our culture and music. Copyright exists to assure that the original artists receive due compensation for their works, and I certainly support that, however I feel that once created and released into the world, a work of art has its own independant existence. Although I don't consider inanimate works to be creatures, I do think that this existence can be modelled as if the work were a kind of organism. The environment such an organism occupies is our culture.

I hope you'll forgive the extended metaphor, but eventually such an organism becomes bigger and more important than the one that created it. An organism like that cannot be killed, but it can die of neglect. The only way to assure the organism's immortality is to allow it to breed with others and create hybrids and descendants. It has to be let out of the cage, or it will die.

Secretly, under cover of darkness, it already is out of the cage. The children have been bred and are thriving. All that remains is for the owners of the parent to acknowledge it, and rather than fighting to kill these progeny, promote them as the heirs they are.

2007.10.25 at 12:00am EDT

Friday Catblogging

Ethel curled into a tiny ball

2007.10.26 at 12:00am EDT

"Subwoofer Platform Stand" project added

Added a new project page recently for this project to create a little plaftorm stand to keep the left subwoofer speaker of Sharon's stereo off the livingroom floor. This subwoofer stand was necessary because the corner where we wanted to put the subwoofer already has a radiator in it, and we needed to boost the speaker ten inches off the floor or it was going to have to rest on the shut-off valve of the radiator.

These little projects are a lot of fun when I get to do them. The larger projects are great for making nice things and learning advanced techniques, then when you get to apply those practiced techniques and make a small project look nicer it really adds quality to life.

2007.10.29 at 12:00am EDT

Tuesday Tublogging

Talk to anybody who commutes into, past, or through downtown from the suburbs and you'll hear the same complaint: "Every day there's a big back-up for the tunnels, but once you get through the tunnels the coast is clear. Why can't we just cruise through the tunnels at speed? Why does traffic slow down?"

Everybody I've ever talked to asks the same question, which leaves the question: "If nobody you know is slowing down for the tunnel, then who is slowing down for the tunnel?" Is it just that the kind of people who slow down for tunnels are also liars? Is it that none of them realizes they are slowing down?

One of these days I am going to stay up until the early morning, and I am going to stake out the entrance to the Squirrel Hill Tunnels with a video camera. I'm going to tape people entering the tunnel until I can identify who's slowing down and beginning the traffic jam. Then, I'm going to find those people and ask them, "What exactly is going on here?" I won't hurt you when I find you. Please do not be afraid.

2007.10.23 at 12:00am EDT

"Cherry Silk Pyjamas" project added

Last week, I made a pair of Cherry Silk Pyjamas out of a "raw" silk fabric similar to some I've used for Japanese garb. It was the Japanese garb that convined me I needed to get some more fabric and make some jammies. It's soft and warm and comfy, like a silk flannel.

Sharon was amazed that I got this project done so quickly, especially when I don't really need them for a couple of weeks. Personally, I don't understand how people can procrastinate on hobby projects. I mean, it's your hobby, if you don't want to do it, don't do it. If it was work or something, I could totally understand putting it off.

This doesn't really have anything to do with Halloween, but it is mildly related to costuming. I usually spend Friday night at a convention bumming around the con in my jammies, and Philcon is coming up in a few weeks.

2007.10.31 at 12:00am EDT

"Minimice 2" project page expanded

I've had a picture of these Minimice 2 minimal pyramids up for a while, but I only got around to typing up some text recently. Along with the decorated pyramids I posted about a couple of weeks ago, this year saw the first Pieceniking projects I'd done in a while. It was fun to get back into it.

2007.11.01 at 12:00am EDT

Friday Catblogging

Mischa basking in the sun

2007.11.02 at 8:00am EDT

"Brass Strike Plate" project page expanded

I made a brass strike plate to avoid having to buy one, and I just finished up the text explanation for the project.

I find it particularly handy to be able to fabricate small items like this in my home rather than have to search all over for them or spend great gobs of money buying them. I wish I was better at some of the fine points, but my rough approximations are often good enough to substiture for the right thing until the perfect instance comes along.

2007.11.05 at 12:00am EDT

"bLOLd runner" page released

Back in May, I answered the question, "What would it be like if Rocky Horror fans had to start over from scratch using only the captions from LOLcats?" Now, I've answered the question, "What would it be like if cat LOLers had to start over from scratch using only the screenplay from Blade Runner?"

2007.11.05 at 12:01am EDT

One year until Election '08

It's the Tuesday after the first Monday in November, and I'm sure there are plenty of elections in this country today, but most people's eyes are on the day roughly one year from today when many of us will vote to choose the next President of the USA. It is on this day that I throw my political weight behind the candidacy of Barak Obama, if and only if he chooses Hillary Clinton to be his Vice Presidential candidate.

Look at what the Republican Party did in 2000. They took an inexperienced candidate with serious deficiencies, paired him with a strong, ruthless, experienced political player, and they won. They changed the paradigm. No longer is the Vice Presidency where you put somebody safe and innoffensive who has a chance of surviving your meltdown if it happens. Now it's where you put your strongest fighter, so that the administration can fight hard while the President's hands remain clean(ish).

I like Barak Obama. He's inspiring and motivating, and what this country really needs right now. I like Hillary. I think she' can do things with this country that I'd like to see happen. I just don't think she's electable as the first name on the ticket. She has too much baggage that will drive away voters. Some people still won't like her being on the ticket at all, but who liked Cheney? I know this will look to some other people like I'm asking Hillary Clinton to again take a back seat to a man, but I'm afraid it may be the only way for her to get into the White House where, I dare say, she belongs.

The nineties were a wonderful time for this country. It's been a long time since this country had good times like we had when Hillary Clinton was helping a President guide the United States. Obama/Clinton '08!

2007.11.06 at 12:01am EDT

A quote for today

"[…]I stopped at a tobacconist's and bought myself a sixpenny cigar of a kind I'm rather partial to. They're eight inches long and guaranteed pure Havana leaf all through. I suppose cabbages grow in Havana the same as anywhere else."
-- George Bowling in Coming Up For Air by George Orwell (1939)

2007.11.07 at 10:00am EDT

Speaking of the Beatles

In this other post I talked about the Beatles and the beauty of remixing. I'd heard about the movie Across the Universe, but only just saw this film last night. It's pretty good. Not as good as I'd hoped it would be and wanted it to be, but pretty durn good. It has some difficult to follow parts, and some parts that don't really make much sense, but also it has some parts that are downright brilliant. The army induction sequence is so amazing it almost killed me. It takes a lot of guts to produce a movie these days with so much singing and dancing. While it's not perfect, I give them serious points for trying and succeeding as much as they did.

Anyway, back to my point about remixes. Why should this type of thing be the sole provenance of big-budget movies? I suggested to some friends that the director be granted a degree in literary and cultural studies based on this movie as a thesis, but could an average LCS grad student have legally made this work? I don't think so. Certainly, the grad student would not have been able to present it at conferences or sold it to a publisher without paying millions in royalties, millions that almost definitely don't exist.

That's a shame, really. Information may not want to be Free, but Art certainly wants to be experienced.

2007.11.07 at 10:00am EDT

Signs of Pittsburgh

Left & Left ONLY at the corner of Murray & Forward

2007.11.08 at 10:00am EDT

Friday Catblogging

Clan of the Cave Cats

2007.11.09 at 12:00am EDT

"Suzuribako" project page expanded

I've had a picture of this Japanese "suzuribako" (ink stone box) up for a while, and I've finally completed the page with text and another picture. This project seemed to take forever with all the sanding and finishing and waiting and sanding and refinishing and painting and waiting and finishing and sanding and finishing. It's only fitting that the project page itself would be delayed waiting for a little polishing.

2007.11.12 at 12:00am EDT


Sorry for the messed up RSS feed over the weekend. I noticed on Friday that things weren't working, but I couldn't figure out what was wrong until I looked at the xml using an older version of Firefox. This older version didn't know what correct RSS was supposed to look like, but it knew what XML was supposed to look like. Modern browsers just choke if the RSS XML is malformed, but this one was able to show me that I'd (like a moron from 1994) used an actual ampersand ("&") in a post's title instead of an HTML "&" element.

As previously noted, I do all this blog coding by hand and the pages are constructed with Shell scripts and SSI (band aids and string, essentially), so it was hard to tell exactly where I'd messed up. Firefox is just too generally helpful to be actually helpful in this case, I guess.

Anyway, I was using this old version of Firefox (Firebird) on an old Win98 laptop that normally just controls X10 plugs in the house because I was replacing the hard drive in my WinXP laptop. At last, having some mostly useless olf hardware around saved my bacon in this case.

Presumably, the problem would have gone away when the offending post fell off the bottom of the feed, and I would have never known what was wrong.

By the way, SATA hard drives apparently have some weirdness that makes it difficult to set one up from scratch as the main boot drive. This is all over the internet if you search for "SATA bootable", but nobody I talked to had any idea what was going wrong for me other than knowing it must have been some MBR problem.

The answer was to install the new drive, restore the system and re-install Windows using the CD supplied by the laptop manufacturer, then clobber everything by cloning the old drive onto the new one. Now we know.

At least the whole fiasco gave me the incentive to finally get the Win98 net connection working properly. It turns out that if you want to be able to access hosts by name instead of only by IP address, the "Enable DNS" checkbox has to be checked. who knew?"

2007.11.13 at 12:00am EDT

Palm Depression

At left is my new icon, a picture of my current PDA. PDA's were never super popular, and they're even less popular now that most people use their phones for the purpose PDAs were intended. For many reasons, I like having my information separate from my phone. I also like having my entertainment separate from my information, which I know makes me about the only person who still carries a phone, PDA, and MP3 player as separate devices. (Not to mention a stand-alone digital camera.)

Anyway, that's a whole spearate discussion I'm not sure I want to get into right now, mostly involving things like battery life. Right now I want to talk about depression.

I've upgraded my PDA about every three years for the past nine. First, I bought a Palm III in 1998. I acquired a Handera 330 PalmOS device in 2001. I bought a Palm Tungsten T3 in 2004 just after the T5 was released. Now it's 2007, and the most likely candidate for upgrade is the TX, which was actually released like two years ago. Palm, like the rest of the market, has mostly been focusing on "smart phones". Right now, I think only Palm and HP are even still in the market.

The main problem is that I use my PDA for all kinds of things. I now have calendar entries going back almost a decade, including all the major family milestones like births. I have thousands of items documented in a database, including all my books and CDs. I have notes, reference materials, pictures, etecetera and I don't see a good way of moving them off the Palm.

So the Palm Tungsten TX is probably the best choice for me, but let's get real, a lot has happened in the world of technology in the past two years. There are capabilities that weren't even considered in 2005 that are now viewed as necessary for a handheld device. For instance, high speed input for communication is now a must, and Graffiti 2 or the Treo keyboard just don't cut it.

Just today I found out something very exciting, though. Nokia has been releasing "internet tablets" for a few years now, and the next one slated for release (the N810) can emulate PalmOS Garnet in a virtual machine. Sweet! I can buy a piece of cutting edge hardware and not have to migrate off PalmOS? Great!

Hardware has advanced to the point that it can run the device I want as an application internal to its own device? Now I'm depressed.

2007.11.14 at 12:00am EDT

Zombie Fluxx Cardbox

This game does not come in this box.

2007.11.14 at 12:01am EDT

Driving to Work

One of the things I don't like about my current workstyle, that is, working as a contract technical writer, is that I get very little say in where (physically) I work. I pretty much take whatever good work is available at the time I need work, whether the work is close to home or some distance away. Currently, I'm working about 15 miles from home, which should only take about 25 minutes, but can often take 45 minutes to an hour. It's my firm belief that every minute you spend on the highway carries with it a certain percentage risk of accident, and so the more time you spend driving the greater the likelyhood you will be involved in an accident.

Earlier this year I was working very close to home. We live on the very Eastern edge of the city, and I was working a bit further East. It took me about ten minutes driving to work, and could sometimes take 20 coming home if there was traffic heading West into the city for some event. (Not that I'd be in the traffic, but the back ways just don't move at highway speed.) I was spoiled then, and I knew it.

Highway speed is part of the problem. Nearly everyone on the highway during rush hour (who isn't stuck in congestion) wants to go at least 60 miles per hour. Typically on highways headed out of the city, traffic flies along at about 70+ miles per hour. (Speed limits on these roads are usually 55.) Now, I am not now, nor have I ever considered myself, a particularly slow or cautious driver, but this is insane. I try to be as observant as possible, as well as considerate to other drivers, but I drive fast and I take chances. Still, having people flying around me, trying to get ahead, squeezing into gaps, treating their progress as paramount to the smooth flow of traffic, etcetera, really makes me think I'm about to die.

In the past few years I have witnessed the near aftermath of several accidents, witnessed a couple accidents as they happened, and been in a couple of minor bumps and near misses. Every single one of these freaks me out. Nothing drive it further into my mind that it's just a matter of time. The more time you spend on the highway, the closer you get to your inevitable smash-up.

This is of course by way of apology to the poor person I nearly merged into on the way to work this morning. Sorry. Good use of horn there. Hope I see you tomorrow.

2007.11.15 at 11:00am EST

Hee hee hee

So I realized that right now, since I'm contracting for a network hardware company, it's the perfect time to bring in this old project to hang on my cube wall. They're just hanging there, waiting for somebody to notice. Waiting …waiting.

2007.11.15 at 12:00pm EST

They Still Might Be Giants

Sorry, no felines today, just some text about those cool cats They Might Be Giants.

Now, I've been listening to TMBG for a long time, and I've seen them in concert maybe six or seven times. They're a big favorite at CMU where I went to college, and have headlined Spring Carnival maybe three times. They tend to play somewhere in Pittsburgh every time they're on tour, though I don't always make it to the show. I own all their albums on CD, and buy each new one as it comes out, even the kids albums.

Even before the kids albums, TMBG had quite the following with the younger set. I suppose it's because their music is often erudite, always fun, and in any case non-offensive. It's the kind of music somebody can discover in college, bring home at the holidays, and play for their younger siblings without freaking out the parents. Also, the people who were already in college when TMBG first started getting popular probably started having kids pretty soon after that, so starting in 1997 or so second-generation fans started going to shows.

It was soon after that that I basically stopped going to TMBG shows. I was in my late 20's at the time, and really didn't want to hang out at shows with 12-year-olds. I suppose there was an element of jealousy, in that these kids were way cooler than I was at that age. Once TMBG started putting out kids albums, I realized their audience was only going to get younger and younger, and that I was going to get less and less comfortable attending.

They (and I) appear to have passed through this phase unharmed, though. A friend of mine was in town on business, and when I mentioned TMBG was playing here she totally wanted to go, having not seen them in concert for maybe 12 years. The concert last night was great. The audience is back to being mostly college age with a long tail of older folks. We were not the oldest people there. I assume the oldest people were the ones whose kids have already gone off to college, allows their pre-parental personalities to resurface.

I've actually seens a quote on the internet to the effect of, "Yeah, TMBG is the band I don't listen to any more because they're the band Ilistened to a lot when I was nine." Now that TMBG has hit their 25th anniversary, I think a lot of their fans of all ages are doing pretty well. Last night at the show they played a smattering of tunes from their entire history, including a couple that went out "to the god damn kids".

Anyway, if you stopped going to their shows for the same reason I did, I'd say it's safe for you to give it another try. It's better if you pick a club that has an over-21 area with a bar, just to be sure. Also, pick up their latest album, "The Else". It's pretty good.

2007.11.16 at 11:00am EST

Friday Giantblogging

They Might Be Giants at Mr. Small's Funhouse, 2007.11.15

This is the best picture I took at the concert, which isn't saying much, I know. Hey, I was nearly all the way in the back by the sound board, because that's where the bar is.

2007.11.16 at 11:30am EST


I went to Philcon, the Philadelphia area science fiction convention, this past weekend. I've attended this convention nearly every year since 1990. I missed the Millenium Philcon (which was a WorldCon), and maybe one or two more, but that leaves more than a dozen times I've been there. I've been through three hotels, and several different weekends (before, just before, and after Thanksgiving).

It's strange. You know, every annual event has its ups and downs. Great years, bad years, average years, etecetera, and sometimes the difference is in attendee and not the event. This year was pretty average conventionwise, and it was pretty average me-wise.

I had some good times. Some years I don't go to any panels, some years I do panels full time. Some years I don't play any games, some years I play games all day and night. Some years I hang out with friends, and some year I party hop. This year I did a fair number of panels, gamed a bunch, and did zero party hopping. Saturday I did my drinking in the hotel bar, starting an extemporaneous discussion that was better than most of the panels I'd been to, or maybe it only seemed better after two of the hotel's $9.60 martinis.

Next year the convention is moving to a new hotel, although they don't know which hotel, what weekend, or who their guests will be. It should be a fascinating study in weekend-long train wrecking, and if history is any indication, well worth attending.

2007.11.19 at 4:00pm EST

Tuesday Tublogging

Kittatiny Tunnel, PA Turnpike

2007.11.20 at 12:00am EST

Palm Depression 2|X

A week ago, I lamented the sad state of the Palm OS PDA. This week, Palm announced that they are discounting the two-year-old Palm T|X by $100 for the next week.

It used to be that when a new Palm PDA model would be released, the price of the previous model would drop by $50. I supose that since this discount is so large, and since there's still no new model to replace it, Palm is tacitly announcing a clearance sale on their PDAs. I'm buying one, not be cause I'm happy about it, but because it keeps me from having to worry about this issue for another three years.

2007.11.21 at 10:00am EST

XII IIT Finals

The three games in the finals round of the 12th International Icehouse Tournament, held in Columbus, Ohio at the Origins game convention in July of 2001. The finalists are Jacob "Shotgun" Davenport (Yellow), Liam Bryan (Green), Elliott "Eeyore" Evans (Red), and Dan Isaac (Blue).

I shot these videos back in 2001 during the tournament, but only now decided to put them up on YouTube. The camera was mounted on the Skypod camera boom. These videos have been resampled to 150% of original speed to enable a 15 minute game to be presented in under 10 minutes to meet YouTube's restrictions.

Game 1

Jacob wins this game with a near-perfect score of 29 points, Liam scores 25, Eeyore is Icehoused and scores 0, and Dan scores 19.

Game 2

Liam wins this game with a score of 27 points, Jacob scores 25, Eeyore scores 16, and Dan scores 20.

Game 3

Eeyore wins this game with a near-perfect score of 29 points, Liam scores 14, Dan scores 24, and Jacob scores 19. Combined with his previous scores and first game win, this game is enough to clinch the championship for Jacob.

2007.11.26 at 12:00am EST

For the Record

Sorry to be morbid, but just so you all know my final wishes, when it is time for me to go, I plan to dive my space ship into the Sun.

2007.11.28 at 11:45am EST

Pain in T(he)|X

As recounted previously, after much hemming and hawing I bought a discounted Palm T|X PDA. When I upgraded from my priginal Palm III to a Handera 330, the move was almost completely painless. When I upgraded from the 330 to a Palm Tungsten T3, there was extended wailing and gnashing of teeth. Now that I am upgrading from the T3 to the TX, I am reliving the pain I relived three years ago.

This is where I believe that Palm really fell down on the job. If somebody is going to put their entire life in a device, they should have some assurance they will be able to get their life out of the device if necessary. I recognize that it is necessary for a company like Palm to move constantly forward, but each time they have done so it seems like they have done it to attract new people to their fold, and not to retain the people they already have.

This has always been visible in the way they forced users to purchase all new accessories (down to the type of stylus nearly every time they upgraded hardware. The constant shift in form factors and connectors meant that you couldn't just buy a new machine, you had to rebuild your entire environment. There was also a constant shift in operating system and database structure, forcing users to upgrade their software applications. Application developers mimicked this, making it difficult to transfer applications you had purchased from one device to another.

It took me months to repair the damage to my databases that was caused by my 330 to T3 move. I expect the time frame to be similar for this latest move. The only upside to the apparent death of Palm is that theoretically the next time I move, it will be away from Palm OS entirely.

2007.11.29 at 10:30am EST

Friday Cublogging

My Cube Name Tag

In case you can't tell what they did here, they took a cube sign that had only one T in my first name, and fixed it by applying a T peeled from another sign. I have been here three months. The delivered the incorrect sign a week or two ago, and this version just appeared this morning.

2007.11.30 at 10:00am EST

Deaths in the family

I didn't post this sooner because, well, it seems weird to be posting such stuff to a blog that is normally pretty frivolous. Last week my sweetie's father passed away. We were there when he died, and it was peaceful, for which we are thankful. He knew a lot of people, both through his life and his internet correspondence, so the amount of support that has been coming in for his family has been tremendous. Many thanks to you all who have expressed sympathy.

After his obituary was published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the news staff decided to write a longer article about him and his life. If you weren't privileged to know him well, I hope those two things help you realize what a great character is now missing from the world.

Then, as if that weren't enough, Marshall's fiancee Linda also lost her son, who had also been ill for some time. Will was another great character, and another good friend. Sharon refers to him as her step-brother, and he certainly treated us like family.

Last week was very sad for us, so I hope you're all wearing your seatbelts and eating healthy foods.

2007.11.03 at 12:00am EST

T|Xation Without Representation

I suppose I owe you all an update on this very important issue. What I wound up doing was hard-resetting the T|X, then moving databases over one by one from the T3. This was accomplished by beaming when possible (using the Applications Launcher, FileZ, and T'Catalog), or restoring individual databases from an SD card backup of the T3. I needed to use a small utility called "ChangeName" on the T|X to set the Hotsync name without Hotsyncing, but other than that things went smoothly if slowly.

Pictures in the Palm photo app were the biggest pain, since the database format appears to have changed. The desktop software probably would have handled that better, but I still don't have the desktop software working right. Last night, I tried to fix it by setting all my conduits to "handheld overwrites desktop" (a cumbersome process that has been cumbersome since 1998 at least), but that hung up in my calendar and I killed it in the morning.

What I'll probably wind up doing is uninstalling the desktop application, and reinstalling it from scratch. Bleargh.

Anyway, the T|X is an OK machine. I'm really missing the vibrating alert, and hated having to buy another charge/sync cable. I don't like how the status bar doesn't have a home button on it any more, and don't like how it's been moved to a hard button. I don't need a hard button for the web browser, either, since the WiFi has trouble connecting to encrypted networks (most of the networks I use).

It seems that some WiFi routers simply take too long to assign IP addresses, and the Palm is timing out, but I can't find a timeout value anywhere. I can connect quickly to open networks, and almost as quickly to lightly encrypted networks, but networks with full 104/128 bit encryption most often don't work. I can connect at home about half the time. When it works, it's nice to be able to browse web stuff and fetch new email on the go, though.

Over the weekend I was hanging out with a bunch of people who all had iPhones, and their connectivity wasn't much better than mine, all told. They could use Google maps, but the network was so slow it wasn't very useful. I did better by taking screen captures at home before the trip and putting them on a memory card. It was also pretty funny watching people copy down each other's information between iPhones. No ability to beam information? Even to email you have to get the person's address somehow. Maybe somebody will write a quick Bluetooth beamer application once Apple allows you to put your own programs on your device.

Ok, so I've managed to get pretty far afield. Anyway, I've been annoyed with my PDA upgrade, but I'm managing to get it worked out and it's been better than the last time. Also, I'm glad I still have a Palm and not an iPhone.

2007.12.05 at 4:30pm EST

Let It Snow

It's time for my annual rant on the topic of snow.

Please, out of consideration for everyone else on the road, clean as much snow and ice as possible off your vehicle before driving it anywhere.

First of all, it doesn't blow off as well as you think it does, particularly if it's two inches thick. Second, it does blow off some, into the windshields of everybody behind you, decreasing visibility on an already problematic day. Third, you look like a freaking idiot and I hate you.

Funniest I ever saw was after we'd had a snow storm followed by an ice storm, so three inches of snow all had a hard crust. Guy was driving a car down the highway when enough wind got under the sheet of ice on his hood to lift it off the snow in one complete sheet and send it flying up into the air. Idiot must have thought his hood flew off and he was about to get somebody killed. Luckily for all of us the ice sliced offf onto the shoulder. I pulled up next to him to look over and his face was gray like death. I laughed and laughed. This could be you.

If your SUV is too tall for you clean off the roof, consider that you have bought a vehicle too freaking large for human scale living. that means that either you should get rid of it, or admit you are an inhuman monster of some kind.

2007.12.06 at 12:00pm EST

Boring Weekend

For once, a boring weekend. Some weekends, I'm travelling. Some weekends, I have events to attend. Some weekends, I have piles of stuff to do at home. Some weekends, thankfully, are boring, and I jealously guard them and enforce their dreariness.

Things got off to a good start on Friday with another snow storm that inspired me to work from home. Not leaving the house at all on Friday made Saturday extra special, so I didn't get out of bed until noon on Saturday. We did some babysitting for the nephews on Saturday night, which inspired some rushing around, but that was OK. On Sunday, the biggest news was that I got some shredding done to loosen things up in my filing cabinet. Shredding! Yippee.

Another thing I did to empty some space was to clean up my tax records. My standard operating procedure when I finish filing my taxes is to gather everything up that I used to prepare them, put it all in a folder, and put that folder in my files. This sounds like a good plan except it includes all kinds of stuff I will never ever need, like envelopes, instructions books, extra copies of forms, etcetera. Just pulling all the old instruction books saved me about four inches of drawer space.

If me posting in pride about three inches of drawer space doesn't impress upon you the ponderous nature of my weekend, I don't know what will.

2007.12.10 at 10:00am EST

"Wolf Who Rules" Q's

I finished reading this book over the weekend, and I have a couple of questions from the very end.

  1. What happened to Esme?
  2. The rim intersects the Squirrell Hill Tunnels?

If any of you, my readers, can answer, please send me email.

2007.12.10 at 1:00pm EST



2007.12.11 at 9:00am EST

Still Sick

I definitely feel better today than I did at this time yesterday, but I also felt worse waking up this morning than I did waking up yesterday.

2007.12.12 at 10:00am EST

Rosemary Chicken with Potatoes



  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Farenheit.
  2. Slice the potatoes into 1/4 inch slices and brown them (both sides) in oil. It's fastest if you use multiple frying pans for this step. Make sure at least one of them is oven-safe with a cover. remove slices to paper towel to drain when done.
  3. Pound chicken breasts to 1/2 inch thickness, and roll each around a spring of rosemary. You can also add a sprinkle of sage inside before rolling, if you have it. Sear the breasts in oil to lock them into their rolled shape.
  4. Drain almost all the oil from the oven-safe pan and cover the bottom with potato slices. Place the browned chicken breasts on top of the potatoes and top each with a couple of slices of lemon.
  5. Mix liquids and pour into bottom of pan. Cover, and bake in oven for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the chicken is fully cooked.
  6. Pour the starch liquid into the remaining pan liquid and swirl the pan around to mix it. Allow to stand 5 to 10 minutes while the food cools a little bit.
  7. Serve each chicken breast on a plate next to 8 to 10 slices of potato. Spoon thickened sauce from pan over chicken and potatoes. Opinions vary on whether eating the rosemary is a good idea, but watch out for the twig at the center.

Enjoy! I make this recipe at home three or four times a year. It's kind of a pain with all the frying, but it's tasty.

2007.12.13 at 12:00am EST

Friday Assblogging

Rudely Parked 'Patriot'

The ass who owns and drives this Jeep Patriot parks like this quite often in the lot at work. It's a pet peeve of mine, so here's some public shame. After I took this picture, somebody wrote "BAD PARKER" in the dust on the back window and it was like that for days.

2007.12.14 at 3:00pm EST

More Politics

It's fashionable among some groups of people to view the US government as a wolf at the throat of the American people. Those people want to rule the US as a republic like Rome, but the US is supposed to be a democracy. The government is supposed to be of the people, by the people, and for the people. It is not the government; it is our government. Our government is more like a dog than a wolf, and you don't make friends with a dog by starving the beast.

2007.12.17 at 5:00am EST

Dear Eeyore

A friend of mine once told me that when most women talk to others about their problems what they want is sympathy, and that when most men talk about their problems what they want is advice. This leads to complications as women talk to men hoping for sympathy and and receive what they perceive as "being told what to do." I don't know how true or untrue this is in general, but with me specifically I know that I compuslively respond with advice, and have to remember to voice my sympathy. I'm not sure if that comes off any better.

"Gosh, that really sucks. (How do you actually communicate sympathy?) I remember when this vaguely similar thing happened to me how much that sucked, so I know what it's like to have something suck, and that sucks. (Too much information? Trying to even the emotional field here? This isn't some kind of competition. More honest sympathy needed.) I'm really sorry to hear this sucky thing is happened to you. (Not exactly sympathetic, but indicates I'm trying.) [Pause for one breath or drink.] (Whew, interpersonal obligations fulfilled, now for the advice.) Here's the first thing I can think of to solve the situation. (Gosh you should have figured that out for yourself.)"

See what I mean? The heart wants to help heal, but the brain wants to help solve and sometimes it sounds like the asshole. Life is hard.

2007.12.18 at 11:00am EST


Right now I'm working as an independant contractor. This has pluses and minuses. One of the minuses is that I only get paid for hours I spend actually working. That means that if my uberboss takes the group out for a holiday lunch, and the lunch takes two hours, and I don't feel like working late to make up for it, this lunch costs me an hour's pay. I hate to seem ungrateful for a free lunch, but this lunch was very expensive, realistically speaking. Nice chatting with my coworkers, though.

2007.12.19 at 3:00pm EST

Disturbing Dream

In the dream, I'm standing outside, in front of what is vaguely my parents house. Across the street, standing on the porch of a house (which is not the actual house across the street from my parents) were a bunch of kids. There were about six kids, plus one of them was holding a baby. Suddenly, the kid with the baby dashes across the street. Speeding cars whiz in front of and behind the kid, but he makes it across just fine. The kid stops, turns around, and runs back across the street. Faster than I can gasp my dismay, he makes it back through traffic, and I am relieved, but then as he climbs the steps onto the porch, he drops the baby.

The baby starts screaming, of course. One of the girls picks up the baby and runs back to my side of the street. At this point I'm starting to wonder what's going on here, but at least they got the baby away from that reckless boy. Then, the girl holding the baby also drops it. She's short so it doesn't fall far, but it lands on its head and then rolls over onto its back. I rush over to see if it's OK.

The baby has stopped screaming, but it's lying there on its back looking up at me. I see now that the baby is battered and misshapen. I'm disgusted by the crimes, but repulsed by the victim. One of the kids says, "You should try this." He reaches out with two fingers and presses on the baby's head, which makes a nauseating squishing sound.

I grab the kid's hand and pull it away from the baby. "No, you shouldn't do that. Leave it alone." The kid tries to do something else, and I wrestle him back from the baby. I turn to Sharon and begin to walk towards the house. "We should call someone. I'm going to call the police." That's all I remember of the dream.

2007.12.20 at 3:00pm EST

Friday Barblogging

The Afterparty

2007.12.21 at 11:00am EST

Kim Stanley Robinson's "Sixty Days and Counting"

One of these days, I'm going to figure out why I keep reading books by Kim Stanley Robinson. Okay, I enjoy reading his books. They're not very good novels though, in that the plot (if it exists) is not central to the book. The situations and characters of all his books are well constructed and described, but then the course of each book is more or less just a chain of things that happen. This book is the third 500 page volume of a trilogy, and I can't even tell which character delivers the last line of dialog. Yet, I will probably buy "The Galileans" (his work in progress) when it comes out.

His books, I guess, are like real life. Things happen, you can't tell what's good or bad, but you just make guesses and listen to what other people say. The plots (if they exist) are so much larger than the characters that you can only infer their existence from where they intersect the lives of the characters, and not directly observe them.

I guess I keep reading because I so desperately want to know if he's a bad writer who just rants and rambles, or a good writer who is simply too nuanced for me to understand. I find it difficult to recommend him to others, though.

2007.12.26 at 4:00pm EST

Santa Surprise

I am a horrible gift shopper, so for Sharon's holiday gifts I try to start as early as possible. Hopefully, I'm mostly done by the end of November. Then, I wrap everything up so that if she goes into my supply closet for something she won't accidentally glimpse her presents.

Over the course of the next month, I forget the content of about half of these wrapped presents. Sometimes Sharon will say to me in December, "Well, if you didn't get me such-and-such, I'll buy it after Newyears. I can only smile sweetly and mysteriously, because even I don't know if I bought that or not.

When she opens her preents, it's as much for my benefit as for hers. "Yipee, I did get you that."

2007.12.28 at 1:00pm EST

Friday Catblogging

Three in a Bowl

2007.12.28 at 6:30pm EST

New Year Wrap-Up

Welcome to a brand new year here at "Nothing In It". I can't say I am sorry to see 2007 go. I have some worries about 2008, but let's take it one day at a time.

My first few months of posting here have been interesting. I've made a real effort to put up something every business day, even if it's a cheap cop-out of some kind. After watching webcomics and other blogs for years, I knew it wouldn't be easy. My record so far has been fairly successful, well into the B-grade.

In 2008, you can hopefully look forward to more project posting. I just completed a polar fleece hoodie for Sharon (new pattern!) and a set of curtains for my home office. I also still have some projects from last year that still need complete documentation, so that's a few more posts right there. I've also watched a few good movie lately, and I can't stop reading books, so expect more discussion along those lines.

Anyway, I hope you had a good holiday. Mine was relaxing. I hope you'll keep reading. Thanks.

2008.01.02 at 12:00pm EST

Review of "World War Z" by Max Brooks

I didn't buy this author's first zombie-related book, "The Zombie Survival Guide", as it was one of a spate of books attempting to follow the success of "The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook", which I enjoyed too immensely. This book, subtitled, "An Oral History of the Zombie War", is a totally different beast, and definitely worth a read.

Taking the form of a series of interviews, the book builds an overall story through brief snippets of information. You get to see the history of the overall war and its phases from so many different angles that it's difficult to get bored. Brooks wants you to see the story of the outbreak as a world event, and through his disjoint storytelling I think he succeeds. The overall story itself is also involving, drawing you into the minute details of a zombie invasion as incidental mentions and unusual experiences.

It's clear that Brooks really thought his idea through, exploring aspects and implications of a zombie event that I'd never seen discussed elsewhere. Beyond the first few days of a zombie invasion as covered by most work, Brooks covers years of effects, both personal and socio-political. The scale he's discussing goes from one person's story, to one nation's story, to a global story. It's convincing and I found it engrossing.

2008.01.00 at 12:00am EST

Shocking Experience

I really hate being cold, so I tend to wear a lot of clothing in the winter. all these layers generate a lot of static electricity, so I'm used to receiving shocks from just about everything I touch. The other day I went to pour out the remains of yesterday's soft drink, and when the stream of liquid joined the metal can in my hand to the metal sink, pow! That's a new one on me.

2008.01.04 at 12:00am EST

Three Good Things About Going to the Movies This Weekend

The Movie: Sweeney Todd

Tim Burton continues to make gutsy movies that entertain while engendering a definite uneasiness. This movie is way gorier than I even expected, but somehow still watchable. Many people will hold up Johnny Depp, but Todd's character in this is perhaps the least interesting. Helena Boham Carter's meat pie lady has many more layers; she's the real star here. The film is not too long, and the pacing drives inexorably to the horrific end. This film will be a favorite of the Gothic crowd for decades, but everybody should see this wonderful rendition of a Sondheim classic.

The Amenities: This Theatre Has a Bar

What more can I say? It's a serviceable bar. In the same building. If you pay extra, you can walk right from the bar into the upper seats of the theatres holding your drink, but even a general admission ticket lets you upstairs before the show. It sure beats trying to meet up with your companions inside the dark theatre, and it's suprisingly free of advertising in there, which I cannot say about the lobby.

The Pre-Show: Not Boring

When did studios start producing the "no smoking, no talking, no phones, etc." announcements before the film as advertisements for their upcoming films? Since I'm sitting there expecting film advertising, this doesn't bother me, and it's prefereable to the service announcements theaters used to buy from stock houses or have produced once and use for the next twenty years. Now, can we stop with the truck commercials and TV promos?

2008.01.00 at 12:00am EST

New Windshield

The man from Safelite replacing my windshield

Normally, any kind of car service is a dreadful pain. When the windshield of my car sprouted a crack several weeks ago, I put off doing anything about it because I anticipated having to drop off my car at a body shop and leave it there for two or three days. Eventually, enough people told me to call my insurance company about it that that's what I did.

I knew it was the right choice when the automated system said, "Press 1 if your claim is related to the glass in your automobile." From there, I basically answered a bunch of questions from a customer service representative and set up an appointment for a person to drive out to my workplace and replace the windshield in the parking lot.

Read that again! Why isn't more auto service like this? It really was sweet. When the guy arrived at my workplace, he called me on my phone and I went outside to show him to my car. I unlocked it, and he did the rest. When he was finished, he called me again, I went back outside, signed some paperwork, paid my deductible, and I was done. Done!

Does anybody do oil changes this way? Maybe in the middle of the night while dressed as a ninja? Ninjiffy lube?

2008.01.08 at 10:00am EST

"A Pair of Eboshi" project added

Back in September, I made a pair of Japanese eboshi caps. Medieval Japanese of middle and upper classes rarely went about with their heads uncovered. In modern times, it's often inconvenient to wear a helmet or formal hat of some kind, so most people I know wear eboshi. These even make good "liners" for actual hats or helmets (not that I wear a kabuto).

I've needed these for a while to complete my outfits, so it's good to finally have them, although they make my ears stick out.

2007.10.31 at 12:00am EDT

Garage Translation

I have to admit that in my own professional life, I suck at estimating how long something will take. When observing other people's failures in this area (always easier than analyzing your own failures) a frequent source of data is the garage I take my car to for service.

To be honest, I love this place. They do good work, they're conveniently located, and stuff they fix stays fixed. They're maybe a little expensive, but they're honest (as far as I can tell) and the rest is worth it to me. They even go a little out of their way for you (squeezing you in the schedule, doing disgnostics for free sometimes, etc.) if they know and like you.

That said, they suck at estimating time.

What they estimate How long it takes
10 minutes 20 minutes
15 minutes 45 minutes
1 hour half a day
3 or 4 hours all day

Now I realize that sometimes the schedule gets changed due to unforeseen accidents, squeezing in people they like, and such, but it's so consistent that it seems like they should catch on. If they have caught on and they still underestimate, well that's pretty much lying. It's the only thing I've caught them being dishonest about, so it sticks out, you know?

On other things, they're super honest. Like, if I call up and ask if they could do something change for me or something on a day they're busy, they tell me "no." Usually that means I wait a day or two and try again, but some people would just go someplace else, and I respect the garage for taking that risk by being honest. Anyway, this bit me today so I'm posting about it.

2007.01.10 at 4:00pm EST

Friday Assblogging

Rudely Parked 'H3'

This is the first time I've seen this H3 parked like an ass, but something about the H3 screams "ass" to begin with, so even minor violations are like hanging an ASS billboard off your vehicle. Why do people even buy these imitation Humvees anyway? I mean, at least a real "Hummer" has a certain "Up yours" vibe to it that demand respect. The H3 just has that "poser" vibe like people in the midwest who dress like surfers.

2008.01.11 at 12:00am EST


Why do people still use parentheses in phone numbers? You know, like "(412) 555-1212"? Does anybody still live in a region where area codes are optional? Haven't ten digit numbers been mandatory in most areas for something like ten years? It's an obsolete, archaic usage! It makes you seem like an old person, like that guy who used to write editorials for The Onion who would hyphen-ate words like "auto-mobile" to make himself seem olde-timey.

Stop. If you want, we can argue about whether phone numbers should be broken into sections by hyphens or by dots, but this is non-negotiable.

2008.01.14 at 12:00am EST

"Suito" project page updated

After cleaning and finishing a bottle gourd for use as a "Suito" Japanese drinking gourd at Pennsic, I couldn't even make it the whole time without breaking the thing. Scroll down to the bottom for a few pictures of the wreckage.

2008.01.15 at 12:00am EST


As far as I know, I am the first to say "MacBook Err".

Just trying to raise the blood pressure of all the Apple fans.

2008.01.15 at 5:00pm EST

"Batik Drapes" project page added

I made some new drapes for the room I use as an office. After searching in vain for some nice drapes it's nice to just be able to find some fabirc and make some and have done with it. I'm not thrilled with these, but they're nice.

To paraphrase a friend of mine, "I don't know how people who can't sew manage to get through life."

2008.01.16 at 12:00am EST

"Hoodies" project page added

I wanted to be able to make hoodies, so I got a pattern for making hoodies, and now I can make hoodies, until the end of time, or when the supply of hoodie, fabric runs out.

2008.01.17 at 12:00am EST

I Have Returned

Spent a week on vacation, during which I decided not to post here at all. We were in a hotel with wireless, so I probably could have, but if I'd even started up my computer I would have gotten distracted ripping CDs and burning DVDs, so it's unclear I would have gotten around to posting. Was that mysterious?

Most of the week was spent at Arisia. It's been a while since I've been to Boston, so we made time for socializing and visiting family. At Arisia, I spent a bunch of time helping my friend Eric with his 'Fan performance Guest of Honor' duties, but I found some time for doing regular Con stuff and relaxing at parties.

(Private to MC: Chaya says hello. Full conversation included obligatory "Do you know", "Of course I know" sequence familiar to Pittsburghers on vacation but always so surprising to outsiders.)

Anyway, rent a copy of "Jadesoturi" (aka: Jade Warrior) if you're looking for a good Finnish kung-fu film. I'm not kidding. This film is more "thinking person's wuxia" that some people can't stand, but of course I thought it was great.

I shot about five hours of video for Eric to edit, so fans of his "Eric in the Elevator" talk show have quite a bit to look forward to.

2008.01.24 at 12:00pm EST

Friday Ericblogging

Eric interviews Art GoH Marrus

The elevators at the Hyatt where Arisia is held are too narrow and fragile for extended filming, so the convention built Eric an "Elevator" set in the lobby just behind the elevators themselves. In this picture, Eric finally gets to interview the real Marrus following a practical joke. The cue card chick requests applause.

2008.01.25 at 10:30am EST

Best Laid Plans

Pittsburgh's curbside recycling program employs a "blue bag" system. Supermarkets bag your groceries with blue plastic bags, and you put your recyclables in these bags and leave them out at the curb every other trash day to be picked up by a separate recycling crew.

This January, the recycling program was greatly expanded in our part of the city. Instead of just accepting newspaper, cans, and plastics 1-5; we can recycle cardboard, office paper, catalogs, and paperboard. This is all "single stream" and doesn't have to be separated (which is convenient), and can just all be shoved together in the same blue bags.

The difficulty comes in that we already have a small problem with recyclables piling up in our home. Recycling collection is still every two weeks, so with this expansion of the program our storage requirements have also increased. Typically, by the end of a two week period our recycling bin was already overflowing w with bottles and cans.

We worried about this for a bit until we noticed that the brochure for the program [PDF] said, "Place in blue bags only (or Place in bright blue containers clearly marked 'Recycling')." We could get a blue recycling can, and store recyclables in the garage instead of the kitchen, then just wheel the bin outside on recycling day.

So of course the regular trash guys, who go through the neighborhood before the recycling crew, just dumped our big bin of recyclables into the garbage truck. Yay environmentalism! I called the recycling Division of the Bureau of Environmental Services to ask about this, and was told the blue container mention in the brochure was a red herring. All recyclables should be placed outside in blue bags, except for cardboard which can be simply flattened and tied with string (not simple, by the way). We could use a blue container to store full blue bags, and could possibly put a blue container full of blue bags out for the recycling crew to empty, but the person on the phone wouldn't recommend it.

So yay. Yay for people who don't mean what they write, and yay for people who don't tell anybody what they mean. Yay for people who don't know what they're supposed to do, and yay for people who don't do what they're supposed to. Yay for people who clearly mean well but have a hard time figuring out how to actually accomplish things. Yay.

2008.01.28 at 11:00am EST

Inquiring Minds

According to my http access logs, 7% of the visitors who are directed to my web site by search engines only want to know one thing: How to play Sorry.

2008.01.29 at 11:59pm EST


So I woke up this morning at about 5am to a loud clunk outside, and I noticed the power was out. High winds here in Pittsburgh today. (It was supposed to be snowy, so I'll take it.)

Anyway, luckily we have a gas-powered hot water heater, a gas stove, a stove-top coffee maker, and battery-powered alarm clocks. I also liked having a battery powered radio for my morning news and liked having the big flashlight so she could see. (I can see in very dim light.)

2008.01.30 at 10:00am EST


I'm always amazed when I say something that I think is mildly amusing, and the people I'm talking to erupt with wild laughter.

2008.01.31 at 12:00am EST


Over the weekend, I turned another pile of old documents into confetti as part of my continuing efforts to pare down my files from eight drawers to four. The question that ran through my mind most often was not, "Why do I still have this stuff?" but, "Why did I ever keep this stuff?"

I actually shredded a stack of statements from a checking account that I not only closed more than a dozen years ago, but was at a bank that no longer exists. Good riddance!

My new method for storing files has a two step approach. Step one is scan all bills and statements into my computer. Step two is place scanned documents into yearly folders. If I need to look something up, the scans are named for searchability. When it's time to destroy old documents I can pull a single folder for shredding instead of having to dig through a dozen account-specific folders.

My biggest problem now is going through the 10 inches or so of stuff that has stacked up in my desktop letter tray. Most of it is packed into a big box at this point, but I really need to sit down and go through it to figure out what needs to stay and what needs to go.

Finally, if you're looking for a good shredder, I'm liking my Fellowes DS-1. It's shredded everything I've run through it, and has some style to it. A big bonus is that the output bin can be emptied without having to lift the shredding unit off the top of it like my old shredder. That old one's dead by the way. The moral of that story is that even if the envelope says "blessings of Jesus on whoever opens this envelope" on the outside, feeding the entire envelope (unopened) through the shredder is probably an overreaction.

2008.02.04 at 11:00am EST


Syllotape - A notional adhesive tape, used for joining two or more apparently separate arguments or lines of logical thinking, or for patching a flawed argument.

This joke (like "Spellotape" in Harry Potter) is funnier if you know that "Sellotape" is the most popular brand of transparent adhesive tape in the United Kingdom.

2008.02.04 at 1:30pm EST

Yesterday's Lesson

Just because your fully loaded trailer slid into the loading bay no problem (when it was fully loaded) doesn't mean that (after unloading) it won't break the head off a fire sprinkler on the way out.

Those who know me well know that this is the second time I've had to evacuate a building due to somebody breaking the head off a fire sprinkler. At least this time I was dressed.

2008.02.05 at 1:00pm EST

More Politics

Look, I already voted for Hillary Clinton once, and I wasn't happy with the way it turned out. I remember saying to somebody in 1992, "If the only way to get a smart woman into the White House is to vote for her slimy husband, I'm all for it." The next eight years were pretty good economically, and very exciting technologically, but politically they kinda sucked. Bill Clinton signed more crappy laws (DMCA, NAFTA, CDA) than I like to think about, and I remember him specifically declining to veto them, regardless of the fact he disagreed with them. Political mishandling set back progressive causes (like health care and workers rights) for more than a decade instead of moving them forward.

This is not to say I would vote for any of the people the Republicans are proposing to run, but I really would prefer to not vote for Hillary again.

2008.02.00 at 12:00am EST


I don't do a lot of linking on this blog, but this image is teh awsum!

A candidate both LOLpublicicans and LOLocrats can be proud of.

2008.02.07 at 10:00am EST

Video List

Winter. Bleh. Can't do large scale woodworking without filling the house with sawdust or finishing fumes. Can't do sewing because the sewing room has stuff in it. Too cold to do stuff outside. Time to sit in front of a screen and do some catching up.

I don't own any of these, I had to borrow them from friend.

2008.02.11 at 12:00am EST

New Key

Over the weekend, we were in the hardware store looking for some stuff, and when we passed the key counter I saw that there are now keys painted with various Disney characters. Oh no, it looks like I need a new house key.

Yesterday, I noticed that my key ring sounds different. I never noticed that I'd gotten used to the way my key ring sounds, but it makes sense, I guess. I makes me wonder how many key ring "signatures" my brain has memorized, and how many I could identify just from the sound.

2008.02.12 at 12:00am EST


This is the 100th post to this blog. Not much of a milestone I admit, but it's my milestone and I like it.


2008.02.12 at 12:01am EST

Samuel Delany's "Dhalgren"

After a couple of years of staring at this book on my "to read" stack, I finally read it. For those of you not familiar with this work, Dhalgren is one of those famously difficult pieces of fiction loosely labelled as SF, and often called a masterpiece. It seems like very few people have the patience to work their way through the 890 pages of writing to form an opinion. I've gotten pretty good at grinding my way through difficult works (loved Neal Stephenson's "Baroque Cycle"), so I thought I'd give it a shot. I don't yet have an opinion. Usually, it takes me a few weeks to completely digest a work of this type, read some criticism and commentary, and formulate a conclusion. Right now I don't know if it's a masterpiece, and can't say for sure it's fiction let alone SF.

It is, I am confident in saying, a remarkably effective book. By this, I mean it affects the reader. It stimulates moods and thought patterns in a way most fiction does not, at least not in me. Fear, confusion, lust, horror, anger, fondness, sorrow, were all clearly communicated to me and caused to form in me. This can be good and exciting, or troubling. Regardless, it is impressive. What's lacking right now is understanding.

What is Delany trying to say with this work? Is it fiction, or an extensive riff on the theme of identity? If it's fiction, what is the story "about"? For that matter, what is "the story"?

A friend of mine who's had his literary abilities all-but-documented by the academy referred to Delany as "apparently the real thing", so I'm willing to trust the both of them far enough to say Dleany is clearly doing something deliberate here. I guess it's my job to figure out what. Difficult works demand more from the reader. It's one of the reasons I enjoy reading them. Sure is hard work, though.

2008.02.13 at 12:00am EST

Snow Rant #2

It's time for my other annual rant on the topic of snow. Once again, it's all about being considerate to other people.

Parking between the lines is one of the things that separates us from the animals. Even during the LA riots in 1992, when people would drive to a store in order to loot it, they parked between the lines in the parking lot. Why you feel a little snow should give you just cause to park like a barbarian is totally beyond me.

Here's what I do: before I pull into a spot, I put my car in park and get out. Then, I use the heel of my shoe to scrape a trench in the snow until I find two lines that define a parking spot. Then, I park between those lines. Thus, even during an extreme weather event, I maintain my humanity.

Again, this is about consideration to other people who have to use the same parking lot. People who know me know that (in general) I am not a "law and order" type, so this insistence on rigidly following the imposed grid system might seem contradictory, but it is not about obeying commands, but observing the social contract and being efficient in the use of resources.

In a civil society, we try to be fair to our fellows. Parking in more than one spot signifies that your convenience (parking quickly and without having to spend extra time in the cold) is worth more to you than mine (I have to park farther away because all the closer spots are occupied by randomly parked cars).

In a rational society, we try to make efficient use of our resources. If there are 100 convenient parking spaces, filling them with fewer than 100 cars is a waste. If everybody parked randomly we'd need bigger parking lots, and have fewer grassy meadows.

Please, think of others and think of the world when it's snowing and you pull into a parking lot. I know it's probably taken you twice as long to get there in the first place, but spend a little more time and be kind. thanks.

2008.02.14 at 12:00am EST

"Atonement" & "No Country for Old Men"

Did some catching up on the movies-in-theatres front this week as well, seeing two very interesting and disquieting movies.

The first was Atonement, a film set just before and during World War II that details the disruption of life caused by a girl misunderstanding everal things at once. It is essentially a disquisition on the subject of storytelling. The purpose of storytelling is being explored, and how this purpose can be revealed or obscured by the style the storyteller uses. Sometimes, a film will be criticised with the instruction, "Show me, don't tell me." People who don't understand that criticism should be forced to watch this film. It is at once stark and lush. It is sparse and economical in its dialog and exposition, but lavish in its use of symbolism, visuals, and editing. I can see myself watching this movie at least three more times, trying to dig further into it, not because it is confusing (the story is simple and told clearly) but because it is told so well I want to be sure I'm seeing every aspect of it I'm supposed to see.

The second was No Country for Old Men, a Coen brothers film set (inexplicably and unexplainedly) in 1980. Again, there's plenty of symbolism here I just don't understand, but it's almost incidental. The chief trick the Coens pull on the viewer is that despite who the story begins and ends with, and despite who it mostly follows, the story is about the man in the middle. I have to admire Tommy Lee Jones for his work on this role. His job here was to portray a man who is starting to feel "too old", and he allows the filmmakers to show his face in such close ups and with so little concealement that he looks "too old". The film treats the landscape and other settings with the same uncompromising glare as it treats that face. Age, dirt, wear, and clutter are shown in sharp lines and colors. Really, the story here is not as pointed. There's a short voice-over at one point that explains it, but you won't remember what he said by the time the end comes. Look it up on the IMDB quotes page.

2008.02.15 at 11:00am EST

Quote from "Dhalgren"

"[…]You know the world is round, and that the moon is a small world circling it. But you live in a world of up and down, where the land is a surface. But for me, just the visual continuity from that flat surface to a height where the edge of the earth develops a curve, to where that curve is a complete circle, to where the little soap-colored circle hanging in front of you enlarges to the size the Earth was, and then you come down. And suddenly that circle is a surface -- but up and down is already not quite the same thing. We danced when we got out on the moon. What else could we do with that lightness? You know, seeing a film backward isn't the same experience as seeing it forward in reverse. It's a new experience, still happening forward in time. What falls out is all its own. Returning from the moon was not the same as going, played backward. We Arrived at a place where no one had walked; we left a place where we had danced. The earth we left was peopled by a race that had never sent emissaries to another cosmological body. We returned to a people who had. I really feel that what we did was important--folks starving in India not withstanding; and if there's a real threat of world starvation, technology will have to be used to avoid it; and I can't think of a better way to let people know just how far technology can take us.[…]"
-- Captain Kamp in Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany (1974)

2008.02.00 at 12:00am EST

FrameMaker Tip

FrameMaker, in case you don't know, is the premier software package used by technical writers to produce large, complex printed documents. It's a professional level package for document production the way Photoshop is the professional level package for imageediting. There are others, but this one is still the best. It has its problems, but it is still the best.

One of it's problems (in my opinion) is that it saves the zoom level you've selected in the file. This is handy if you're the sole person working on the file, but since FrameMaker actually facilitates group work it's more common that somebody else will have to see this file at some point. Saving it at 120% zoom so you can read it while leaving back in your chair or saving it at 75% so you can see the whole page are both pains for the next person if their favored zoom is different.

So here's my tip. FrameMaker has a setting for "Monitor Size" in its General Preferences. This preference is used to scale the document so that when documents are viewed on the screen at 100%, one inch on the screen is actually one inch long. This is nice, but essentially useless for most people since if you really care about dimensions you'll be looking at the numbers for those dimensions, and not measuring with a ruler. This preference is saved for the user, not in the file. What I recommend is that you always work and save at 100% zoom, then set the Monitor Size preference so that documents zoomed to 100% display at the size at which you like to work. In this case, smaller monitor size settings yield higher zoom levels.

This method has its problems too, but it should resolve the "zoom wars" issue some work groups have when using FrameMaker.

2008.02.19 at 12:00am EST

Stephen Brust's "My Own Kind of Freedom"

Stephen Brust, author of two dozen novels or so, including the long running Dragaera series that includes the Vlad Taltos novels, has written a novel that's a Firefly fanfic. If you're a Brust fan and a Firefly fan you must read this. If you're a Brust fan but not a Firefly fan you should probably skip this. If you're a Firefly fan but have no idea who Brust is, you should pretend it says Joss Whedon or Keith DeCandido (who did a good job on the Serenity novelization, I thought) and read this.

The story occurs after the series as it appears on DVD, but before the events of the film. Inara and Book have already left the ship. Whedon had envisioned several seasons worth of stories like this one occuring, so there's plenty of room. Brust manages to capture the rhythm of dialog, and the internal motivations of the characters. Maybe I'm just bringing that with me, but he manages not to jar my expectations.

Many of the episodes were quality TV in that you could evaluate them not as individual works, but in their importance to the series. This novel isn't a 10.0 on that scale, but it establishes some good material for Mal, and deepens his character considerably. It also also establishes that the crew trust and follow Mal, but they do no idolize him and will disobey when they think he's wrong.

Also, Brust provides plenty of geek-out fodder, throwing in details and trivia as dialog.

What the heck, it's free. Download and enjoy.

2008.02.20 at 12:00am EST

Can't Say I Never Win Anything

The little cafe down on the ground floor of the building in which I'm currently working on contract has a monthly drawing for a covered parking spot in the garage under the building. Every time you receipt totals $4 or more you can drop it in the bin, then every two weeks the previous winner draws a new receipt.

After being here nearly six months and having lunch down in the cafe an average of about three times a week, my name was finally drawn. Starting Monday I get to park in a super-convenient covered spot for two weeks, which is just in time because starting Monday I only have two weeks left on my contract. (Employers in the Pittsburgh area please take note.)

2008.02.21 at 12:00am EST

Friday Catblogging

Mischa the Bandit

Mischa Bandito, the bandit cat
He thinks that chicken is where it's at
He says he wants some, and that is that
Mischa the bandit cat

(A week or so ago, Mischa got into a tussle with one of the other cats (most probably Tashi) and wound up with a big chunk of fur missing from his neck. Of course, he can't leave it alone and he scratches it bloody. Sharon tied this bandanna around his neck to keep him from doing so. It seems to be working. The bandanna is actually loose enough that he could pull it off if he really wanted to, but he's left it on for days. His neck is finally healing nicely.)

2008.02.22 at 12:00am EST

Rudest Parker Ever

Over the weekend, I saw the rudest parking job ever. Somebody at the Monroeville Office Depot (the one where the Sears Homelife used to be, next to the Gabe's where the Food4Less used to be) parked

The only thing that kept me from having the store call the police was the extremely off chance that it was just somebody who had forgotten to put up their placard. I couldn't even take a picture of it because I didn't even want to have a reminder.

2008.02.25 at 10:30am EST

PoliTuesday: Senator Clinton

I admire Senator Hillary Clinton greatly. I believe she's made some mistakes in the political process of attempting to effect progressive change in this country, but it's a difficult and expensive process, and plenty of people have made worse mistakes along it. I admire her dedication to pursuing the Democratic nomination for President of the United States, regardless of my voting plans. I believe that voting is about choice. I want to be forced to make a choice when I enter the voting booth, and too often all the candidates but one have dropped out by the time Pennsylvania gets to vote. Thank you, Senator Clinton for staying in the race and providing us all with a choice.

If Senator Clinton wants me to vote for her in April however, she is going to have to give me reasons to vote for her, not reasons why I should not vote for another. In my opinion, candidates should spend their time building up their own candidacy, not knocking down the candidacies of others. Senator Clinton has a lot to be proud of, and I have no problem with her reminding me of those things and telling me about the things she's like to accomplish in the future. However, I don't like seeing her belittling the accomplishments of others, and denigrating their expressions of hope.

My vote is something a politician must win from me, not drag away from another.

2008.02.26 at 12:00am EST



2008.02.27 at 9:00am EST


My Consolation

Still sick, but being able to park under cover right next to the door into the ground floor lobby of the building is sure a consolation.

2008.02.28 at 12:00pm EST

Friday Catblogging

Dodger and Ethel

The truth is, Ethel is not Sharon's cat. Ethel is Dodger's cat.

2008.02.29 at 12:00am EST

PoliTuesMonday: More silly graphics

2008.03.03 at 12:00am EST


Most days, climbing the stairs is all the exercise I get. We have stairs at home, and I skip the elevator at work as a matter of principle. On the theory that repetition ("reps") promotes tone and endurance while exertion promotes strength, when I'm climbing I tend to go two steps at a time.

In addition to making the work harder, this produces a more normal walking pace, instead of the "fast march" of single step climbing. It's more of a glide up the stairs instead of a staccato dance. After a while, maybe ten years, double-stepping during ascension becomes natural and easy. (Double stepping while descending is dangerous, so I don't recommend it.)

So, if it feels so natural, how do you build strength? The answer is tripple-stepping. Yes, now when I want to exert myself I climb staircases three steps at a time. This is pretty hard. You have to not only lift your body mass a significant amount, there's a balance aspect to it that takes some getting used to. You have to get your your whole body moving upward and forward, or you'll be stuck lifting your center of mass one step behind your front foot.

Usually, I wind up mixing styles during an extended climb, partially because few staircases have a number of steps in each flight that is divisible by three. I'll start out single-stepping on the first flight, move into doubles on the second flight, then tripple-step the last stretch. If the flights are split so the staircase can double back, I have more leeway to alternate styles.

Hey, like I said, it's the only exercise I get, most days, so I try to put as much thought into it as I can.

2008.03.04 at 10:00am EST

R.I.P. Gary Gygax

It's all over the web's blogs and other news sites today. I love what other people are saying about Mr. Gygax, and how he helped change the gaming industry and our modern culture. I'd like to add something about how he changed literature. He was an extraordinarily sucessful publisher and author, who helped design an entirely new genre of writing. It's a participatory genre, where the author provides the landscape, props, antagonists, secondary characters, and general plot; and the "readers" provide the main characters, the dialog, and the specifics of the plot.

Many people have commented on D&D's obvious connection to The Lord of the Rings. Somebody has even gone to the trouble of portraying the film trilogy entirely as the results of a roleplaying campaign. LotR set the fantasy world on fire, with a rich setting and detailed plot that really engaged readers. It was an adult fantasy that invited readers to question their own morality and their own determination. "Could I, as weak as Frodo, have made it to Mordor?" "Could I, as strong as Boromir, have resisted the ring's song?"

D&D provides an opportunity for average people, from a people who seldom have adventures, to experience adventure on a personal level. Now the game still controls a lot of elements of the story, but that's why it's a game. Later roleplaying games remove much of the luck and place the story firmly in the hands of the GM and players, but D&D was the first game to immerse players in story to even the level it did.

Dungeon modules are plot outlines. D&D rules are storytelling conventions. Mr. Gygax helped define this genre. He helped found a publishing company for this genre, and he produced dozens of works within it. That these works affected gaming and culture is interesting, but that is not the full extent of his work. He was a successful author by almost any measure. Literature has been changed.

2008.03.05 at 12:30pm EST

Restroom Weirdness

The men's restroom here at work has a couple of design flaws that stick out in my mind.

First, when you're standing at the urinals, if you look over your shoulder, you can see right out the door into the hallway. This means that passers-by in the hallway can see you standing there at the urinal. Not that polite passers-by really want to see who's standing at the urinals, but that they should be protected from such views.

Second, the sinks form an L, and the only trashbin in the place is at the corner of the L. You have to step away from the sinks to get a towel (towel dispensers are over by the door), then walk back to discard it. if the sinks are crowded, there may also be people between you and the trashbin, so no basketball shots.

Third, there are an even number (4) of urinals. This means that if you have your choice of urinal (that is, all are unoccupied when you enter), you can force the next arrival to choose between using the "shorty" urinal and committing a minor breach of etiquette.

2008.03.06 at 12:00am EST

Secret Talent

My predilection for instrumental music and interest in movie soundtracks have given me the ability to recognize approximatley 85% of the incidental music on public radio.

Sometimes it's scary. Sometimes it's annoying, as when they're using a piece I really like as a lead-in for the station ID and have no intention of playing the whole thing.

2008.03.07 at 7:00am EST

Daylight Savings Time

Well, we're back on the DST, and isn't it time we gave up this sillyness? Is anybody's rising and setting ruled by the sun anymore? Our lighting, our heating, our transportation, our business, none of these things is tied to the cycles of the sun, and even if it were, wouldn't it be simpler to adapt our behavior to the sun rather than keeping our behavior tied to the clock and adapting the clock? Isn't it saner to base our schedules on on nature than on the vagaries of a machine? The clock was invented to measure nature, not constrin it.

Which sounds healthier: "I work every day, from sun-up to sundown", or "I work every day, from nine to five"? Viewing the human animal as a robotic machine is horribly unashinable these days, so isn't it time to ditch the DST shackle?

2008.03.10 at 7:30am EDT

Morning Commute

I was halfway across the Ft. Pitt bridge today when all the lights for the tunnel lanes suddenly turned red. Luckily, the driver stopped his truck before smashing into the tunnel entrance, but he was only a few yards away and was going to have to wait for the police to block traffic in the right lane so he could back up and take the off-ramp for the West End Circle. Until then, right lane was stopped. Luckily, I was in the left lane. I tried to wait to let the first car behind the truck change lanes, but I don't think she understood yet what was going on.

For those of you not familiar with this bit of roadway ingenuity, the outbound (lower) deck of the Fort Pitt Bridge is four lanes wide. There are three on-ramps at the downtown (North) end, two from I376 (which ends here, currently), one from downtown, and one from I279. The South end has a two-lane off-ramp and an entrance to a two-lane tunnel. Ever been in the middle of bridge which is also a three-way merge and a two-way split? It's always entertaining.

2008.03.11 at 12:30pm EDT

House of Annoyances

After years of responding to questions about it with "No, but I love the album," I am finally reading Mark Z. Danielzewski's "House of Leaves".

I've been enjoying its complexity and multi-layered structure quite a bit actually, but when he stoops to directly ripping off Jorge Luis Borges on page 42 I begin to suspect that I won't respect him in the morning. I'd chalk it up to homage, but this book is literally thick with footnotes, and not using one of them to cite the source of your device is academic dishonesty. It's quite possible that the book is constructed of such blocks lifted from other authors, and this is simply the first one I actually recognized, but if the whole point of the book is to impress upon me that I did not pay enough attention in college you're not about to see a lot of counterargument here.

2008.03.12 at 8:00am EDT

Friday Catblogging

Firebums: Ethel & Mischa by the Pellet Stove

2008.03.14 at 12:00am EST

Rubbing 'n Buffing

Over the weekend, I got started on a fun little project that involves making something that's plastic look like it's made of metal. My favorite material for this kind of craft is called "Rub 'n Buff". It's a mixture of metal power, pigment, and wax finish. It works really well, especially on plastic, which sometimes doesn't take well to paint. Plus, after my experiences this summer using gold leaf paint, I wanted to try something different. I'd been introduced to Rub 'n Buff years ago, but never needed to go buy any.

One of the benefits of this finish is that you don't need brushes. It's designed for rubbing on with a finger, and in fact nothing else works as well as that. I've tried brushes, swabs, tissues, and paper towels, but nothing works as well as a finger. Of course, this means having metallic fingertips and getting metallic prints all over eveything while you're working, but the results are great.

Once it's dry, you can buff it with a cloth and it shines like it's actually metal. You can suprise people with this stuff because it doesn't show brush strokes like paint, it's just as smooth as the plastic underneath. I can't wait to show off this project once it's done, but that won't be fore some time. It takes forever to work it into all the nooks and crannies on a detailed piece. I hope to have it finished by next month, though.

2008.03.17 at 12:00pm EDT

New Glasses

Got some new eyeglasses over the weekend. It turns out that I've had the previous pair since 2002. My prescription has only changed a little, but after six years it's quite noticeable. Due to my astigmatism, the change makes me feel really short. Anyway, here's a snapshot:

The new frames are much darker than the old, and smaller in area. The old frames were a bit more "aviator" shaped, and gold metallic with a "tortoise shell" front on them. These new ones are closer to rectangular, and a dark brown metallic. I also got sunglasses in exactly the same shape, but a charcoal metallic with the darkest lenses they were willing to make.

2008.03.18 at 12:00am EDT

Video List

Time to update the list. This time, with links to the Internet Movie Database.

Hmm. Slipped a bit on my pace, I think.

2008.03.19 at 12:00am EDT

My New Million Dollar Idea

Caffeinated Salad Dressing

Remember, you saw it here first, folks.

2008.03.20 at 12:00am EDT

It's Called Rhetoric

A listener letter on NPR's "Day to Day" program just said of Barack Obama, that he "sounds like somebody who has studied how to manipulate people with words." As somebody who has studied how to manipulate people with words I take umbrage at the tone of that comment. It's called rhetoric, and it's about communicating information to people in the way that they will accept most readily. It's frequently misused with a negative connotation, as shorthand for "empty rhetoric". It's often used for persuasion, but it's also used for education.

Politicians use it all the time, of course, in the course of their work. It's a politician's job to attempt to convince people to vote the way that politician wants them to, whether that vote is in the voting booth, or in their behavior. If we were never manipulated by words we'd never learn anything from teachers, believe in any relgions or philosophies, or understand what was going on in from the news.

Dear NPR Listener, I think criticising Obama because he's pretty good at it is missing the forest for the trees. The fact that you resist manipulation is good, don't get me wrong, but though you think your your negative reaction is to the method, it is really to the message. Disagreeing with his message is your business, and you're welcome to share your opinion, but attacking his method avoids admitting that you disagree.

Yes, Senator Obama was trying to manipulate you; he was trying to make you understand something. You don't have to believe it, but try to understand it. At least he's trying to help you understand, not forcing you to accept without understanding, the way too many politicians do these days.

2008.03.21 at 2:00pm EDT

Obama's Speech on Race

Senator Barack Obama gave a speech last week that I thought was one of the finest political speeches I've ever heard. George W. Bush is a horrible speaker. Bill Clinton was better, but not great. Most of the candidates for President since I started voting have been poor to middling. I admire good speakers. I admire them more if I wind up agreeing with them, but I appreciate skill regardless of message.

A couple of people I know and otherwise respect have said to me that they weren't going to bother listening to the speech because politicians never say anything new or groundbreaking, and anyway can't be trusted.

Okay, here's where I go out on a limb. I trust Obama. At the very least, I trust him to think before acting, and not just pick the politically expedient action. One of the reasons for this trust is last week's speech.

The speech was on the topic of race, but it indicates a thought process that can be applied to all polical topics. Senator Obama explains that while he may disagree with the opinions and statements of crazy people around him, he can't throw them from the tent for two reasons. One is that if you start throwing crazy people out of the tent, you really can't stop because everybody is crazy and that's part of the problem. The other is that there quite simply is no tent.

You can't sweep these opinions under the rug because there is no rug. Firing people doesn't make their opinions go away. Condemn a statement and the situation that gave rise to it does not disappear. The issue is still there whether you allow people to mention it or not. If we want to *attempt* to resolve these issues, we are going to have to talk about them even if the words that come out of our mouths sound hateful and inflammatory.

His point: He'd rather (at least) try to resolve the problems than deny they exist. These problems are not with individuals, but with our American society. You can't reject individuals and expect that to fix society. It's time to talk about fixing our society.

It's a thinking person's political position. Wow. It's different from the way politicians tend to speak and act these days. If he approaches everything with the commitment to reason he demonstrates here, then he's the person I want as the next President.

2008.03.25 at 12:00am EDT

Video Table with Ratings

I've gotten some questions about the recent video lists, and which movies from them I'd recommend. Here's a post of the whole list so far for 2008, with short ratings for each. Of course these are completely subjective, and you'll only agree with these if you have the same taste as I do. The list is arranged by release year and IMDb index number within year. The table is also sortable if you have JavaScript turned on, just click on a column heading to sort.

Title Year Rating
Yojimbo 1961 Good, a classic for any culture
36th Chamber of Shaolin 1978 Good, if you like Wuxia
Kagemusha 1980 Brilliant from the first scene
Ice Pirates, The 1984 Bad, but classic 80's cable
Goonies, The 1985 Bad, Spielberg at his goofiest
Blue Velvet 1986 Weird, uncomfortable, stiff
Léon - The Professional 1994 Good, amazing, troubling
Harrison Bergeron (TV) 1995 Not the story, but OK
Strange Days 1995 Good, SF about people
Trainspotting 1996 Good, if you want to
Serial Experiments: Lain (TV) 1998 Good, but takes thinking
Breakfast of Champions 1999 Bad, a travesty by the end
eXistenZ 1999 Hm, effective but unsatisfying
Thirteenth Floor, The 1999 Good, and well shot
Magnolia 1999 Good, but disjoint
Battle Royale 2000 Good, but read the book
Mulholland Drive 2001 Good, one of Lynch's best efforts
Equilibrium 2002 Good, for what it is
Bourne Identity, The 2002 Good action adventure romance
Punch Drunk Love 2002 Good, P.T. saves Sandler
Hellboy 2004 Incoherent comic collage
Incredibles, The 2004 Good, but nothing suprising here
Bourne Supremacy, The 2004 Good, but not as good as #1
THX 1138 2004 Good, but didn't need this update
Mr. & Mrs. Smith 2005 Good, but silly and violent
Science of Sleep, The 2006 Good, but troubling and sad
Ultraviolet 2006 Bad, even for what it is
Casino Royale 2006 Good, though still Bond
Illusionist, The 2006 Good, but ultimately simplistic
Pan's Labyrinth 2006 Great, complex and provoking
Prestige, The 2006 Good, but difficult to follow
Bourne Ultimatum, The 2007 Good, but still declining

Please keep in mind that these are just some movies I've watched in the past few months If it seems like my reactions to most of these are somewhat tepid, remember that these are mostly movies I didn't bother to see in theaters when they came out, and have borrowed from a friend rather than even renting them.

2008.03.26 at 12:15am EDT

Now You Know the Difference





2008.03.27 at 12:00am EDT


I grew up in New Jersey, where, to this day, self service fuel stations are illegal. Living here in Pennsylvania now where self service fuel is pretty much the rule, I've grown used to it, but as long as I can still get a cashier at the store, I'll wait in line to egt one. I hate the self-serve check-ou lines at stores these days, and refuse to use them.

The other day, I had to stand in line for maybe ten minutes to spend less than $20, because the IKEA only had one actual cashier on duty. They had two more people on duty to help people use the four self-serve machines that were open, but those people wouldn't stoop to open another line.

Once I was all checked out, I said something to the cashier like, "All these people here tonight and you're the only human cashier?"

"I guess they're trying to encourage people to use the self-checkout," she said.

"Yeah, but all those people over there don't care whether or not you have a job."

"I guess not."

"I've been a cashier, and it's not an easy job."

"No, it's not."

"When I do it, I prefer to be paid for it."

On the up side, IKEA has completely stopped giving out bags for merchandise? Wow, I sure do approve of that. They'll sell you one of their big blue bags for 59 cents, but they also don't object if you just walk out of there with your hands full of stuff. I have a few reusable shopping bags I keep in my car, but I almost always forget to bring them into the store when I go grocery shopping. If I knew there was no good alternative, I might try harder to remember.

2008.03.00 at 12:00am EDT

Actually Did Some Sewing

The group we camp with at Pennsic had a get-together over the weekend to get some sewing done. I worked some on group projects: hemming a windscreen, sewing on some side ties, and attaching hang tabs at the top. As a group, we managed to finish off two screens, though a few more are started, and the whole project got started at the last sewing circle.

In addition to that, I assembled a pair of hakama from pieces I cut at the last circle. It's been three or four months since the last circle, so it's a good thing I labelled the parts. It took a bit of thinking to decipher my markings, though. ("Is that a G, a six, or what?") I still have to assemble the kataginu that I am making from the same fabric so I'll have a new outfit for this Pennsic. All together, I'll have a new kataginu kamishimo (matching hakama & kataginu) in brown linen, a light yelllow linen kosode, and matching linen kyahan.

2008.03.31 at 10:00am EDT

Polituesday: Senator Hillary Clinton

No joke, people, I'm proud of Senator Clinton's courage and dedication to her campaign. She and the members of her campaign have worked hard to get to this point, and it's tough to keep going, but I have no problem with her staying in until all the primaries are concluded. Elections are supposed to be about choice, and I want a choice when I go to the polls here in Pennsylvania three weeks from now. I've had some problems with the way she has been campaigning, but if she can stick to discussing issues I don't see how that can possibly "hurt the party" as some people seem to fear. The Republican party may have a "party line" that's already set by it's presumptive leader, but over here in the Democratic party we're still talking things over to try to find the best solution.

2008.04.01 at 12:00am EDT

Counting M&M's

The contents of a single 1.69 ounce vending machine package of m&m's® chocolate candies.

ColorQuantityPercentageEating Order

2008.04.02 at 12:00am EDT

A Bird in the Bush

A Bird in the Bush

2008.04.03 at 12:00am EST

Friday Catblogging

The Girls: Tashi & Ethel

2008.04.04 at 12:00am EST

My Newer Million Dollar Idea

Styling Product Hand Lotion

When the air is dry, the skin on my hands dries out, sometimes to the point of pain. Static also builds up in my hair. Since it's short, my hair sticks up goofily. I used to use a bit of styling product to keep it down, but I don't any more, partially becuase I hate getting that stuff on my hands right after I've finished getting clean. This product would enable me to wait until mid-day, when I finally get sick of my frizzy hair and dry hands, then tend to both at once!

2008.04.07 at 12:00am EDT

Kevin Smith Film Festival

Over the past couple of weeks, I borrowed the entire Kevin Smith film library from a friend and watched them in order. Overall, it was a highly entertaining time. Here's a breakdown by movie.

Clerks. (1994)

I saw this in a theater when it came out (on a date, no less) and didn't actually re-watch it this time because I pretty much memorized it the first time I saw it. This film is not just a perfect portrayal of what it's like to be a retail clerk in a small business, but what it's like to have grown up in central New Jersey. At first, it may seem this film is about nothing, but it's really about how even small things can become big events in your life.

Mallrats (1995)

At first, I wasn't sure what to think about this movie, but then I realized it's essentially a Marx Brothers film. Jay and Silent Bob are Chico and Harpo. Brodie is the "too smart for his own good" Groucho. T. S. Quint is the romantic lead underdog Zeppo. It's silly, and manic, but making a movie like this is mostly a lost art, so it's good to see Smith understands.

Chasing Amy (1997)

A little bit more serious than Mallrats, but it's hard to graduate directly to modern romance from slapstick comedy without some rough patches when people are expecting more of the same. Exploring romance and heartbreak is no new vista for cinema, but in 1997, who else tried tackling the complexities of modern sexuality with such sensitivity and with so little actual prurience? It's not a perfect film, but it's a journeyman piece of high quality.

Dogma (1999)

With this film, Smith graduates. It's a master piece, in my opinion. It's little bit of everything, very dark around the edges, but full of introspection at the center and peppered with humor. Just like life. People throw around the word "Vonnegutian" too much lately, but it's reasonably apt here, except for this film's devout religion. Make no mistake, this film is devoutly religious.

Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001)

Now let's break free of serious issue like romance and religion, and return to the freewheeling slapstick of yesteryear! Anyway, this movie is about entertainment, and it contains a whole lot of chuckles and some genuine laugh out loud moments. Everybody needs a break sometimes. When you're watching these in a marathon like I did, this is a great seventh inning stretch.

Jersey Girl (2004)

Leading into another serious film. This is a totally serious drama. That's not to say there are no laughs in it, but sometimes they have a certain desperation derived from the tragedy behind them. It's full of great writing, with realisitic dialog. It's full of great performances, from actors who don't always get the chance. If this was the only Kevin Smith movie you ever saw, you wouldn't understand anything about the fan appeal of his other films. First and foremost, Kevin Smith is a great storyteller. This film is straightforward and endearing, and should prove to anyone that Smith is capable of making any kind of movie he wants to, with any cast he desires.

Clerks II (2006)

This film is a payoff in a couple of different senses. The first sense is, of course, a direct payoff to Jason Mewes for getting his life back into order. I'm happy to hear about it. The second sense is that of a punchline, a conclusion, a fitting together of everything into a coherent whole. Here, Smith combines his comedic sensibilities with his dramatic abilties, and produces a well-rounded film. Not as manic as Mallrats. Not as emotional as Jersey Girl. It's built of everything Smith has learned in 15 years, but it's the sum of its parts (at least), and not just a collage.

2008.04.08 at 8:00am EDT

Who Would Do Such a Thing?

A sticker I saw on a gas pump

The typography match is poor, the joke is unoriginal, but is it funny anyway?

2008.04.09 at 12:00am EST

Neat Salt Crystals

Dehydrated Brine

2008.04.10 at 12:00am EST

Friday Catblogging

The Dodger at the Top of the Stairs

2008.04.11 at 12:00am EST

"Suito" Project Updated

I finished up a second suito to replace the one I made last year but broke at Pennsic. I like the way this one came out, and actually like the shape of this gourd a little better. There's more wax in it this time, so I think it's sealed up better. I left water in it for several days and it didn't taste like gourd at all when I drank from it.

In other project news I finished up some Japanese garb sewing, basically the new outfit for Pennsic this year. I'll blog it again when I get the project page up with some pictures.

2008.04.14 at 12:00am EDT

PoliTuesday: Bitterness

It's not insulting to say many Pennsylvanians are bitter, it's just acknowledging the truth and confronting it honestly instead of bathing it in denial. As a Pennsylvania voter, I can say that I am bitter about a lot of things in our government. As somebody who talks to other Pennsylvanians daily, often about politics, I can say without fear of contradiction that many of them are bitter. As somebody who has gone door to door through a variety of neighborhoods talking to Pennsylvanians about political issues, I can say with great conviction that you bet your sweet bippy many Pennsylvanians are bitter about politics, in exactly the way Senator Obama said, and for exactly the reasons Senator Obama said. Anybody who says any different is either ignorant, or a liar.

Progressives are bitter about Bush and Cheney. Conservatives are bitter about Clinton. Progressives are bitter about declining labor laws and increases in corporate power. Conservatives are bitter about moral relativism and a bad job market. Lots of people are still bitter about the Clean Air Act, if you can believe it. (I swear that guy would have punched me if I'd kept talking.) Everybody's angry about something, and no matter who we vote for (that is, when we get a vote) the majority of us seems to get screwed somehow. Everybody wants better jobs, better schools, and better roads, and no matter who we vote for things just keep getting worse.

When they things you trust seem to abandon you, you cling even harder to what you have left. You cling to the things that still make you feel good about yourself: your self-reliance, your family, and your beliefs. That doesn't make you a bad person, that makes you a strong person. That doesn't make you hopeless, that makes you determined. Pennsylvanian bitterness is not a negative trait to be denied, it is a foundational trait that needs to be addressed.

Now, I don't know if Senator Obama could solve any of the above problems from the White House, and even I wouldn't trust him if he said he definitely could. The first step to solving a problem, however, is admitting that a problem exists. Denying the problem then going out for a beer and a bump may be a good way to get through the next 24 hours, but it's not the best way to get through the next 4 years.

2008.04.15 at 12:00pm EDT

Mailing List Software

Can anyone recommend a piece of mailing list software that actually unsubscribes people who post polite queries to the list? I don't know of any.

Most mailing list software just adds a link to the bottom of every message that encourages you to visit a web page to change your subscription setting, but I think it's too much to expect from my audience.

(Subscribers to the "STC_ON" mailing list will know why this is being posted today. anyone who's ever been on any mailing list will understand why it's being posted at all, but it's particularly embarassing when people who write instructions for a living can't follow them.)

2008.04.16 at 9:30am EDT

Cleaning Out My Desk

Tomorrow is the last day of my contract here, and I'm mostly cleaning out my desk today so that I'm not carrying out piles of stuff tomorrow. Over the past 15 years I've been in the workplace, I've had enough jobs that I always get flashbacks on cleanout days. It bothers me that I'm so good at this part. I'm pretty glad to have switched to mostly contracting, so the short-term-ed-ness of my last few gigs has been expected, and no acrimony on the way out, but every ending is a little sad, still.

2008.04.17 at 1:30pm EDT

Friday Catblogging

Mischa glaring at me over the top of a chair because he knows I'm about to close the door and take away his sunshine

2008.04.18 at 9:30am EST

Kurt Vonnegut's "Armageddon in Retrospect"

Just finished reading this volume, issued (I guess) as a kind of memorial to Kurt Vonnegut, who died a year ago. Most of Vonnegut's writing near the end of his life took the form of political essays, so it's perhaps the presence of short stories that makes this book so poignant. The familiar names of some of the characters make us feel like we finally know the fates of some of the people he was writing about decades earlier, and show that even though Vonnegut had stopped publishing fiction he was still capable of writing it as he always had.

To me, the most interesting inclusion is a facsimile (not a transcription, but an actual photographic facsimile) of a letter sent by Vonnegut in 1945 to his parents upon the occasion of his being recovered from Germany at the end of the war. Any fan of Vonnegut know that he's told this story in print a dozen times, but fictionalized and factually, in the 60+ years since, but this document represents the very first time.

I have updated my Kurt Vonnegut Booklist to include this book, with flags for compilation, stories, misc writings, SF, and pictures.

2008.04.22 at 8:00am EDT

Of Course

So last week was CMU Spring Carnival, which is the event for which most alumni come back and visit. This year was especially alumnitastic given the CMU KGB's 20th Anniverary Reunion Party. Of course I told more people about this blog during tht event, and of course I bragged about my good record of frequent posting, and then of course I didn't do much posting the following week.

I'll use this opportunity to mention two suggestions I make to webcomic artists, bloggers, and others who seek to update their web presence of a regular basis. When you fail, and you will fail now and then, do not apologize. Why should you? It's your thing and you update it or don't as often as you wish. Also, don't make promises. It just increases disppointment when you fail, and reminds people of tearful scenes in TV dramas about spousal abuse.

2008.04.25 at 8:40am EDT


I've seen those little propellers you plug into the trailer hitch, and those are cute, but this is just ridiculous.

2008.04.28 at 12:00am EDT

"Strike Plate" Project Page Updated

I made another strike plate, this time for the big closet upstairs. I'd post the picture here, but then you wouldn't really have much reason to click through.

2008.04.29 at 12:00am EDT

"Hoodies" Project Page Updated

I was feeling a bit under the weather on Monday, so I made another hoodie. This time, using some left over fabric from the project.

Sharon has a pair of funky overalls made of a floral print that most people associate with the draperies at Grandma's house. The fabric's lightweight and it's a good casual outfit that always gets attention. She refers to these overalls as "Grandma's Drapes".

This batik hoodie, made with the same fabric as the batik drapes I made for my study, is similarly casual, lightweight, and ridiculous.

Batik Hoodie for Me

"Waste not, want not," I always say.

2008.04.30 at 12:00am EDT

White Forsythia

Hooray, hooray, the first of May!

2008.05.01 at 12:00am EST

Friday Catblogging

Mischa & Tashi share the sunshine chair

2008.05.02 at 12:00am EST

Types of Interviews I Hate

I'm job searching, and I thought I'd post some types of interviews I'd rather not waste my time on.

If you'd like me to be involved in any of these types of interviews, please at least make an effort to make it worth my while. A nice lunch is helpful.

2008.05.06 at 8:40pm EDT

I Found a Watch

I took a two hour hike in Frick Park this morning, and while I was passing through the lower park I found a wristwatch. Since this is the only public forum I really have, I'm posting about it here.

I found the watch on the trail that runs along the side of the rebuilt wetland, but close to the picnic shelter ends of that trail. I posted a note on the bulletin board there with my phone number. Call me, or email me if this is your watch and you want it back. Please be ready to describe the watch.

2008.05.08 at 12:00pm EDT

Friday Catblogging

Cat Alphabet: B
presented by Dodger, Ethel, and Mischa

2008.05.09 at 12:00am EST

An Open Letter

Dear Weather Control for the City of Pittsburgh and County of Allegheny;

It's April showers and May flowers. Thanks.

2008.05.12 at 9:00am EDT

Tips from the Nearsighted

Every marketing and packaging team should really have at least one nearsighted member who reviews all materials without corrective eyewear. This realization is brought to you by me noticing that if I see the word "Terrific!" on a DVD cover while not wearing my glasses, it looks like it might say "Terrible!", which is not the message you want to transmit, I think.

2008.05.15 at 10:00am EDT

The New Cult Canon

I have to say that I'm really enjoying a recent addition to the Onion AV Club's Features section, The New Cult Canon. I don't always agree exactly with their reviews, but the movies they've been inluding are all worth watching.

What I disagree with mostly are details about the point of the story; you know, interpretation kinda stuff. Their picks are terriffic, and of the ones I haven't seen, and I haven't been disappointed hunting down a copy and watching it as soon as possible.

2008.05.16 at 12:00pm EDT

Dino Run

One of the reasons I haven't been posting as much lately is that I've become addicted to an online Flash game called Dino Run. I'm "ee0r" (of course) if you ever catch me in multiplayer. I've even started puting together a page of Dino Run tips and other info, which means I'm totally hooked.

2008.05.20 at 8:00pm EDT

I Take Responsibility

Those of you in Pittsburgh who are enjoying the nice weather today that marks the end of more than a week of daily rain have me to thank for it. How did I effect this drastic change? I went out and bought a new rain jacket, that's how. It's pretty nice. Now, I will put it in the closet.

2008.05.21 at 8:00am EDT

New Phone

When was the last time I went to the store to buy a phone? When did it become such a high-tech venture? Why do all phones look and act like mobile phones now? What ever happened to decorative phones? Does anybody still make corded phones? Why do 75% of all phones have answering machines built into the base? Why are 90% of all phones multi-handset 'systems'? When did all this stuff get so inexpensive? Am I an old man now?

2008.05.23 at 9:00am EDT

Dollar Coins

I used to get dollar coins from the bank fairly regularly. They're great to leave as part of a tip, because people never expect to see them. I haven't done it in a while, though. I got two rolls of dollars the other day, just to stock up. Nowadays, this is actually exciting. You never know what you're going to get. Presidents, native guides, suffragettes… there's a variety. Sometimes, this country is fun.

2008.05.26 at 12:00am EDT

A Creamy Riddle

Question: Why is grinding peanuts like whipping cream?

Answer: If you go too far, you wind up with butter.

2008.05.17 at 12:00am EDT

Christian Bale

Recently I've watched a bunch of movies with actor Christian Bale in them, and I've grown to be rather impressed by his abilities and his selections. He takes some tricky parts, and does good jobs with all of them. We went to see the new Indiana Jones movie over the weekend, and after watching the trailer for the next Batman film I decided to do a little more research on Mr. Bale on the old IMDb. Holy cow, I find out he played the kid in "Empire of the Sun". I'm probably the last to know. Anyway, now I'm even more impressed. Rock on, Christian Bale.

2008.05.28 at 12:00am EDT


I started a new contract this past Tuesday, and instead of 16 miles West of home, this new company is 17 miles East of home. For those of you not familiar with Pittsburgh geography, 17 miles East of where we live on the Eastern edge of the city is basically "out in the country". I'm working just off one of those country highways you can see from the Turnpike that makes you wonder, "How do you even get on that road?"

I drive about 9 miles on the parkway, then about 3 miles on a highway with traffic lights, then five more miles on this back road. I go past a couple of farms, some exurb development, a landfill, and numerous wooded stretches. All in all, this beats the heck out of the 16 miles of mostly parkway driving I was doing for the previous contract, at least now in the nice weather.

April's version of traffic: stop-and-go driving for five miles and twenty extra minutes of road time. May's version of traffic: today, me and four other vehicles were stuck behind a garbage truck for 3 minutes until we got to a spot we could pass.

2008.05.29 at 11:00am EDT


The "favicon.ico" file on a web server is the small image used by most web browsers to represent the site in your bookmarks listings. This is a "standard" begun by Microsoft with Internet Explorer and adopted by others because it's easier and saner than coming up with yet another standard as Apple has done with the iPhone.

Anyway, when did Google's icon change from an uppercase blue G in a multicolored square to this lowercase blue g all by itself: ? I just noticed today.

2008.05.30 at 5:00pm EDT

On The Road

Don't you hate it when you get stuck behind some jalopy?

2008.06.03 at 10:00am EDT

Take Me Out To The Ball Game

Sharon got some cheap tickets from a co-worker, and we hadn't been to see a Pirates game in some time, so we went to the baseball game last night. It rained nearly the entire time, and the Pirates wound up losing, but we did stay until the bitter end.

I'll admit that I hate being wet and cold, so I expected to finish up the evening very unhappy, but we did pretty well. I'd just bought that new rain jacket, so it kept everything above my waist perfectly dry except for my hands. I usually don't spend a lot of time sitting down while out in the rain, so my legs and knees might have gotten very wet, but I have some rain leggings I keep folded up in the pockets of my rain jacket, and we each took one leg and laid it across our laps. My knees got a little wet, but I was almost completely dry despite sitting still in the rain for a few hours.

The seats were great, row J in the lower level, so we were just a few yards away from the field. No foul balls or catapulted T-shirts came our way, but some kids in other sections got some, so that's cool.

Plus, there was a drunk Astros fan a few rows in front of us who got louder and more annoying (I don't mind somebody rooting for the other team, but why talk trash? Why?) as time passed, until the usher told him to knock it off. The fan got verbally abusive, so the usher told him to leave. The fan called for manager, who also told him to leave. Rumor has it they tried to eject him forcibly and he fought back, ultimately getting arrested and taken to jail. Sleep it off in a cell, buddy.

2008.06.04 at 3:00pm EDT


John McCain Yard Sign: $20

Barack Obama Yard Sign: $8

(It's interesting to note that both candidates use the same shopping cart software for their stores, but John McCain's store hides the text link to Volusion that is mandated by the license agreement.)

2008.06.05 at 1:30pm EDT


Last night, I was chatting online with some friends in one window, and watching a movie in another window. One of my friends used a particular phrase in the chat, and two minutes later a character used the same phrase in the movie. I mentioned this in the chat, and my friend identified the movie immediately. Turns out he'd been making a reference to it, but it's still weird he made a reference to exactly the movie I was watching with such close synchronicity.

2008.06.06 at 10:30am EDT

What The Phone?

So the second-generation iPhone is called the "iPhone 3G"? I know why it's called that, but it is still teh gooPhiness.

2008.06.10 at 7:00am EDT

Just Deserts

I have just been informed by mail that I should order a satellite television service, not because I want it, not because I need it, but because my TV "deserves" it. I'm sorry to inform them (OK, that's a lie, I'm not sorry.) that I consider my TV to be furniture. It is not sentient. It deserves nothing. I admit that sometimes I sit and stare at my furniture for hours at a time, but this particular piece of furniture can be used to display pictures, and I find these pictures entertaining. This does not mean that I consider the TV to be a member of the household in the same way as a person, or even in the same way as one of Sharon's cats. If the TV deserves anything, it deservesto be considered, period. That is, think about your TV sometimes. Why do you have it? What do you use it for? What function does it serve in your life? Do you like it? Does it take up too large a space in your life? Does it take up too large a space in your living room? Now, I'm not one of those people who discounts how entertaining (and even enlightening or educational) a TV can be, but don't take it for granted. Think about it. Does your TV "deserve" anything?

2008.06.13 at 9:00am EDT

It's the Constitution, Stupid

Writing in dissent to a 5-4 Supreme Court decision that ruled that "enemy combatant" prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay cannot be denied the right to challenege their detention, Justice Scalia wrote the following:

"America is at war with radical Islamists," Scalia wrote, adding that the decision "will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed." [NY Newsday]

Do we need any more proof that Scalia values his own opinions and viewpoints more than he values the Constitution of the United States of America? The supreme law of the land is full of all kinds of stuff that causes more Americans to be killed on a regular basis. Exhibit A: How many people are killed each year as a direct result of our guaranteed right to keep and bear arms?

Now, I'm not arguing we should take away that right even though it might save thousands of lives every year. It's a right granted to the people by the Constitution! So why does Scalia want to allow the President to suspend the right of habeas corpus?

We are quick to lionize our country's soldiers who dedicate their lives and often lose their lives, ostensibly in service to our freedom. This is fitting and just. Shouldn't we all have that kind of dedication? Shouldn't we all be willing to risk our lives in defense of freedom? Not all of us have the skills, abilities, and motivation necessary to join the armed forces, but can't we at least serve freedom by supporting the Constitution and not taking rights away from others? What kind of cowardice is it to ask others to take actions for freedom that may risk their lives, when you are unwilling to support freedom by doing nothing?

2008.06.16 at 12:00am EDT

Demand the Truth!!!

Crashed Saucer and Agent at the Three Rivers Arts Festival

This outdoor installation at the Three Rivers Arts Festival (a terrific reason to visit Pittsburgh in June) is apparently a promotional event for a show that (performance art group and Pittsburgh treasure) Squonk Opera will be performing in October. Polite photographer that I am, I acually backed off when she held up her hand like this, and she had to wave me back. They also had an irate guy handing out cryptic flyers and demanding we demand the truth. He was so convincingly irate that Sharon instinctively would not accept his flyer.

2008.06.17 at 8:00am EDT


Shipping Container Art at the Three Rivers Arts Festival

This year's Three Rivers Arts Festival (a terrific reason to visit Pittsburgh in June) has a collection of shipping containers in Market Square, each of which holds a unique art installation. This kaleidoscopic object is about seven feet across and rotates at the back of a dark container like a stargate.

2008.06.18 at 12:00am EDT

Sharon at the Point

Sharon on the Point State Park Fountain at the Three Rivers Arts Festival

In case you don't think we get nice weather in Pittsburgh, we spent a beautiful sunny summer Sunday at the Festival. It was about 85 degrees in the sun, but it was cool in the shade and very breezy. Totally great to go down to the point and get cooled off by the spray blowing off of the fountain. (In the bottom left corner is Pickle Park (Heinz Field) where the Steelers play.)

2008.06.19 at 12:00am EDT

The Next Big Thing

Podcasting is waning in popularity. What's next?

I say it's "pulpcasting". Just like podcasting, pulpcasting involves an RSS feed, only instead of syncing to your personal media player, each burst of content is sent directly to your printer. So many people say they still like reading things on paper, whether on the bus or in the bathtub, I think pulpcasting has real appeal. Plus, it has speace for ads.

2008.06.23 at 7:30am EDT

Non-Stop Laugh Riot

I would have been at work sooner yesterday, but I got stuck in traffic. First, I was behind a slow poke. Then, the slow poke got stuck behind a full garbage truck. Then the garbage truck got stuck behind tractor that was mowing the verge. It was like the PA Department of Slapstick was engineering my commute.

It would be a bit self-centered of me to imagine I was the star of that particular routine, however. Behind me for this whole shebang was the person I cut off earlier at a tricky merge point. I'd hate to have been that Chaplinesque figure. Maybe her hat was to blame.

2008.06.24 at 12:00am EDT

Elliott Evans Stamps

No, I haven't had stamps made with my image. I don't have that big an ego. I do, however, have a big enough ego that I've configured a Google New Alert to inform me if my name ever appears in the news. Usually this means I get updates about people named Evans playing highschool sports in Elliott township, but recently my name hit the big time.

The U.S. Marshal's Service placed a "cracked-out maniac" named "Elliott Evans Stamps" on its "Top 15 Most Wanted" list. I've been getting periodic updates from Google regarding his flight. To preclude any confusion between us, I present this handy guide:

I hope this comparison is helpful.

2008.06.25 at 12:00am EDT


I'm at the Origins game fair this week, helping out Looney Labs as one of their Mad Lab Rabbits. The other day, somebody interviewed me and some others to write an article for the "io9" blog, which is a professional SF blog that I read. Those boards you see in the picture? I designed them.

2008.06.28 at 7:00am EDT

Chuck Palahniuk's "Rant"

With Rant, Palahniuk continues to build cred as a master of stylish modern fiction. This book is presented as an "oral history". That is, each chapter is a thematic selection of snippets from apparently longer interviews. The book contains over forty chapters, and over sixty people are interviewed. On top of a top notch story, this style enables Palahniuk to build mystery and show multiple viewpoints on the story and interpretations of the facts as they are known. Like a good documentary, it ends with you having to decide what you believe. In my opinion, it's a Science Fiction novel, but you might feel differently.

Anyway, as I read through the book, I wrote down all the people. When I started, I didn't realize there is actually a list in the book; it is essentially the final chapter. Didn't feel silly about all the extra effort when, comparing the two lists, I discovered which characters are not in the final chapter. Also, in a nice touch, one (possibly two) of the characters are not interviewed at all in the book, and this has meaning.

This book is less unpleasant to read than some of Palahniuk's other work. More along the lines of Survivor or Invisible Monsters than the highly icky Haunted or twisted Fight Club. Stylistically and storywise, it's right behind my favorite Palahniuk novel, Diary.

2008.07.01 at 12:00pm EDT

Project Weekend

I spent the long holiday weekend working on some projects, one longer term, the other something I've been planning but which only took a couple of hours.

The first is a toy chest for Sharon's nephews. I'll post pics when it's done, because it won't look like much until I get it all assembled. It's made of 1/2 plywood stained a nice cherry color and pretty big. Finishing a box like this takes days given three coats of finish and sanding between coats. Having several days in a row to work on it makes it easier.

The second is a replica of Iron Man's "arc reactor". This project was pretty easy because I already had several feet of electroluminescent wire soldered to a connector. All I have to do now is figure out how to wear it without electrocuting myself. Check it out:

An Arc Reactor replica

2008.07.07 at 12:00am EDT

PoliTuesday: Why Does McCain Hate America?

Speaking last night in Denver, Colorado, presumptive Republican Nominee for President of the United States of America, Senator John McCain said, "I have a plan to grow this economy, create more and better jobs, and get America moving again." Do we really need to "get moving" again? Are we completely stalled? Are we suffering from a national malaise?

Now I'm not very happy with the state of the USA today, but even I don't think we've completely stagnated. Do we need to get moving, or do we just need to move in a different direction? Are we stalled, or just on the wrong track? Have we lost confidence in ourselves, or have we simply lost confidence in our leaders?

I find John McCain to be an astoundingly negative candidate. From him, I only hear reasons not to vote for others, and no strong argument why he should be leading this country.

2008.07.08 at 10:00am EDT

Project Toychest Complete

I finished up that other project, the Toy Chest I was talking about on Monday. Final assembly was just about re-attaching the hardware. Three hinges in back, two knobs in front, one handle at each end, and two lid suports inside. Here's a picture of it, before it even left the basement:

A big wooden toy chest

The outer dimensions are about 40"W x 20"D x 20"H, though the bottom of the interior is about four inches above the floor so the volume is somewhat less than that size would indicate. It's still rather capacious, though.

2008.07.09 at 12:00am EDT

Lumpy Lunch

Today, I had lunch at a place with the amazing name of Lumpy's Country Deli & Pie Shop. My apologies to my fans on chat who have already seen most of this, but I need to talk about it or I will explode. I mean, really, I may explode. Lumpy's is the kind of place that gives you so much food that you may explode if you eat it all.

Lumpy's is the kind of place that you pass while driving on the three-digit state highway that goes from one rural industrial town to another. You know, the place with the gravel parking lot full of phone company trucks.

Lumpy's is the kind of place that serves fish sandwiches on Friday every week of the year. Lumpy's is the kind of place w hose fish sandwiches are accelerating the desertification of our world's oceans. I mean seriously, Lumpy, if I may address you directly, I know Pittsburgh area restaurants try to serve as large a GIANT FISH SANDWICH as they can, but I'd probably pay the same price for a cute little fish sandwich.

Lumpy's is the kind of place that thinks mac&cheese is a vegetable. At least it's the good kind of mac&cheese, the kind that's been baked. At least, that's the only explanantion for the brown crusty bits that my brain is willing to consider.

Lumpy's is the kind of place that thinks cole slaw is a salad.

Lumpy's is the kind of place that makes all their own baked goods, which I guess is the only way they can find sandwich rolls with a high enough fat content.

Pittsburgh has a lot of good places to eat, many of them in what's called the Strip District. Lumpy's is nowhere near the Strip District.

2008.07.11 at 1:30pm EDT

Project Genkan Bench

I worked really hard this weekend, so that this project might be done by Pennsic. It's a bench for visitors to our Japanese-themed camp to sit upon while they remove their shoes, and also a place to store shoes once they have been removed. I cut all the lumber up on Saturday, then sanded the pieces and assembled the bench on Sunday.

A big wooden toy chest

It's really quite large, about four feet long, two feet high, and about 20 inches wide. Should seat about six people at once, if necessary.

2008.07.14 at 12:00am EDT



This used to be a car wash, but now it just… was.

2008.07.15 at 12:00am EDT

Positive Thinking

The up side to the whole New Yorker cover thing is that if the cover had been printed on The New Republic instead, and had been greeted with the same outrage, you just know that some conservative commentator would say, "If this cover had been printed on the New Yorker, you hypocrites would be greeting it as a masterpiece satirizing these views as held by some conservatives." As it is, we get to see how false that would be. The kind of thing printed on the cover of the New Yorker just isn't acceptable, not even as a joke, no matter who prints it.

2008.07.16 at 12:00am EDT

Lumpy's Revisited

On the other hand, Lumpy's serves a respectable Steak Salad. Those of you not familiar with the Pittsburgh Steak Salad (which can also be a Chicken Salad if made with chicken, but is not the chicken salad you're thinking of) are missing out. How to make a respectable Steak Salad:

  1. Take two respectable side or garden salads and put them in one large bowl.
  2. Add one hard boiled egg that has been cut into quarters.
  3. Add a serving of hot french fries.
  4. Add a handful of shredded cheese if you're into that kind of thing.
  5. Top with a quarter pound of grilled steak or grilled chicken breast, cut into strips.
  6. Serve with dressing on the side.

It's the fries that really make this a Pittsburgh masterpiece. For Pittsburgh fare, it's almost healthy, really. There's all those vegetables under the fries, meat, and possibly cheese. You might ingest some that stick to the end of the fork. Dress this with Ranch or Thousand Island dressing, and it's probably the least healthy salad you will ever order.

The one Lumpy's made for me was very good. The salad was much more than just lettuce. It included green pepper, tomato, onion, and radish for Pete's sake. The fries weren't perfect, but were hot and more crispy than soggy, which is hard to achieve in a salad. The steak was hot, grilled, and actual steak, not minute steak. The dressing came in packets, but I don't know what the alternative would be for a place like Lumpy's.

Lumpy's is the kind of place that you insult offhandedly one day, and have a decent meal at the next.

2008.07.17 at 12:00am EDT

Nabokov on Humbert Humbert

Writing of Lolita's narrator, Mr. Humbert Humbert, in the foreword to Despair, Nabokov says, "[T]here is a green lane in Paradise where Humbert is permitted to wander at dusk once a year".

2008.07.18 at 8:00am EDT

Monday Assblogging

Rudely Parked 'Caliber'

I've enlarged the sign in case you're having trouble figuring out what's wrong with this picture. The store behind the vehicle is a "Sherwin Williams" paint store. It must be some kind of wall coloring related emergency, I guess. I was visiting the record store next to this paint store, and the cashier says people park there all the time for the paint store. Actual parking spaces are only about 25 feet away, by the way.

2008.07.21 at 12:00am EST

The Haul

Fresh Wild Blackberries

We went hiking down to Duck Hollow on Saturday, and passed a big blackberry bramble on the way. These here were the haul. Fresh wild blackberries with Sunday's yogurt. Mmmm.

2008.07.22 at 12:00am EDT

Project Genkan Bench Completed

After a week of polyurethaning every day after work, this project is now complete.

A big wooden bench with shelves

2008.07.23 at 12:00am EDT


John McCain in the cheese aisle

If you haven't yet seen, you are missing out.

2008.07.24 at 10:40am EDT

Big Little Idea

So we're totally used to still photographs being in either landscape (horizontal) or portrait (vertical) orientation, but all of our moving images are presented in landscape format. It's not that our video cameras are incapable of capturing portrait format, just turn one on its side, it's that most people's tvs can't be rotated. Now that we watch a lot of video on our computer screens, why can't I produce video that's in portrait format? Why does my software stick to landscape with a small number of aspect ratios? I think we're really stifling creativity here. It's time to free our video from the artificial constratints of the horizontal rectangle. Portrait video, square video, round video, shaped video: it should all be available to us.

2008.07.25 at 7:15am EDT

"Genkan Bench" Project Page Complete

Milking this project for yet another blog post, I hereby announce that the full project page for the "Genkan Bench" project is now complete and available. This includes a link to the plans for the bench, in ase you want to make one for yourself. It costs about $100 in materials, which felt like a lot to me until I started looking in catalogs at the prices for fully finished solid wood benches. If there's anything you think I should clarify in the page, please let me know. I tried to go step-by-step, but given the number of steps it's imaginable that I glossed over something or missed something entirely.

2008.07.28 at 10:00am EDT


One of ten $100,000 Tesla electric sports cars

If you haven't yet seen The Fail Blog, you are missing out.

2008.07.29 at 10:00am EDT

The Bee of the Bird of the Moth

A "hawk moth" aka "hummingbird moth"

Saw one of these in the garden on Sharon's 'Butterfly Bush' a while ago, but failed to get a picture. That's when I found out about this odd moth that acts like a hummingbird. Those wings aren't translucent, they're moving faster than my camera's shutter. See the antennae? That's how you know it's not a bird.

2008.07.30 at 2:00pm EDT


No posts last week, as we were away at the annual Pennsic War, a medieval event run by the Society for Creative Anachronism. Went my first war entirely in Japanese garb this year. I think I have callouses between my toes from wearing zori and geta nearly constantly. Either that, or nerve damage. Anyway, I have some pictures to share, and I get to reveal a secret project that was a gift for somebody, so I couldn't talk about it before.

We had a fun war, but it's always kind of weird the first few days because we work so hard getting ready and finishing projects in the run up to war, then we spend most of our time there relaxing with our friends. The first few days of nearly idle hands is always troubling. I need to spend some thought coming up with hobby projects that are bit more portable. Probably Japanese brush calligraphy, but I'm waiting for my name to be approved.

2008.08.11 at 8:00am EDT

PoliTuesday: Discount Politics

Way back in this post, I noted that it cost 2.5 times as much for a John McCain yard sign as it did for a Barack Obama yard sign. I was implying that Senator McCain was the candidate for people with more money.

Today, NPR informed me that McCain yard signs are now only $7 each, which is $1 less than Obama signs. What does it say when a campaign has to discount their yard signs by 65%? Should I now be implying that Senator McCain is the candidate for people who only buy from "going out of business" sales?

I also note that despite the fact that the Volusion terms of service require that a link to the Volusion web site appear in the footer of the web site, the McCain site still hides the link. Maybe that's why the Volusion site lists the Obama campaign as a "featured client" doesn't mention the McCain campaign at all?

2008.08.12 at 10:30am EDT

PoliTuesday: Celebrity

Is Senator John McCain's campaign really trying make fun of Barack Obama by calling him a celebrity? McCain's party is the one that ran a movie star for President, right? The same one that has a movie star as Governor of California, right? Would you like some Windex to clarify that glass house?

2008.08.12 at 12:00pm EDT

More Japanese Garb

I made a new outfit for this year's Pennsic, and although it was ready months ago I finally got a picture of it during the war and wrote a project page for it. Sorry about the night-time picture, but I didn't put the outfit on until dinner time.

2008.08.13 at 12:00pm EDT

Genkan Bench in Situ

I added this action shot from Pennsic 37 to the project page for the Genkan Bench. The bench is in the lower left corner, with a goblet sitting on it. Click through for a larger version, along with some post-Pennsic comments.

2008.08.14 at 1:00pm EDT

Life On Mars

Every few years, the Carnegie Museum of Art here in Pittsburgh hosts the Carnegie International exhibition. This year's exhibition lasts until January. It's one of thes best times to visit the museum, if you like contemporary art at all. Sharon and I visited over the weekend, and here are some of my favorites.

(The images on the CI08 web site are awful, so I won't bother including them here.)

Just a bit more

This work elicits the most immediate "wow" comments from viewers, including me. It's lovely, elegant, and obsessively detailed.

Friedrich Kunath

A collection of Mr. Kunath's works is displayed on a large wall, and he wins the prize for "artist I would most like to purchase a work by to hang in my home." His painting are quiet and thoughtful. They inspire creativity and interest. If I'm ever rich, there are a couple in this collection I'd love to see daily.

Fibonacci 1202

This assemblage of neon and photographs is the most clever and amusing work in the show. It made me smile. The photos show a restaurant filling up over the course of an evening, and the neon numbers above, which follow the Fibonacci sequence, count the number of people in each photo.


This installation is hands down the most amazing work in the show. I won't give you my interpretation here, so as not to spoil your experience, but I'm really tempted. It's a brilliant and expressive work. The program talks about it as being difficult to interpret, but I found it to be one of the most intellectually accessible installations, fo all its physical inaccessibility. This piece alone is worth the price of admission to the whole show.

2008.08.18 at 8:30am EDT

I Am Officially A Geek

So when I finished reading Steven Brust's new Vlad novel, Jhegaala, there was one thing I had to do. I had to scan in, OCR, and put in order all the quotes from Six Parts Water that appear at the beginning of each chapter. (No, I won't send this file to you.) In so doing, I discovered what I thought was an error. I was pretty sure that one of the quotes had been mis-labeled as to its location in the play. So, what did I do? I posted to the author's blog asking about it.

Eeyore // Aug 18, 2008 at 8:07 pm

Great book, Mr. Brust, but I'm the kind to get caught up in trivialities. I was trying to put all the "Six Parts Water" excerpts in order, and though the one from Day Two, Act IV, Scene 6 ends with "[Curtain]" there is another from Day Two, Act VI, Scene 5. Is that an error? (Sitting here in my "Songs from the Gypsy" T-Shirt being the annoying obsessive fanboy.)

I really was wearing that T-shirt, and I swear I was wearing pants below the T-shirt. Shorts, but those count, right? Even if they're twenty year old official Boy Scout uniform shorts I've had since I was a teenager, right? Anyway, an hour later, the author himself responds.

skzb // Aug 18, 2008 at 9:06 pm

Yes, it's an error.

So yay, I was completely right. Also, I'm a geek.

2008.08.19 at 7:30am EDT

Pumping Iron

The biggest downside to wearing costume that's appropriate for a medieval Japanese persona is all the ironing. Not only did Japanese wear a lot of wrinkly fabrics like linen and silk, most of these were intended to be worn either completely smooth, or sharply pleated.

Ironing a kosode is fairly simple, since it's one of the flat items, but it must also be folded in a prescribed manner. Hakama must be ironed flat to remove all the wrinkles, then ironed again to set the pleats, then folded carefully to preserves the pleats without introducing new wrinkles. All told, it takes about 45 minutes to prepare hakama for storage. This could be sped up if we had a clothes press that was about two feet wide, but we don't.

This means that laundering, ironing, and folding all of my wafuku (Japanese garb) takes hours and hours. With the time I usually have after Pennsic that can be alotted to this task, it normally takes about a week and a half, which is lonbger than it took to wear all that clothing, of course.

2008.08.21 at 11:30am EDT

Friday Catblogging

Ethel Sunbathing

2008.08.22 at 12:00am EST

Old is the New Young

This article, reporting on a new spokesperson contract signed, starts out:

Microsoft Corp., weary of being cast as a stodgy oldster by Apple Inc.'s advertising, is turning for help to Jerry Seinfeld.

Hello? Jerry Seinfeld is 54 years old! He's actually older than Bill Gates himself. Now I don't want to say 54 is very old, but it's certainly not young. John Hodgman, who plays "a PC" in Apple's advertising, is only 37 years old. (37 is my own age. Hodgman is actually about three months younger than I am.) That may not be young either, but Jerry Seinfeld is old enough to be Hodgman's father (physically, speaking, anyway). Hodgman's counterpart in Apple's advertising, Justin Long, is 30 years old. Thirty is widely regarded as the "starting to get old" age for most people. At least he's not young enough to be Hodgman's kid.

To give you an idea of how a 54 year old fits into the worldview of a 37 year old, when Wilford Brimley was doing Quaker Oats commercials in 1988, he was 54. Brimley had just finished up working on a TV show where he played a grandfather. A grandfatherly man will not help Microsoft win over the youth market.

2008.08.25 at 12:00am EDT

Stamps Captured

As detailed in this post, there was a fugitive sought by the U.S. Marshal's Service who is named Elliott Evans Stamps. Google News alerts informs me that Mr. Stamps has been captured. My best wishes for a speedy trial and a just verdict.

2008.08.25 at 10:15pm EDT

The Luggage Pendulum

Back in the nineties, common travel wisdom was that you should try hard to never check any baggage when flying. Baggage check systems were unreliable, stuff got lost, and you always had to wait an extra half hour after your flight to retrieve your bags from the carousel. As a consequence, overhead bins on airplanes were always stuffed to capacity. People would get on planes stuff their first big bag in the first space they could find, then stuff their second big bag in the second space. If you were sitting up closer to the front, by the time you were even allowed on the plane, all the ins would be full. Of course, people who paid no attention to the boarding order not only slowed the boarding process down by blocking the aisle, but contributed to the luggage problem.

After September 11, 2001, the pendulum swung. Increased security meant that taking your bags on the plane was a hassle, as they would all have to be x-rayed and possible searched. As a consequence, people started checking heir bags more. I noted just last year that there was always plenty of overhead bin space, enabling passengers to stow their coats and briefcases overhead instead of under seats. This made people more comfortable while flying. If there was something you needed out of your bag, it was probably just overhead. Boarding a plane was faster, since people didn't need to hunt for space.

However, since passengers didn't have to carry those bags through the airport any more, luggage got larger and people would take multiple bags. This increased baggage handling costs for the airlines, so they instituted charges for multiple bags at first, then charges for even the first bag. Faced with higher fares anyway, and increased surcharges besides, the pendulum has once again swung back towards carrying everything on the plane, overstuffed bins, and slow boarding.

What's next, I can't say. Eventually I'm sure that something will happen to urge people to start checking baggage again, but I have no idea what that will be. I will say that I hate flying right now. "Fellow travellers" are often rude, tickets are more expensive, flights are always delayed, crews can't cope with conditions, planes are decaying, and the TSA is a bunch of bureaucratic petty tyrants. Where's my flying car?

2008.08.26 at 12:00am EDT

Pennsic 37 Photo Gallery

I picked out my best dozen pictures from the two or three dozen I took at Pennsic, and put up a new photo album in my gallery section. Here are the thumbnails:

Pic Pic Pic Pic Pic Pic Pic Pic Pic Pic Pic Pic

More than half of them were taken at a single event, but sometimes that's just thje way it goes.

2008.08.27 at 12:00am EDT

New Template

In honor of my having made more than 200 posts to this blog in the first 11 months of operation (this is post #214), I have created the new template that you see here. Functionally, the blog is the same; it just has a little more visual interest. What I'll change it to after I get the takedown notice from Disney, I have no idea.

For my font-geek friends, the font used in the header graphic is Bernhard Modern. I love the relatively small x-height, the giant ascender on the lowercase "h", and the crazy twisted "g". The font just screams "oddly stilted", which I think makes it perfect for this blog.

2008.08.27 at 12:00am EDT

Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs

Every time I catch some online video of the DNC convention, the audience is always a sea of signs. Every major speaker had a sign associated with them ("Hillary", "BIDEN", etc.) and everybody in the audience had the same sign. Sometimes, the signs would change in the middle of a speech. The convention must have huge teams of people runnning through the hall handing out signs and taking signs back. This looks great on video, but it must be a logistical pain in the neck. Apparently, the sign team members are called "visibility whips". Do some searching around, and you'll find them blogging about how hard it is to distribute four waves of 10,000 signs each throughout the convention hall.

I'm also reminded of a GOP convention in 1988 or 1992 where the delegates started holding up hand made signs. It was clearly part of somebody's plan, but it made the whole party seem more personable. This DNC convention was all about party unity, so presenting unified signage to the cameras was important, but I wonder if it's going too far.

2008.08.28 at 12:30pm EDT

Fruity Oaty Code

Fruity Oaty Code from 'Serenity'

For erink, not because I think she doubted me, but because I couldn't think of anything else to post today, and saw the JPEG still on my desktop. This frame clearly shows the hidden "military code" behind the Fruity Oaty Bars commercial.

2008.09.01 at 8:30pm EDT

Thanks, But No Thanks

When Republican Vice Presidential nominee Governor Sarah Palin states that she said "Thanks, but no thanks" to the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" earmark funding secured by indicted Republican Senator and Palin endorser Ted Stevens, what she measn is that first she said "Thanks," and then (later) she said "No thanks." Of course, she may have said "No thanks", but the state of Alaska got all the money it had been allotted.

When Republican Vice Presidential nominee Governor Sarah Palin disses community organizers, how does she intend to ever win another election? Maybe Republicans don't go out into communities and organize people to campaign and vote for their candidates, but it's actually the foundation of Democratic politics. Working as a community organizer is part of paying your dues in the party, and proving that you are dedicated to the hard work of serving in politics. Maybe when you only have to convince 616 people to vote for you, you don't need anybody's help, but in most cities you need organizers.

Lastly, one of the major criticisms of Governor Palin is that as recently as a few months ago she admitted that she had no idea what the Vice President of the United States actually does. Last night at the Republican National Convention, she gave no indication that she has been told, or that she has even asked. She made a pile of promises to her party's convention delegates, with no indication of how she would help fulfill those promises.

2008.09.04 at 8:30am EDT



Last night, the RNC played a video that was intended to introduce us to Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin. The video was originally supposed to play Wednesday night just before her speech, but the decided to go straight from former Mayor of New York Rudolph Giuliani's speech into Sarah Palin's. To introduce her, the video starts with six simple declaratives: "Mother. Moose hunter. Maverick. Mayor. Governor. Maverick."

First off, two of those are the same. I always thought James Garner was the original Maverick, but apparently Sarah Palin is twice the Maverick he ever was. Frankly, I'm not sure it's appropriate to refer to a woman using a word that can mean "an unbranded head of cattle", but what the heck, it's her campaign.

Next off, while "Governor" is an important part of her resume, it really throws off the alliteration. It doesn't even have an M in it. I guess there wasn't much they could do about that, although they could have pronounced it "governmor" just to get the phoneme in there. "Mayor" is a big win all around.

"Mother", I refuse to address.

Lastly, "Moose Hunter". I'm not quite sure what that has to do with leading the country, but I love it. Moose hunter. Moose hunter. MOOSE HUNTER..

2008.09.05 at 8:30am EDT

Lumpy Fish Special

My Lunch from Friday

This is probably a half pound of fish, plus mac-n-cheese and cole slaw. This is probably about 2800 calories. Enjoy.

2008.09.08 at 12:30pm EDT


I know, metaphors are difficult and slippery things, and most of us don't pay enough attention in Senior English to even bother trying to decipher them, so here's my interpretation of a couple of metaphors that were used recently by the next President of the United States of America, Barack Obama:

Frankly, the last part of that is a little clumsy. Myself, I would have used "yesterday's newspaper" to represent John McCain and "rotten fish" to represent George Bush. He also could have clarified the whole thing, avoiding any deliberate misinterpretation by his opponents. I would have gone with:

You can put Sarah Palin's lipstick on the political pig of the Bush/Cheney administration, but it's still a pig. You can wrap the rotten fish of the neoconservative Republicans in yesterday's newspaper and label it "change," but after eight years it still stinks.

Anyway, the McCain campaign's supposed outrage over this epigram is a tempest in a teapot.

2008.09.10 at 10:00am EDT

More Metaphor

A friend of mine recently characterized Democratic Party Nominee for President Senator Barack Obama's proposed income tax plan as, "Two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner." I think he meant that it was like predators holding a mock vote with obvious results over who was going to get eaten. It's funny, I guess, but it's a distortion. It means to portray those with money as the undeserved victims of consumption by the average citizen. I have two main problems with it.

It's backwards.

It characterizes average citizens as wolves, out to devour the poor defenseless rich sheep. Does anybody really believe that? The truth is that every dollar earned comes from somewhere. "Somewhere" in most cases means "someone else's pocket." People with money are closer to the top of the economic food chain, not closer to the bottom. While I would hesitate to portray all rich people as "wolves," given the two choices it's the more logical one. Most people characterize the masses as sheep, right?

The proportions are wrong.

In Senator Obama's plan, taxes will be raised on the top 1.1% of earners. View the Washinton Post analysis:

So, characterizing the situation as a 2-to-1 "vote" is wildly inaccurate. It's more like 99-to-1, and that's a pretty clear choice in a society that's supposed to be a democracy, isn't it?

Those rightward bars in Obama's plan look pretty extreme, but when you keep in mind that people at the top of the pile have been receiving substantial tax cuts for years, those increases really represent a return toward normalcy.

Also note that the tax cuts for the top 0.1% of earners in McCain's plan are nearly ten times the average cut for the bottom 60% of taxpayers. "But those people pay more taxes to begin with," I've had some people argue. True, but does that justify a monetary change that's nearly 1800 times the size that will be enjoyed by the majority? Eighteen hundred?

In Conclusion

A more accurate metaphor would be, in my opinion: "Like 99 sheep and 1 wolf deciding what not to have for dinner." That's how I feel about it, anyway. "You can eat whatever you want, as long as it's not us. Got it?"

2008.09.15 at 9:00am EDT

Books & Films

So I just finished reading Bret Easton Ellis' 1991 novel American Psycho, which was made into a movie in 2000, which I watched earlier this year.

In the film, it's unclear whether Patrick Bateman, the main character (played brilliantly by Batman's Christian Bale), is actually performing the crimes shown in the film, or if he is simply fantasizing about them. There is little difference in terms of Bateman's mental health of course, but the doubt turns Bateman from a dangerous psycho desrving of justice into a fascinating patient ripe for analysis.

In the book, it is quite clear that Bateman kills people. He is a sick puppy immersed in a sick world where nobody is as shallow as they want everybody to think they are, and too many people are hiding too many awful secrets. Bateman is too rich and too good looking to be thought a murderer, even when he is brutally frank honest with the people who are supposedly his friends. Even his dry cleaners and his maid simply clean up the blood because it is their function in life. It's awful and dark and bloody and disgusting and depressing. It made me long for the innocence of mere insanity.

Anyway, after that I started reading Christopher Priest's novel The Prestige, which was made into a movie in 2006, which I watched earlier this year.

The film is very mysterious about what is happening, but everything you see makes sense, it just makes more sense if you watch it again. The book (which I have not yet finished reading) has passages that don't even make sense unless you know what is happening. Of course, having seen the movie I don't get the experience of being confused by them. It's disappointing, really. On the up side, if I'd read the book first I would not have enjoyed the film as much, I think.

2008.09.16 at 11:00pm EDT

Building Software

A conversation I had recently with my dad:

Him: I don't understand why programs are written like that.

Me: Programmers are carpenters.

Him: They're building a house with an axe!

Me: Exactly, because the programmer shows up for work and an accountant hands him an axe and tells him to build a house. Where is the architect? Where is the foreman? Where is the inspector? But the carpenter has to get the house built on time because people are waiting to move in. Me, I'm the guy who has to explain to you how to use your new house without using the word "axe."

2008.09.17 at 12:00am EDT

Why Lying Doesn't Matter

There's been a lot of press over this past week about how one of the presidential campaigns has been lying repeatedly, about things it doesn't even have to lie about, even though these lies have been debunked over and over again. You may have noticed that this hasn't really harmed that campaign's poll numbers very much. This is confusing some opponents of the campaign.

From having spoken to a lot of people who seem likely to vote for that campaign, I can tell you why the lying doesn't seem to matter. See, these people believe that all politicians lie. These people believe that all politicians are dirty, and have scandals hidden in their background. It doesn't matter if they can't point to any specific lies or to any specific scandals, because it just means that we haven't uncovered the lies or the scandals yet. Their faith in the fallibility of politicians overrides any evidence or lack of evidence. Being a politician in the first place is enough evidence to prove that a person is slime.

Who can blame these people, really? Time after time we have been lied to by politicians. Even politicians who have fought hard for real reform and achieved it have sometimes fallen eventually. Even politicians who do good have been shown to have been doing bad things to put them in a position to do that good. Even politicians who have professional lives full of success have been shown to have personal lives full of failure. The problem with being a cynic is that you're too often right. If you think all politicians are lying all the time, you just make your choices based on whether you think they're lying in the direction that sounds good to you.

Is it naive to think that one candidate might be for real? Possibly. You must admit that it's possible. Are voters who choose the honest-seeming candidate simply abused spouses choosing to believe the lie that, "this time, baby, it will be different"? That could be. Our national black eye still hasn't healed, and the pain makes it hard to think straight.

So anyway, that's why the lying doesn't matter to most people. Myself, I choose to vote for the candidate who is, at least, the more convincing liar, the one who can keep all the lies straight and present a coherent position, or at least a coherent sentence. I choose to vote for the candidate who apparently doesn't need to lie about his past, even if he might be lying about the future. The more times lies for the future are repeated, the greater the likelihood the liar will be stuck trying to make them true. The more assiduously somebody asserts something, the more they must anticipate facing consequences if that thing turns out to be a lie. The stronger a case somebody makes that something should be true, the more we might come to agree, and the more likely we are to try to make it true, regardless of the messenger.

2008.09.18 at 12:00am EDT

Robin Hood

Back on Monday I posted about tax policy, and how Obama plans to lower taxes for the vast majority of taxpayers, while paying for it by restoring higher taxes on a tiny minority we could call the very rich.

One response to this plan that I have seen is, "Just like Robin Hood, robbing from the rich to give to the poor!" I think these people are trying to ridicule Obama. I've even seen caricatures showing Obama in tights and a leather doublet. Maybe that's funny; I don't know. Having worn tights and a leather doublet I can tell you it's not such a big deal.

Anyway, I think these people are missing two major ideas. The first is that in most presentations of the Robin Hood story, Robin is the hero; we admire him; we hold his actions up for praise; we rejoice when his enemies are humiliated.

The second is that in most presentations, Robin Hood is fighting against a usurper and the nobles who support him. The king is away at the Crusades, and the government is oppressing the people while the rich continue to live in comfort. Robin Hood is seeking to rectify the situation as the King would wish. He is a faithful servant of the King, and in many presentations is rewarded handsomely when the King returns.

Why is this important? Because in America, as Thomas Paine said in his 1776 pamphlet Common Sense, the law is king. Our country, and our country's constitution have always stood for the idea that all people are equal. Faithful service to the rule of law, to the spirit of the law even if actual law is absent, will be rewarded. That's part of the American dream.

Obama portrayed as Robin Hood? He should thank them for the compliment.

2008.09.19 at 12:00am EDT

Being the first year of posting, ever

This post marks the one year anniversary of this blog. Of course, leading up to today, I've missed two days in a row. Anyway, I haven't really been promoting this blog because, as I said near the beginning, I didn't want it to be the kind of blog that was announced with great fanfare which then peters out in a couple of months. Now that I have a great big archive and don't seem to have petered out, I guess I should get going with that promotion thing. Anyway, happy birthday blog.

2008.09.24 at 1:15pm EDT

Tree Sign

The World Famous Murrysville Tree Sign

That's what it looks like from ground level, anyway. You can really only see it if you know what' you're looking for. To see what it looks like from space, see the Google Maps satellite view.

2008.09.25 at 12:00am EDT

Lawyers who will argue for you

She married into this

I was momentarily unsure about posting this picture without obscuring the names and phone number, but hey, they're the ones who posted the sign. If they don't like it, they can sue me. (Kidding! Please don't sue me.)

2008.09.26 at 12:00am EDT

Not a typo

BreadWorks is a bakery, naturally

At first, it looks like an unfortunate typo, but maybe you can make out the bakery logo on second glance. BreadWorks makes good bread, by the way.

Saturday post! How special is that? Does it make up for missing two days earlier this week?

2008.09.27 at 12:00am EDT

I Wanna Rock


If I was smart, I would save up for a piece of string, then buy this rock to wind the string around.

2008.09.29 at 12:00am EDT

Speaking of String

Kumihimo Braid #1

I recently built a Japanese braiding loom called a marudai, and used it to make a six-foot long braid out of 12 strands of cotton embroidery floss. This type of braiding is called kumihimo. For my first braid on the loom I'm pretty happy with it, even though the sharp-eyed among you will note the pattern changes along the length of the braid.

2008.09.30 at 12:00am EDT

Software Idea

Flipping a coin is so old school. Instead, why not let a random collection of people on the Internet make your decisions for you?

This idea requires an interactive web site and messaging platform for the decision making, and at least one Internet terminal of some kind for submitting decision requests. For mobile goodness, terminal or terminals could be PDAs or phones or whatever, as long as they have the ability to upload an image from memory. Best would be the ability to take pictures with a camera and upload those.

So here's how it works: If we're trying to decide where to go for dinner, and I suggest pizza while you suggest burgers, instead of flipping a coin we pull out our cellphones. We both take pictures with our phones or choose pictures from memory. Then, we log into the web site and initiate a request somehow, such that we both log into a single request. I upload my picture and the word "Pizza." You upload your picture and the word "Burgers." These pictures can be of anything, though I predict pictures of heads and tail will be popular. The web site picks a random selection of registered users, and sends them a link to web page on the site via email or text message. This page displays just the pictures, and no information about the decision being made. Users pick one picture of the other, based on whatever criteria they want. Voting lasts for thrity seconds or so; only those paying attention get to participate. The web site tallies the results, then sends back "Pizza" or "Burgers" to us as appropriate.

Decision made! I hope it's pizza.

2008.10.01 at 12:00am EDT

Kumihimo Video

Turn down your computer's volume before playing this video.

Just some video of one cycle (four iterations) of the "Edo Yatsu" kumihimo patern. It may look like two cycles, but if I were using four colors you'd be able to see clearly that half way through, the thread positions are reversed from start. Starting with the threads in this position creates a very nice spiral pattern in the resulting braid.

I apologize for the stereotypical "Oriental" music, but the music I had playing on the stereo while I shot this video was unsuitable, and I decided to experiment with YouTube's background music feature.

2008.10.02 at 8:00am EDT

VP Debate

I don't actually want to talk about politics in this post, but I do want to say something about last night's debate. As the debate last night progressed, a lock of hair from Governor Palin's bangs drooped under the hot stage lights and wound up sticking in her left eye. Now, because she's on TV and people are always noticing her appearance, she could not just reach up and fix her hair, and besides that there was probably significant styling product in that lock that would have made it resistant to simply tucking it back.

You can watch as she gets increasingly twitchy over time, trying to blink it away and eventually resorting to dramatic winks of that eye in an attempt to clear her vision. This must have been absolute torture, and in the middle of a debate where people were just waiting for her to make a mistake it must have been a nightmare.

I hope that as soon as she got back stage she cut the end off that lock and shoved it up her hairdresser's nose.

2008.10.03 at 11:00am EDT

Pittsburgh 250 Fireworks

Fireworks fireworks kaboom kaboom

This year, Pittsburgh is celebrating the 250th anniversary of its founding. This past weekend, the city staged a huge fireworks display, launching from 17 different points surrounding downtown. We got a good spot on the Roberto Clemente Bridge, facing down towards the point.

2008.10.06 at 3:15pm EDT

Project Twofer

Altoids Inro with Black'n'Gold Braid

A new Inro made to hold an Altoids tin (an Internet standard for volume), using a new method that only uses two pieces of wood. The front and back are cut and routed separately, then glued together to make a hollow center. The outside is then shaped and smoothed. The inro was cut open, and then finished with 13 coats of tinted polyurethane. It is appointed with an 8 strand braid with 4 black stands and 4 yellow strands. It make look a a standard twisted string, but the two colors are actually braided to create the spiral.

If I learn enough carving technique to make my own netsuke, I'll be able to replace this plastic reproduction and have a nice accessory that's 100% my own work. Well, except for the Altoids tin.

2008.10.07 at 12:00am EDT

White Linen Tabi

White Linen Tabi

Tabi are Japanese footwear. They are sort of "shoe mittens" in that they have split toes to permit the wearing of zori, geta, and other footwear that need this access. Mine are 100% linen, with unbleached linen linings and soles, and white linen uppers and ties. There is also a layer of heavy interfacing between the two layers of the sole.

Just finished these recently after refining my pattern over a couple of draft constructions. I started from the pattern in John Marshall's great book, "Make Your Own Japanese Clothes".

2008.10.08 at 12:00am EDT

Mystery Cutlery

Somebody bought me a shirt? The other day, I received in the mail this shirt of the alien half-breed, "Mr. Spork". I'd love to thank my benefactor, but the shirt arrived with absolutely no indication of who might have sent it. Was it one of you, oh my readers? I've already questioned the usual suspects, but they deny it. It is only logical that you take credit for your generosity.

2008.10.09 at 12:00am EDT

Marudai Project Page Added

I finished up a project page for the Kumihimo Marudai. I had to make the marudai before I could begin braiding seriously. The page describes the marudai and its usage, and contains pictures of all my braids to date including my most recent braid, a 16-strand braid in blues and purples.

I'm about a dozen project pages behind, so adding this one is a positive step towards getting caught up. As a sort of preview, I've added thumbnails for most of them to project index, lets see how long it takes me to do the rest of the work.

2008.10.13 at 12:00am EDT

My New Business Idea

Gyros are available in every U.S. city I've ever been to, but there is no national chain of gyro places. It's all local! How insane is that? This is supposed to be the 21st century! Gyro places would be about like Taco Bell. Flat thing, pile some stuff on it, squirt some sauce, wrap, and serve!

The only problem is figuring out how to make gyros that don't taste anything like real gyros.

2008.10.13 at 1:30pm EDT

Project Toychest Finally Documented

I first posted about this toychest project back in July when I completed it, but I didn't finish the write-up until today when I was waiting to have my car repaired (window mechanism busted).

Big Wooden Box

This was one of the largest items I've made, and it was a lot of fun. It was nice to apply my efforts towards a gift, too. Usually I'm just making stuff for myself.

2008.10.15 at 3:45pm EDT



2008.10.16 at 00:00am EDT

Arc Reactor Project Page

The Arc Reactor Equipment

Here's another project I completed in July and finally wrote up just recently, an Arc Reactor prop replica based on the "Iron Man" movie. This is an example of me seeing something in a movie and thinking, "Hey, I bet I could put that together myself." I started geting this feeling a few years back, and it appears to be part of what I call "the costuming disease".

2008.10.16 at 12:00pm EDT

Tabi Project Page Added

Finally, a more recent project documented! I posted about these white linen tabi about a week ago, but finally, wrote the project up. The write up doesn't supply a whole lot more information, but it adds a picture.

I expect I'll probably make a pair of tabi every year or so until I decide I have enough. Future tabi will be added to this project page, so it was important to get this written up.

2008.10.17 at 4:00pm EDT

Weekend of Braiding

I spent way to much time on kumihimo this weekend. I got a bunch of other stuff done, too, though some of that can be tallied in the braiding column as well, like buying supplies for a third marudai. Anyway, here are the three braids I completed:

Four strand, two color braid of silk yarn

Eight strand, eight color braid of embroidery floss

Eight strand, two color braid of silk yarn

I'm really enamored of the 100% silk yarn I bought on Saturday at a local Pittsburgh knitting store that specializes in natural fibers. Expect to see a lot of that stuff in the future, especially since I bought entire hanks of the stuff.

2008.10.20 at 8:40am EDT

Porch Footrest Project Added

This little porch footrest project was not only finished a few months ago, but it was started more than a year ago. Sometimes, that's the way the cookie crumbles.

A footrest that matches two chairs

It's some fun and useful furniture hacking. The footrest was made from parts I removed from an extra chairs that we don't use.

2008.10.22 at 8:20am EDT


When a bowl of Captain Crunch with Crunchberries dreams, it dreams of being a bowl of French vanilla yogurt with fresh strawberries and granola.

I'm just sayin'.

2008.10.24 at 10:30am EDT

PoliTuesday: One Teeny Weeny Week

Just one week to go until election day, and I am so tired. Here in Pennsylvania we don't have any early voting, and we need a good excuse to get an absentee ballot, so we're stuck waiting to vote until the last possible day. Even though it look like Obama has 14 times the likelihood of winning in a landslide than McCain has of winning at all, we still have to wait a week to watch the drama play out.

Almost a year ago I announced my support for Barack Obama, contingent on his adding Senator Clinton to the ticket. Over the course of he next few months, she lost my support due to her awful campaigning. I thought John McCain would be a good opponent, but he's run an even worse campaign than Sneator Clinton did. He's given in to the most vile parts of the Republican party, and I'm glad he's losing.

I'm confident Barack Obama is going to win this election. Not just because I want him to win and like his position more, but because he is already winning. He's winning in opinion polls, in tracking polls, and in actual polls where early voting is allowed.

I have certain fears that Obama's win won't be accepted by some, and will be unacceptable to others, but I know he's the better candidate.

2008.10.28 at 3:45pm EDT

PoliPolyday: Bitter?

I really was going to try to avoid the temptation to make every post between yesterday and election day a politics post, but then the Pennsylvania Republicans sent a flyer to our home asking if I'm "bitter".

Damn straight, I am bitter. I'm bitter that despite the fact that the voters of Pennsylvania voted to support Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004, we've still had to put up with the policies and actions of George W. Bush for the past eight years. Now, there are those who believe that either Gore or Kerry would have been a worse President than Bush. Believe me, they exist and I have talked to them. Myself, I do not see how it is even possible they would have been worse. Bush's policies and actions have been awful for the people of Pennsylvania, and I am certainly bitter that we've been forced to put up with them. The rest of the country does not seem to have PA's best interests in mind when they make decisions, and I am bitter that they want us to say, "Thank you sir, may I have another."

I definitely think John McCain would have made a better President than George W. Bush has been. I think McCain rolled over and showed the Bush administration his belly in return for their help in 2008. I think they managed to convince him they were going to be great in office and he'd be unstoppable in 2008 with them behind him.

Unfortunately for him, and unfortunately for us, they were wrong in almost every possible way. Despite this, McCain has not turned his back on their policies and their help, but has embraced the viewpoints, ideas, strategies, and staff of the Bush/Cheney campaign as his own.

I'm so bitter that the Republicans are still acting like they're right all the time when they so clearly are not. I'm so bitter that they act like Pennsylvanians ever wanted them in charge of the country.

Bitter? Yes. Bitter Pennsylvanians for Obama.

2008.10.29 at 11:30am EDT

Not Politics

So, what else has been going on in my life?

Well, braiding of course. I have five braids in my Edo Yatsu collection now, though I haven't posted about most of them. Each uses the same two colors with different start positions that yield different plaits even though they all use the same braiding pattern. I'm also in the middle of making a third marudai; this one comes apart to make it easier to transport.

Did a bit of travelling. Had to go to Boston to do family stuff. Sorry to most of my Boston friends, since we barely did any socializing at all, mostly just family stuff. Took a quick tour through the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Their small Japanese collection is interesting. (I spent an embarassing amount of time trying to examine the braided cords from which the scrolls hang.) Their temporary exhibit of Yousuf Karsh photographs is amazing. Their book store is great, though I didn't buy anything. If you stay at the Sheraton in Newton, don't let them give you room 606; it smells bad.

Finishing up my current contract. For months this project has been bumping along with little guidance and no deadline, then suddenly this past Thursday the client asked if they could have the document. I managed to communicate to them that I needed a few days to finish it up, but I'm gone after that.

Been a little sick. Basically the same cold I had last December, but I destroyed my voice talking too much at the family thing. Maybe I'll only cough for a couple of weeks this time, instead of for about a month.

See how easy it was to get through an entire post without mentioning politics?
Vote Obama.

2008.10.30 at 11:00am EDT


Welcome to "National Not Writing a Novel Month". I, and many others like me, will be doing our darndest to avoid writing a novel for the entire month of November. You can chart my progress by watching this blog and making sure I don't post a number of pages I've written each day. With your encouragement, I know I can get through this entire month without writing a novel.

2008.11.00 at 12:00am EDT

Election Day

I Voted

2008.11.04 at 8:23am EDT

Bunch of New Braids

I finished up braiding all of that blue and grey silk yarn last week, and so this week I'm posting pictures!

Don't you worry, though, I've already gone back to the store and bought more yarn.

2008.11.05 at 1:30pm EDT

Not Novel Not Update

Friend EZ asks (via text message), "How's your not novel not coming along?" Answer: It's not coming along not great! I've been so totally not busy not writing my not novel I've been not posting to my blog (it's an actual blog) not nearly daily.

Anyway, I'm not upset or anything, but anybody who sends text messages should be aware that they are not included in my payment plan. I leave them activated because some times they come in handy and it's totally worth the dime or whatever they charge me, but just be aware that I judge every text message I receive as to its dimeworthiness.

2008.11.15 at 12:00am EDT

So What Have I Been Doing?

OK, since I haven't been working on a novel, and I obviously haven't done much posting to my blog, what have I been doing with my time? Considering I'm 'between contracts' right now, that's a pretty fair question.

Well, I've been braiding of course, completing a very long braid that took me most of a week of braiding, some useful braiding to actually use for something, and a bunch of screwing around experimenting. In braiding-related project work, I made a third marudai, this one constructed with nuts and bolts so it can be disassembled for travel.

I also read Neal Stephenson's latest book, Anathem. It's 890 pages of theory and practice, plus a glossary and some appendices. I liked it a lot, but then I'm a big fan of his writing. I know that quite a few people find his books insufferable, and this one probably won't change their opinions, but it's a good book and a I enjoyed it. It's a constant surprise, which is difficult to maintain for ~900 pages, but Stephenson is a master.

I've also been doing a bit of woodworking, on a project that I don't want to talk much about right now, but has needed a fair amount of precision work, so it's taking a bit of time. I'm really happy with it so far.

Lastly, I've been taking care of some things from the "Dumb Things I Gotta Do" category in my To Do list. Examples of things still on the list include putting new planks on the tops of my sawhorses (3/4 complete, but the last one has some stuff sitting on it) and repainting my license plate frame. Excitement!

2008.11.17 at 12:00am EDT

Repo: The Generic Opera

The movie "Repo: The Genetic Opera" has been receiving piles of hype from all kinds of sources, so when I found out it was being screened at this year's Three Rivers Film Festival, I decided that we had to go see it. We had dinner down the block from the theatre and showed up an hour before the show to get tickets.

When we arrived, we found two lines in front of the theatre. It turned out that one of the lines was for people who already had tickets. Let me just say here that advanced ticket sales for movies is one of the evils of modern society. The other line was for people waiting to buy one of the 50 tickets that had been "reserved" for at the door ticket sales. "Reserving" tickets for people who show up an hour early for a movie? Craziness. Anyway, we would up getting numbers 43 and 44 when numbers were finally handed out, which means we had to hunt for some of the last empty seats in the theater. Somehow, we found two seats together.

Anyway, the question becomes, "Was it worth it?" The answer is yes. I can't think of a better crowd to have seen this movie with. It's a big show, so seeing it with an enthusiastic crowd is important. People will be talking about this movie for years, so seeing it as early as possible is vital. You want to form your own opinion before reading innumerable blog posts. (Hey, so if that's true for you, you should stop reading now before I get into my opinions.)

"So is the movie worth it?" Almost. So much about this movie is dead on perfect. The acting is good; the actors were clearly into their roles, no matter how campy and over-the-top. The sets were terrific. The costumes were wonderful. The lighting and camera work were top-notch. The story was great; it's twisted and involved, with multiple operatic layers. However, the songs really bite. If you're going to make a musical, you need good songs. Not one of them is memorable, some of them aren't even coherent, and many of them aren't even sung. If you're going to hire people like Sarah Brightman (the former Mrs. Andrew Llloyd Webber) to sing for you, you should hire real songwriters. If you're going to call your musical and opera, all this speak-singing just won't do.

In short, see this movie when it appears and before it disappears. It won't be nearly as cool to watch at home on video. You will have to put up with the costumes for decades, but hopefully you'll never hear the music again.

2008.11.18 at 12:00am EDT

New Suzuribako in Progress

This project ate up a bunch of my time last week, and here's a picture of what I have so far.

My old suzuribako was just a simple small box. This one is larger (the interior is 8.5"x11") and the inside has holders for the ink stone, ink stick, and water dropper, as well as curved rests for one or two full-size brushes.

It's actually sitting on the actual workbench! I got sick of not being able to work on my workbench, and cleaned it off. Unbelievable, I know. I also sanded the surface a bit and worked in a bit of sanding sealer to make a nicer work surface. The next step will be removing all the tools from the pegboard and re-arranging the whole layout of tool storage.

2008.11.19 at 12:00am EDT

Last Rosebud of the Year

Sharon's roses bloom until they freeze

2008.11.20 at 12:00am EDT

Friday Catblogging

Gray Kitty

This cat is not one of Sharon's cats. It's a feral cat that lives under the neighbors' porch. It was born there in the spring. We haven't seen the mother or its siblings in months, but this one keeps coming back. The funny part is that this cat is good friends with the groundhog that lives a few houses in the other direction. The two of them hang out in our yard all the time. The groundhog eats birdseed, parsley, and tomatoes, while the kitty suns and watches the bird feeders.

2008.11.21 at 12:00am EDT

Bible Mobile

Ask Now, Not Later

"Don't tailgate the Jesus," I warned her.

2008.11.26 at 12:00pm EDT


Most people don't understand that using HeIvetica or AriaI for body text can cause significant problems.

2008.12.02 at 11:15am EST

Prisoner Sequence

Because I couldn't find this image sequence anywhere, and I wanted to show it to some people. This is a sequence of images from a memorable scene in a forgettable episode of an unforgettable series, the pub scene in "The Girl Who Was Death" episode of "The Prisoner" series from 1968.

2008.12.03 at 4:00pm EST

Langridge Genius

The One Eyed Man

A one-frame digression from the comic book, The Louche and Insalubrious Escapades of Art d'Ecco by Andrew & Roger Langridge.

2008.12.04 at 12:00am EST

Twin Peaks 2015

I didn't see "Wild Palms" when it first aired 1993, but I caught it a few years later on video, and liked it a bunch. The story of the miniseries takes place in 2007, and I was very disappointed last year when the producers didn't make a bigger deal out of this. They could have at least put together a new DVD with some commentaries comparing its world to the one in which we live. Instead, nothing.

I recently rewatched another series that some regard as similar to "Wild Palms", David Lynch & Mark Frost's "Twin Peaks". I don't think they're super similar, except in the way they bewilder people who can't pay a lot of attention. I liked Twin Peaks a lot when it aired in 1990, and I've liked it every time I've watched it since. It is, first and foremost, a soap opera. People who try to look too much deeper into it wind up being somewhat disappointed, but if you just take it for that it's entertaining.

Anyway, in the final episode Laura Palmer's shade tells Special Agent Dale Cooper that she will see him again in 25 years. This is confirmed in the "Fire Walk With Me" film where is a scene is labelled "25 years later". This marks the year 2015 as the year to revisit Twin Peaks. I won't go so far as to say Lynch should resolve Twin Peaks (I don't think much of Twin Peaks was ever meant to resolve), but revisiting is definitely in order.

Do you hear me Mr. Lynch? You have seven years to work on this.

2008.12.08 at 12:00am EST

Favorite Album of 2008

I started hearing singles from Elbow's "The Seldom Seen Kid" on a local radio station and was eventually earwigged by track number two, "The Bones of You". This is not a new band, but this is their first album that's entirely self-produced, and it's been winning them praises and prizes from all corners. I just thought I'd throw my hat in.

The music on this album is strong, and the lead singer's voice is wonderful, with a timbre that really catches me. The lyrics are as amazingly poetic as any I've heard in recent years, and are really what sucked me into this album.

I mostly enjoy instrumental music, becuase most lyrics are just noises being made by the singer to go along with the music. These lyrics really dug into me, though. Lyrics like: "Straight to my head like the first cigarette of the day", "We kissed like we invented it", and "We'll buy him the patch in the Tuscany hills, and the vino de vici will flow like a river in spring."

I'm hooked. Hooked, I tell you. Time to start searching for their previous albums.

2008.12.09 at 12:00am EST

Off the Hook

I'm reading a book set in the early 1980's, and one of the characters, who doesn't want to speak to her ex-husband, leaves her phone off the hook. Even in my youth, this phrase was archaic; phones no longer had actual hooks to hang the handpiece on. Do people even have phones they can leave off the hook? One of my phones can't even be unplugged, as it connects wirelessly. Even if I turn it off, the voice mail will pick up, creating the possibly false impression that I want you to leave me a message, and that I will listen to that message. How do we communicate to the world that we don't want to speak to anybody? I guess we don't.

2008.12.10 at 8:30pm EST

Sears Receipts

If any of you shop at Sears, as I still do occasionally, you've received a Sears receipt with feedback solicitation and a satisfaction guarantee, plus maybe a charge slip, and a coupon for treadmills, and a coupon for tools, and a coupon for lawn and garden. Just use that last one on a purchase of $100 or more. The register prints, and prints, and keeps printing. Those cashiers must have to replace the tape five or more times a day. Craziness. I guess somepeople use those things, but I normally throw them away.

2008.12.11 at 12:00am EST

Friday Catblogging

Shammy on the Stairs

Sharon's sister's cat, Shammy. He's about eleven years old, and he was starting to have health problems, but he's much healthier and happier down in Arizona.

2008.12.12 at 12:00am EST

The Last Stationer

Today I needed to go dahntahn to pick up some paperwork, so I stopped off at the last real stationers in Pittsburgh, Weldin's. It's the only place I can find where you can walk in and buy a single medium ball point red ink pen. This store has been in business for over 150 years, and their web site looks like it. (That's a joke.) Anyway, they have a cat who lives in the store, which is cool. They used to have a huge selection of globes and maps upstairs, but now that's mostly gift items. I just needed a single single medium ball point red ink pen, and they sold me one. Try that in your city. Let me know how it goes.

2008.12.15 at 8:55pm EST

Other Music of 2008

So what other music have I been buying besides last week's favorite?

You can see a fair amount of variation in there. Some of those are the latest albums from groups I collect. Others are me catching up on stuff I wish I'd found years ago. All that stuff from Thrice is based on a recommendation; it's worth a listen, but it's not something I'd normally buy. (It's actually four mini-albums based on the four classical elements.) The Violent Femmes collection is just something I should have bought years ago. The Moog Cookbook is something I've been searching for; I loved their first album. Godspeed You Black Emperor is probably one of the most interesting groups I've gotten interested in in the past year.

2008.12.16 at 12:00am EST


"Meltdown", by Elliott C. Evans (2008)

2008.12.17 at 12:00am EST

Friday Catblogging

Lucy on the Table

Sharon's sister's cat Lucy, usually called Lulu.

2008.12.19 at 12:00am EST


A few years ago, somebody opened a good candy store in what's known as Pittsburgh's Strip District. The strip is where you go when you want to buy good food, and while a smattering of other kinds of shops has moved in (and out) over the years, it's still mostly food. Opening a good candy shop there was genius. The place is called "Mon Aimee Chocolat". They have a certain amount of sweets they prepare there, but the bulk of their stock is international candy, specializing in premier chocolate brands. If you need gourmet, 70% cocoa, dark chocolate, from Madagsacar... this is where you go. Needless to say, they know Sharon by sight there.

A few months ago, somebody opened a wine bar and restaurant in a building that used to house one of Pittsburgh's great "little places". Baum Vivant was a great restaurant in a tiny house, next to the train tracks, along a busy street, between a hospital and a strip club. The new place is called "Toast!". The dinner we had there was very good, the wine selection is very good, and the dessert menu has a touch of genius on it.

They've teamed up with Mon Aimee to serve a selection of fine chocolate. This is absolute genius. Often when we're dining out, choosing dessert comes down to determining which selection on the menu is the most chocolaty. Toast has distilled this down to utter simplicity by offering a dessert that can be described as "chocolate on a plate". It doesn't get much more chocolaty than that, and with Mon Aimee providing the chocolate it's always going to be good. Placing that next to a wine menu makes it even better. Genius.

2008.12.22 at 8:00am EST

"Fancy Suzuribako" Project Completed

So last year, I made a small Suzuribako to store my Japanese ink stone. It was too small, however, to store nicer brushes or be generally useful, so I decided to make one that was larger, fancier, and more useful.

Fancy Suzuribako

It's large enough to store the nicer brushes, and has built in "organizers" to keep supplies in place. At some point I hope to give it a nicer finish, but for now I'm glad it's complete. It also has a secret, but I'll avoid talking about that. Not because it's really important that it be kept secret, but because the last time I brought it up it started a huge argument between me and somebody else.

The blue thing is a water dropper. The smaller black thing with gold writing on it is an ink stick. The larger black thing with a sloping well in it is the ink stone. What you do is drip a bit of water in the stone, then rub the ink stick up and down the stone through the water to make ink. Then you use the brushes to to write with the ink. Having everything in one box is convenient.

The lid is a simple lift-off lid, and the closed box is about 9 inches wide, 11.5 inches long, and 2 inches tall. It's all held together with glue and pegs, and the joinery at the corners is traditional overlap joinery.

2008.12.23 at 12:00am EST

Braiding Argh

I really want to be able to make some flat braids that are a bit wider than the 8 strand Yatsu Rai pattern I've been using. Most of the wider braids use a different kind of braiding loom, so I was really enthusiastic when I found a 16 strand Hira Kara pattern. I started briading with it, and it turns out it makes braids that are almost the same width as the 8 strand pattern, just twice as thick. In addition, the instructions note that, "How you cross the threads in steps 1 and 2 is quite important. If done correctly, both faces will be the same width. If done incorrectly, the N side will be narrower."

This was exactly my experience; the "South" side of the flat braid was four stitches wide, and the "North" side was three stitches wide. I tried crossing the threads several different ways in steps one and two, but couldn't fix the problem. Then, I got the bright idea of switching steps three and four! This evened up the braid so it's rectangular in cross section, not trapezoidal. Unfortunately, now both sides are the narrower of the two widths. This makes a solid, and presumably very strong braid, but not as wide as I was hoping. Argh.

2008.12.24 at 12:00am EST

The Meaning of Today

I think it's time to take a break from the hustle and bustle of this hectic season and contemplate the meaning of today.

Thursday, as we're all taught, is named after the Norse god Thor. Thor wears a magic belt for strength and magic gauntlets of steel that enable him to hold a mighty magic hammer. The hammer throws lightning bolts, and (if thrown itself) returns to the thrower. He drives a chariot drawn by magic goats that he can eat when hungry then revive with a touch. He uses his powers to kill giants who fear and seek to destroy him. As part of a trick, he dressed up as a woman once and married the king of the giants.

Before the Christianization of Europe, Thursday was a holy day of the week.

2008.12.25 at 12:00am EST

Friday Catblogging

Leo the Invisible

Sharon's sister's cat Leo, being invisible on the stairs.

2008.12.26 at 12:00am EST

Strange Dream

A couple of years ago, I had an interview for a training contract that included a sort of "audition". I was asked to prepare a one hour training course on anything I wanted, and deliver it to a room full of people who would later be interviewing me individually. One of the "students" in the class was audibly bored, vocally belligerent, and actively disruptive. This didn't bother me because I'd taught classes full of such types before.

It was later revealed to me that this person's purpose in the class was to try to rattle me. I suspected that, but I figured it was her personal purpose, and not her assigned task. Like I said, she didn't rattle me and I got through my class as planned. This practice struck me as being mildly dishonest, but it didn't bother me too much, and although I didn't get that contract (I don't think anybody did, actually.) it did lead to me getting another contract at that company, so whatever.

Last week I had a dream about another strange job interview. When I arrived at the job interview, I was led into a classroom where, although I had arrived on time for my interview, a seminar of some kind was already in progress. The subject matter was very boring, the chairs were too soft, and the room was too hot, making it difficult to keep my eyes open. Some of the slides in the presentation were odd, with strange layout, and sections that throbbed in and out of focus. We were given a sort of newspaper, that contained reference articles for the talk. It had printing on the front and back. The presenter pointed out that one of the articles in the paper covered three major points. I didn't see that article, so I flipped the paper over. I found the article, but it only had two points. I flipped back, to see if the article was continued, but now the other side was completely blank. Upon closer inspection, I discovered the mechanism by which this trick was achieved. Waving my paper, I strode up to the presenter and asked, "What's the deal with the trick papers? What do you hope to discover?"

The presenter smiled broadly and shrugged. "Oh, anything," the presenter chuckled.

"I think you'll find that some people don't react well to this kind of dishonesty," I said. I put my newspaper on the presenter's work table, noticed I wasn't wearing any pants, and woke up. I couldn't get back to sleep for 30 minutes.

2008.12.29 at 12:00am EST


Maybe ten years ago, I saw a statistic that the average CD was only listened to two or three times. When I started buying CDs, I'd typically listen to them a few times right away to get above-average use out of them, then try to keep them in rotation over time.

I wonder how this statistic is now that many people don't even buy CDs, and many more people now own portable audio devices. It's a lot easier to listen to your purchased media now than it used to be. With the shuffle feature of most digital media players, you even wind up listening more to stuff you don't even remember that you have.

So anyway, one thing I do on my MP3 player (not an iPod) is when I add a new album (almost always bought on CD and ripped to MP3 by yours truly), I add it to a playlist for the calendar year. That is, everything I bought in 2008 is listed in the file "2008.m3u". This makes end-of-year retrospective lists easier, but it typically gets ignored until the last few days of the year, when I listen to this playlist over and over. It sears the music I was interested in that year into my brain so I can remember the times and my personality a little better.

How many times does a single song bring back a memory of a time or a place? I have a playlist for each year.

2008.12.30 at 12:00am EST

Last Braids of the Year

On the last possible day of the year, I managed to fully documented the rest of the braids I did this November and December, as well as my second and third marudai. The third is something special in itself.

There's quite a variety of braiding represented here.

Silk and cotton, useful and decorative, for me and for others, I feel like I'm in my stride now as far as braiding is concerned. In 2009, I hope to try some more challenging braids, or at least finish up the 16-strand Hira Kara Gumi that's on the marudai right now.

Have a good New Year's eve, everybody!

2008.12.31 at 12:00am EST

Happy New Year

So here's our big news for the new year:

Yes, we meant this to be a suprise to as many people as possible.

2009.01.01 at 1:50pm EST

Recipe: Chicken Molé for Parties

A favorite at our parties. With everything else you might serve at a party, this is enough for about 50 people. As a stand-alone dinner, this is probably enough for 8-10 people. This recipe is based on one I got from "The Epicentre", though this version is about half as hot. The original version is painfully spicy. This version is just hot.



  1. Add oil to an 8 quart pan and place over high heat
  2. Cut chicken into 3/4 inch cubes
  3. Brown chicken cubes in oil
  4. Add onions and garlic to chicken and heat until fragrant
  5. Add dry ingredients and stir until chicken is coated
  6. Add broth and puree
  7. Stir thoroughly, sraping sides and bottom of pan
  8. Bring to boil
  9. Turn down heat and simmer for 3 hours

Serve with rice (about 6 cups cooked should do) and beans (probably about two cans).

2009.01.03 at 17:00am EST

Dear Software Authors

While I acknowledge that it is true that your application deals directly with disc media in some way, either reading from or writing data to compact discs or digital versatile discs, putting a graphical representation of a shiny disc in your program's icon does not help me find it when it is alongside several other shockingly similar icons with shiny discs in them. Adding such other items as muscial notes, Saturnian rings, film strips, paper documents, and laser beams is not enough. Please find more inventive icon designs. My Launcher is not being as helpful as it could be, with a row of shiny discs sitting in it where helpful icons should be. Thank you.

2009.01.05 at 11:30pm EST

Bret Easton Ellis' "Glamorama"

So I'm reading this novel and thinking, "Wow, it's a pity "Zoolander" was so wacky and entertaining, because this novel about a nitwit male model who gets into a situation that's way over his head would make a great movie." Glamorama came out in 1999, two years before Zoolander, so then I start thinkning that maybe the movie is loosely based on the novel, like 2005's "The Island" was loosely (very loosely) based on the 1996 novel "Spares" by Michael Marshall Smith. Unlike Smith, Ellis actually sued the people behind the movie that was similar to his book. There must have been some merit there, because the suit was settled out of court. As a condition of the settlement, Ellis is not allowed to discuss the similarities or how they might have occurred. I find that pretty disappointing personally, but the settlement is as good as an admission of fault in my book, so I'm happy for Ellis. I hope they paid him a bunch of money.

Anyway, Glamorama starts out with Victor Ward's crazy Manhattan lifestyle spiralling out of control, and in this way it is very similar to Ellis' other novels. At the end of the first section the plot has gotten completely out of Victor's hands, but instead of charting Victor's decent into hell at home, the novel takes a turn ina completely new dimension. This begins the pattern of the book. Each section's chapters are numbered in reverse, counting down to the next point at which the plot will twist in a way that wrenches Victor's life off its tracks. I've yet to read the final section, so I can't even give away how the book ends, because I don't know where he can possibly head from where Ellis has ended section five.

What really makes this book is how internally important every little thing becomes. It's very Gene Wolfe, with its unreliable narrator who doesn't recognize the importance of something the first time he sees it, and maybe doesn't even recognize the importance of something the second or third time he sees it. At the same time, Victor is maybe mildly delusional, but this enables Ellis to add stylistic flourishes to the movel like the way scenes that are supposed to be glamorous have confetti in them, but as the novel progresses, Victor begins to notice a pervasive smell of feces and characters begin waving flies away from their faces. At the same time, it's not clear some of the things you believe are Victor's delusions are not actually there, like the way he keep talking about a "film crew" that starts following him around in section two, who you think are just a device by which the unstable Victor can disassociate himself from his life, but who later start interacting with the other characters.

I'm really glad I got started on this Brett Easton Ellis kick. I'm enjoying his books immensely. His earlier books are great stylistically, but somewhat lacking in substance. He's really growing as a writer though. I loved American Psycho, the plot of this one is even more engaging, and I still have one more to go. Please keep writing, Mr. Ellis!

2009.01.10 at 10:00am EST

More Marriage Pictures

Click for larger, though not necessarily higher quality, versions. These were taken with peoples' phones. We really should have handed out our cameras and asked people to take pictures. Those phone cameras can be OK, but not in dim lighting like this.

Talking About It

Toasting Over It

Smooching About It

Signing It

Witnessing It

Posing with the Venus de Milo

Don't blame me about that Venus de Milo thing, it's an old tradition with the group of friends that threw the New Year party where Sharon and I got together, so it had to be done.

2009.01.12 at 9:00am EST

Benjamin Button

We finally went to see this film last night. Wow, what a movie. It's quiet and subtle. It's funny and sad. It's about life. It may make you cry like a baby. The acting is great. The dialogue is only a small part of the communication. The clocks are everywhere. You should go see the movie.

Thirty years ago, people would be talking everywhere about the makeup effects used in this movie. Now, they are incidental to the movie. You won't think much about them.

I read one review of this movie, from a reviewer who was bored and compared it unfavorably to "Forest Gump". I should hunt that review down, so I know whose reviews to never read again.

2009.01.14 at 5:00pm EST

R.I.P. Patrick McGoohan

We learned today that actor Patrick McGoohan passed away yesterday at the age of 80. His 1968 TV show "The Prisoner" was (and is) hugely influential in my personality, and I mourn his passing.

The "point" of The Prisoner, as I see, it is to illuminate the role of the individual in society. We idolize the individual as a hero in so much of our society and its art works, but then so much of what we do as a society tries to break down lone wolves and force them to conform. In the final trap, a pure individual is tempted by the desire to show others "the way", and by leading the pack, join it.

I'll never forget him for bringing these thoughts to my attention. If you want to understand me, you have to understand The Prisoner (and Alan Mendelsohn the boy from Mars, but that is a story for another post).

I'm very sad that he won't be able to see the new version of The Prisoner that is being produced as a a miniseries for AMC. If you haven't seen any of the original episodes, AMC has all of them online for free, legal viewing.

2009.01.14 at 9:00pm EST

Two New Braids

Just finished up the second of two new braids. I started the first one back in December. It's a 16-strand braid using the "hira kara gumi" flat braid pattern. I was hoping for a wider braid, but instead I wound up with a braid that's twice as thick!

16-strand Hira Kara Gumi

There are actually four different kinds of brown in there, which confused the cashier in the craft store a bit, but that's just one of the many services I provide.

This braid took way too much time. The pattern is annoying to execute, and difficult to keep track of. I know I messed up at least a couple times, because eventually I noticed my threads were never getting back to their starting arrangement. After that torturous experience, I decided to do the 16-strand "kongo gumi" pattern again, which I remembered as being fun.

16-strand Kongo Gumi

I used the thick silk yarn for this braid, so it's about a half inch in diameter! I'm really happy with this braid. It's pretty and silky, and has a comfortable stretch to it.

2009.01.15 at 12:00am EST

Nice Marudai

Speaking of braids, I got tired of my plain looking marudai and their warped wood, so I bought some mildly nicer wood and gave it a nicer finish.

Swanky Marudai

It's made entirely of poplar wood (poplar 1x12 for the top and bottom and 23" poplar dowels for the legs), stained with a water-based rosewood stain, and finished with a glossy acrylic polyurethane.

Finally, a marudai that looks like furniture instead of equipment.

2009.01.16 at 12:00am EST

Jacqui Carey's "Beginner's Guide to Braiding"

Sorry, I now this blog has basically become the "braiding blog" lately, but it's sort of what my life has become at this point. I did fall asleep last night noodling on a carpentry poject, but it will be weeks or maybe months before that comes to pass, so here we go.

I finally went to the library last week to see what books they might have on kumihimo. I'd seen books from Jacqui Carey referenced on various web sites, so I was happy to find a copy of this one on the shelf. Carey is one of the luminaries in the modern braiding world. She has written several books on braiding and travels the world studying the braids of diferent cultures and giving classes. She is a mathematician, and has explored the theoretical side of braiding quite extensively, trying to determine how braiding works and developing new braids and braiding styles.

This book, Beginners Guide to Braiding: The Craft of Kumihimo is just what it says. It is a slim volume (64 pages), but it is packed with enough color photos to get anybody started with kumihimo. Carey covers all of the equipment you need, and gives instructions for six basic 8-strand braids. Each braid is diagrammed, photographed in a step by step fashion, detailed with more photographs of the "active site" of the braid, and explored with photos of color and material variations.

I went through the book, and made a sampler of all six patterns. I only did 16 or so iterations of each pattern, and I did it in a single braid to save set-up time.

Carey starts with this "square braid" that I'd never tried before. It's a good choice, I think, as the moves are simple and the braid has a nice structure.

Carey calls this "round braid". I've been calling it "kongo gumi". It's a fast, solid braid that adapts well to every even number of threads that I've tried.

This is another I haven't seen before, but this "flat braid" is a type of braid I've been looking for. Expect to see more of this braid from me in the future.

I'd made something like this "honeycomb braid" when I was playing around trying to use up yarn, so it's good to see that it's a recognized braid.

I've been calling this braid "Edo Yatsu", but Carey calls it "hollow braid". The color variations she explores show some of my favorite versions.

Everybody else seems to call this "Hira Kara Gumi", but Carey titles it "rounded flat braid". It's a classic, and a good braid for closing out the book.

This book isn't everything I might wish. For one, I can understand whe Carey wouldn't want to bog new braiders down in Japanese terminology, but I think it's a disservice to not even mention traditional names for the braids so that braiders can relate to information they find elsewhere.

Secondly, she only acknowledges traditional materials and equipment. She gives no help for braiders who might be working with floss or yarn. She gives no help for braiders who may be working with a foam disk instead of a marudai. Only brief mention is made of improvised marudai.

Anyway, I consider those to be nits to pick. This is a good introduction to kumihimo, and if my descriptions of braids have intrigued you rather than bored you, and you're uncomfortable gleaning instructions from the Internet, you should definitely hunt down this book.

2009.01.20 at 9:30am EST

Origins Nanofictionary Finals

Nanofictionary is the card game of telling tiny little stories. During the first phase of the game, you collect cards for characters, a setting, a problem, and a resolution. During the second phase, each player tells a story based on the cards they have collected. In the third phase, players and bystanders rate the stories that were told, choosing a winner.

At this past year's Origins game fair, Looney Labs ran their annual tournament for this, their game. These four players made it to the finals of the tournament. These are their stories.

Congratulations Mr. Hay on your championship!

2009.01.21 at 12:00am EST

Playing Card Awesomeness

Back in 2004 (when I was still doing non-braiding projects =^) I designed a custom deck of playing cards to be printed on PlainCards. I released a PDF to the net for free, thinking maybe somebody might want to print their own. The "face" cards were the lamest part of my design, I'll be the first to admit, since pictures are always the most difficult part of any card project for me.

Anyway, fast forward 3.5 years and the Internet has worked its magic on my lameness. A creative person with the handle of Dr. Ninjapants (who is apparently NOT Scott Bakula) took my design (which I'm totally cool with, BTW) added some sparkle and a ton of awesome to create Cher, "Dexter", Joker, Patrick Swayze, and more custom card decks to give as presents. You should totally go see Dr. Ninjapants' custom card designs right now, before he gets some kind of cease-and-desist letter from Paramount or something.

Personally, I'm horrified by the Swayze deck, but I've already written to him asking to see the WOSAT deck.

2009.01.22 at 12:00pm EST

Friday Catblogging

Twinkle Toes

Dodger lays like this sometimes, with his paws up in the air. We call this his "Twinkle Toes"pose.

2009.01.23 at 12:00am EST

Two New Braids

Two new braids this week. Actually, four, but one of them has to remain a secret as it's to be a present, and one of them was just me trying something out.

Peas and Carrots

Blue and Green Chevrons

These were both made using the "Falt Braid" pattern from Jacqui Carey's "Beginner's Guide to Braiding", but expanded to 12 and 16 strands respetively. This pattern should work with any multiple of 4, but 16 was starting to overwhelm my marudai. Each braid only used one skein of each color, so the 12-thread braid is about 3 feet long, and the 16-thread braid is only 2'3".

The "trying out" braid was an experiment to see if I could braid on my marudai using thick knitting yarn. I have volunteered to teach a class in kumihimo at a Japanese-themed SCA event at the end of next month. I'm hoping that if I use thick yarn that the students in the back will still be able to see what I'm doing. It's a bit of a challenge to deal with, but kinda fun. It works pretty well, though the braid is very loose.

2009.01.29 at 12:30pm EST

Second Pair of Tabi

I made my first pair of tabi a few months ago, but one pair just isn't going to be enough. Plus, the first didn't realy fit well. So, I made a second pair.

White Linen Tabi 2

I used a slightly modified version of the first pattern, trying to fix some of the fit problems. These are also split in front instead of in back. I'm told this is closer to historical tabi. Otherwsie, they're basically the same, right down to the same problems with missed layers during sewing. Sigh.

2009.01.30 at 12:00am EST

Pathetic and Sad, But Social

I have two woodworking projects I want to blog about, but can't. One has to be kept secret to prevent another argument about it, and the other isn't finished yet and also has no official existence. In lieu of that, here are two ridiculous experiemtns in braiding.

Shiny Square Braid

Wooly Hira Kara Gumi

The first is a Kusari Kaku Yatsu "square braid" that uses ridiculously expensive polyester "Rat Tail" cord of the type I used to use for stuff before I started braiding. This is the only braiding pattern that seemed to work well with this cord.

The second is a Hira Kara Gumi "rounded flat braid" that uses ridiculously thick yarn. I wanted to see how well this stuff braids, because I'm thinking of using it to make the braiding more visible in a teaching situation. This braid is about three quarters of an inch across!

Of course, if you take another look at the colors in those two braids, you'll realize this is just my little way of saying, "Go Steelers!"

2009.02.01 at 12:00am EST



I tend to watch, at most, one football game per season. That one last night was certainly worth watching. Plus, our team won. Take that, Arizona; two big defeats in four months. Yinz play hard, but that last minute really makes a difference.

2009.02.02 at 12:00am EST

Vladimir Nabokov's "Pale Fire"

I believe this is Nabokov's commentary on literary criticism. It comprises a foreword, an epic poem, a commentary, and an index. The main problem is that the commentary is not really about the poem, but it is about what the commentator wishes the poem had been. This is, of course, all part of the game, so don't think I'm complaining.

Many people think this is one of Nabokov's masterpieces. I liked it, but can't agree. Nabokov's masterpieces are (of those I have read) Lolita, Ada, and Bend Sinister; in that order, in my opinion. This is good, and humorous, and engaging, and mysterious, and well written, but its cleverness of form interferes with its effectiveness. For instance, the editor, one Charles Kinbote, is so blinded by his own vision of the work as to miss obvious interpretations of the poem until compiling the index. Yes, you are expected to read the index. No, it doesn't tell you where the crown jewels are hidden.

"What?" you ask, "The crown jewels?"


Serious fans of Nabokov should probably read this, and anybody who thinks Nabokov's works are limited to tales of sexual obsessions should definitely read this (not that there isn't any sexual obsession in it (the king, it seems, to the despair of his queen, prefers men) but it isn't as central as in other works), and anybody who thinks their commentary can add to or extend a text should probably read this, but the rest of you should wait for the movie.

2009.02.04 at 12:00am EST

Now It Can Be Told

I actually finished this a couple of weeks ago, but for complex interpersonal reasons wasn't able to talk about it. You see, I knew that the probability was high that a person was going to ask me to make this object, but just had not done so, and I didn't want the request to come at an inconvenient time, so I just decided to make it first and then it would be done already.

Anyway, it's just another suzuribako. This one is a little closer to some historical examples. It's a little smaller than my second suzuribako, and a little more square. Instead of a commercial stain, I used a home made ebonizing agent which gave it this lovely charcoal gray color. It's still finished with a water-based acrylic finish, but that's for the best, I think.

Open and filled with stuff.


It's made entirely of poplar wood, with peg fasteners. The "organizer" grid is removable.

2009.02.06 at 10:00am EST

Economic Stimulus

When times are good, conservatives (read, "Republicans") call for tax cuts. When times are bad, conservatives also call for tax cuts. Why do they bother trying to provide a rationale for this? Why don't they just admit that it's the only idea they have? Don't they realize that millions of Americans are already going to pay lower taxes this year because they don't have jobs?

2009.02.09 at 12:00am EST

Another Revelation

Here's another thing I made recently, in anticipation of somebody actually asking me to make it. It's a re-creation of a mid-16th century Japanese writing desk, called a fuzukue.

Fuzukue with my poor calligraphy upon it

It's a good thing I just finished with it, too, because it turns out there are two more things I need to make before the end of the month.

2009.02.10 at 12:00am EST

Neil Gaiman's "Coraline"

Sharon and I saw this film last night. "Coraline" is a stop-motion animated film of a short novel by Neil Gaiman. Gaiman is a modern master of the fairy tale, so this film is wonderful. The story and dialog are spot on, and the animation is great. It's a real fairy tale, which means it's somewhat creepy and scary, but of course the ending is happy.

There's only one problem. Sharon and I often judges movies by how much discussion we have about them. The real purpose of art, after all, is to stimulate thought, right? So this movie is so straightforward that it leaves nothing to talk about. There's no interpretation to be done, no questions to ponder, no comparisons to make.

This movie makes an enjoyable couple of hours, but not the enjoyable few days of discussion that I really want to have. Am I just a grown-up?

2009.02.12 at 10:30pm EST

Desktop "Fuzukue"

I'm not really much for desktop images. My computer screens are normally cluttered with several large windows, and the desktop itself cluttered with icons. Usually, I stick with a simple repeating pattern. Other people, however, seem to really like using images on their desktops, so I thought I might start providing some of my more abstract photographs here, in sizes larger than I normally provide, for that purpose.

This is a photo of the wood grain of the fuzukue writing desk that I posted about the other day. You can see the join between the two poplar boards about half way down the screen. The poplar has been stained with iron acetate made by soaking steel wool in vinegar. When this soaks into the wood, the iron acetate reacts with the tannins in the wood and turns black. This darkens the wood and accentuates the grain. Some of the greens and yellows in the poplar show through the darkening in a way that they usually don't with pigment stains. It gives this piece an unusual look I really like, so here's a closer look. Click the thumbnail above for a 1600x1200 pixel version that you can use as a desktop.

2009.02.13 at 12:00am EST

The Last Good Hardware Store in Pittsburgh

When you're looking for something, and (in your opinion) any decent hardware store should have it, but you've been looking and you can't find it, then Rollier's hardware in Mount Lebanon (just South of Pittsburgh) is the place to go.

I first became aware of Rollier's when they still had a location in the city's Shadyside neighborhood. Shadyside is a mostly nice neighborhood between the Universities & Hospitals and the somewhat less nice neighboorhoods to the East. It has a lot of big old houses, but also a lot of apartments and student housing. At that time, Walnut Street was a cool shopping street in a hip neighborhood, and that location of Rollier's was the perfect hardware store for anything you might need on short notice. It had been there a while, and its stock was perectly tuned to meet the needs of the people who lived within walking distance.

That location has long since closed as Walnut Street slowly became an outdoor shopping mall and the hipness moved away to be replaced by bland affluent consumerism, but the location in Mount Lebanon is still there. This is somewhat ironic, because Mount Lebanon is it is basically one of the first places that would come to mind if you were making a list of the affluent suburbs of Pittsburgh. It's a very old-style place, though. Very insular, with their own movie theater and those little metal boxes for paying your parking fines when the meter inevitably expires before you can feed it. In most places, this kind of store is in trouble, but I have no doubt Mt. Lebanon locals support this store as much as possible.

Anyway, the Rollier there is big. It's about as big as supermarkets used to be before they went gigantic. The staff there is solicitous ("Anything I can help you find today?") but polite about leaving you alone if you don't need help. The store doesn't stock huge quantities of anything, but they stock a little bit of everything, and the staff knows where it all is.

For a while, we've been wanting a scoop of some kind for loading wood pellets into the pellet stove. Our best guess was a pet store, but apparently pets only eat food one cup at a time, so scoops are sized that way. Rollier's had four different sizes, and I think the one I bought holds about six cups.

I've also been looking for water based sanding sealer. I used to get it at Lowes and Home Despot, but they don't carry it any more and the staff doesn't know anything about it. They had it at Rollier's, and the guy at the paint counter knew enough to tell me that the manufacturer had just been bought out and if I really liked the stuff I should buy more than one can.

In the past, I've bought Rubbermaid items of the type nobody else carries and Dremel Accessories that aren't found on the standard retail rack. You'll also wind up buying stuff you didn't know you needed until you saw it, so shop carefully. The power of Rollier's should always be used for good, and never for evil.

2009.02.16 at 12:00am EST

Pittsburgh is Like This

When I made my pilgrimage out to Rolliers for yesterday's post, I had intended to stop on the way back at a hobby shop in Dormont that is to hobby shops what Rolliers is to hardware stores. To my dismay, it was gone. Of course, I don't even know what the store was called, I just knew where it was.

After making yesterday's post, I decided to do some more research on Rolliers, and I found out that after the hobby shop closed dues to a nearby car dealership buying their building, the A. B. Charles Hobby Shop has moved to a barn-shaped location that was... of course... the original location of Rolliers.

It's like when you have a party and you try to invite friends from several different circles to try to mix things up in your social life, and you find out that most of them know each other anyway. Pittsburgh is like this.

2009.02.17 at 12:00am EST

Blog Laziness to Which I Hope I Never Succumb

Here are three things some other blogs do that I hope I never do on this blog, because the exemplify laziness to me.

"Best Of" Posts

Some blogs only do this once a year, which is OK, I guess, but some blogs do it every week. I guess those posts are for people who only read blogs on the weekend, but all they do is sum up a week's worth of posting to that very same blog with links back to the original posts. It's like, "I can't think of anything to post today, so I'll just post a list of things I posted earlier this week." If people want to know what you posted this week, they can go back and look.

"Cross Blogging"

Sometimes, in order to refocus a blog, the blog author or authors will start up an additional blog into which they shunt posts that don't match the focus into the other blog. This is good. Bad is linking from the original blog over to the new blog every single day to keep people from forgetting its over there. Worse is making daily "best of" posts about the new blog and posting them to the original blog. What is the additional blog for again, exactly? Yes, to de-clutter the original blog. So why are you re-cluttering the original blog?

"Guest Blogging"

"We don't feel like updating our own blog as much any more, so one by one we're going to ask our friends to take over for us for short stretches of time." Hey, if your friends wanted to blog, they'd have their own blog, and when you didn't feel like posting, you could just post links to their blog with a short quote and a "yeah!" or "me, too!". That is valid (if boring) blogging, as far as I am concerned. If you want to offer up your blog as a guest pulpit to your friends, that does not absolve you from posting yourself.

2009.02.18 at 12:00am EST

Filled Pink Pyramids

Looney Labs recently released a new color of Treehouse/Icehouse pyramids, Pink. I have filled stashes of every other color, so it was time to break out the hot glue gun and fill some pieces.

Filled Pink Pyramids

It's been a while since I filled pyramids, and I'm shocked to discover that I've kind of lost my touch. I had big problems with getting a smooth fill, and with those strings of hot glue that get everywhere. Being off my stride certainly didn't help that I was using a mixture of fluorescent pink an fluorescent orange hot glue with a little white kicked in when thpse ran out, and a bit of green that was still in the gun when I started.

I keep most of my pyramids in one of those sets of little plastic utility drawers. I'm down to just three empty drawers in a set of 60. That's somewhat scary.

2009.02.19 at 9:30am EST

Project Slide-Top Boxes

Two more prizes for the Mi-no-Hi festival this coming Saturday. Well, actually, prize containers.

Big and Little Slide-Top Boxes

These wooden boxes have sliding tops, and are both about 16 inches long when closed. The larger one is made of 5.5" wood, and the smaller one is made of 3.5" wood. They both have overlap joinery at the corners, and are fastened with pegs. They're both solid poplar, including the pegs and the dowel piece lid pulls.

2009.02.23 at 9:00am EST

Mini-Project Tape Roll Rack

I've been spending so much time down in the basementworkshop these days that some of the little things about my project space that have been bothering me for years have finally annoyed me enough to find solutions.

Tape Roll Rack

This one's a little rack to hold rolls of tape. The plate is a scrap piece of 1x2. The dowel pieces are 2.25" lengths of scrap loset rod. The discs are 3"-diameter circles of 1/4" plywood, cut with a hole saw. The whole thing is attached to my workbench just over the drill press.

Before I had this rack, all my rolls of tape were on a single hook, which was slightly inconvenient when I needed to get to the one in back, which alwys turned out to be the one I wanted. Now, random access is a little better. You can buy these is stores, but building it out of scrap is cheaper.

2009.02.24 at 12:00am EST

Project Work Table

Another project born of my spending a bunch of time in the workshop recently. The table I was using for this saw was old an rickety, plus I accidentally broke it recently. Here is the new table:

Work Table

This is another project made entirely from stuff I had laying around. The brackets are left over from the Storage Shelves project from seven years ago. The 1/2" plywood top is left over from the Toy Chest project from seven months ago. The rest of the lumber is left over from at least two different projects.

This new table is sturdier than the old one, and it has more storage space underneath for workshop clutter. The plywood top overhangs the frame by 1.5" all the way around to enable clamping items to the table. Currently, that's the only clever feature I've added, though I'm considering adding apower strip and a kraft paper dispenser.

2009.02.25 at 12:00am EST

Braids Again

Just in case you thought that my life had become all about lumber and cutting and the joining thereof, you should know that I have been braiding as well. Here are the latest four braids I've braided, some of them being experiments in material to make interesting examples for a class in braiding I am teaching this Saturday at the Mi-no-Hi festival. (I did the web pages for that event, too.)

Black and Gold Silk

I started this braid just after the superbowl, and it took me a few weeks to get it completed. It's over eight feet long and done in the Hira Kara Gumi style, which is a slow-going braid for me. I've now completed two of the 37 possible HKG two-color patterns.

Extended Sampler in Combed Silk

I couldn't find my original sampler of the patterns in Jacqui Carey's Beginners Guide to Braiding, so I made a new, longer one to show during my class. The sections are about 12 inches long instead of about 4 inches long on the first one. I had enough yarn on the bobbins to add a section of Yatsu Rai and a section of a braid I came up with (I call it "Long Spiral") to the end of the sampler.

Rope and Yarn Together

I was wondering how well this 40-pound test nylon line would braid. It, like the rat-tail cord, only worked well in the Kusari Kaku Yatsu "square braid". You can see how it pushed the polyester yarn off to the sides, making it more like a flat braid instead of a square. It's reasonably attractive, but its main purpose is to have an approximate test weight capable of holding my weight, in case I ever need a braid to save my life. &smirk;

Yarn with a Rope Core

Slighly more decorative, this braid uses the Edo Yatsu eight-strand braid, which is hollow. I ran a length of nylon rope down the center, which makes this braid stronger than mere yarn, but the rope is completely hidden.

2009.02.26 at 7:30am EST


I even found some time to do some quick utility sewing recently. The organizer (Called "autocrat" in the SCA) of the Mi-no-Hi event tomorrow announced that royal court at the event will be held in traditional Japanese "sit on the floor" style, so I made a pair of zabuton floor cushions, one for myself and one for Sharon.

Beige Woolen Zabuton

Cream Cotton Zabuton

These are covered with extra fabric we had sitting around, and filled with some 3 inch thick foam rubber I had left over from a chair restoration. There's also a layer of carpet padding glued to the foam to keep the cushion from totally bottoming out.

Two of the three seams are sewn on the serger, and the final seam is blind-stitched by hand to close the cover. I also sewed on some fabric tags with my personal badge ("On a hexagon Or, a rabbit's head cabossed sable", which means "a black bunny head on a honey-gold hexagon") so they can be identified later.

2009.02.27 at 12:00am EST

Biggest News First

At this weekend's Mi-no-Hi festival event for the local SCA kingdom, both Sharon and I were called before the King and Queen of Aethelmearc to receive praise. Both she and I received our "Award of Arms", and I was made a companion of the Order of the Sycamore.

The Award of Arms (AoA) is a recognition, essentially, that you have been around a while, and seem to be taking this whole SCA thing seriously. It allows us to use the titles "Lord" and "Lady" before our names, and to refer to our heraldic devices (when and if approved by the College of Heralds) as "arms" (as in "coat of arms").

The Sycamore is the first level recognition of work in the Arts and Sciences (A&S). It signifies that a person has been working hard at things and promoting that ideal by teaching others. Most people translate it to words as, "You're doing good work; keep it up!" This encouragement comes from the King and Queen, however, so it's really ultra super cool. It comes with a medallion bearing the device of the order, and beautiful scroll which was worded by Sir Ogami Akira (The Daimyo of Clan Yama Kaminari) and penned by his squire (and our friend) Lady Minamoto no Taikawa Saiaiko.

We're totally psyched. Sharon and I have been referring to each other as Lady Wonderful and Lord Honey Bunny ever since.

2009.03.02 at 7:00am EST

One Last Pre-Festival Project: Shoji

As a last project made before the Mi-no-Hi festival, I constructed these Shoji screens from cedar and paper.


They're actually much rougher in person than in the picture, given that the cedar lumber I used is intended for outdoor stuff like decking, and not interior furniture, but I'm pretty happy with how they came out. They're hinged together in pairs to allow them to be free-standing. The paper is real kozo paper. It's basically the lowest grade of calligraphy paper, but pretty high grade for this purpose.

At the event, they were used to help create a "tea house" area for Lady Solveig's tea ceremony demos, and as a backdrop for royal court. I received many compliments, and I'm about 3/4 of the way through writing up the project description. Here's a picure of them in use just before court.

Photo by Lynette Vybiral

2009.03.03 at 10:00am EST

Three "Class"y Braids

I taught a class in kumihimo over the weekend, and I used the big puffy wool/acrylic yarn to aid visibility during the class. I began these three braids in class to give the students a healthy introduction to kumihimo, but didn't finish them until a few days later at home.

Braid 35, 4 strand maru yotsu

Braid 36, 8 strand edo yatsu

Braid 37, 8 straid yatsu rai

I like to start with the simple 4 strand braid, just to show students the basic set up and moves. The 8 strand edo yatsu is a good introduction to 8 strand braiding after that. The 8 strand yatsu rai demonstrates the difference in shape that occurs just by changing movements. I also started an 16 strand kongou gumi in class, but Sharon finished that one up, so it's hers.

2009.03.05 at 11:00am EST

Assblogging Returns

Rudely Parked Kia

Almost perfectly centered between two spots, and only half way in. Some kind of office supply emergency, as this is out front of the Office Despot

2009.03.06 at 12:00am EST

Bill Maher Says It

That doesn't make it true, but I agree with him.

"How stupid is it when people say, 'Oh yeah, that's all we need, the federal government telling Detroit how to build cars or Wells Fargo how to run a bank. You want them to look like the post office?' Yeah. You mean the place that takes a note in my hand in Los Angeles on Monday and gives it to my sister in New Jersey on Wednesday for forty-two cents? Let me just be the first to say I would be thrilled if America's health care system was anywhere near as functional as the post office."

You can watch it on video here if you're the kind of person who prefers that kind of thing.

2009.03.09 at 12:00am EDT

Braid #38

Tried out a new kind of 16 strand braid. This one uses a braiding pattern similar to the 8 strand Edo Yatsu, but with twice as many strands.

16 Strands in Red & White

I started out with a nice houndstooth check pattern, but somewhere in the middle it devolved into a weird hybrid of the interlocking E pattern and the houndstooth. Apparently with the 16 strands you can acheive some interesting effects, but on my first full braid in this style it was flying blind.

I've grown inured to the truth that the first time you try a new plaiting pattern, you probably won't have the hang of it, and will probably mess it up. I used cheap acrylic yarn for this braid on purpose so I wouldn't be wasting good silk on my experimentation.

2009.03.11 at 12:00am EDT

I am a Booze Icon

Local TV station WTAE did a news feature on Pennsylvania's plan to give employees of the state's "Wines & Spirits" stores some customer service training. They shot the interviews at the newer, shiner, "East Side" store, but they were shooting B-roll content at the store in Monroeville where I was browsing the other day.

I appear briefly at about the one minute mark, shown from behind browsing the snooty wine section, while the announcer says "customers who frequent these stores" in voice over. Because I'm in the frame at 1:00, I also get to be in the reference image for the video and in the thumbnail icon.

My take on the story, by the way, is that interviewing people about their experiences in the Pittsburgh-area stores is useless. Pittsburgh is a nice town, and the employees here are always nice even when they don't know the answer to your question. Other areas of PA (Philadelphia, for instance) are not so nice. Did you note that it's a Pittsburgh firm that will be giving the training? Also, $175,000 is a lot of money, but it comes out to less than $300 per store. That's not a lot of money.

2009.03.11 at 10:00am EDT

Desktop "Cedar"

This is a scan of some of the cedar wood left over from the shoji project. I used it to practice building a rubbed oil finish. There are three coats of boiled linseed oil worked into this wood by hand, which really pops the grain and gives it a smooth natural-feeling finish.

2009.03.12 at 12:00am EDT

Bead Braid

Somebody I know asked me recently about braiding with strands of beads. I had never tried it, and other people have mentioned it to me in the past, and I was walking past a bead store yesterday, and...

Braid 39, a braid of beaded strands

This braid has eight strands of tiny seed beads, strong on "Fireline" beading cord. It's kind of a pain stringing the beads onto the line, and a constant pain keeping the line tension good while you're braiding, but it makes a very shiny and sinuous pieces of bling. The tension is off in a few places, but I'm very happy with the braid over all, especially for a first try.

This braid is about 14" long and about 3/8" in diameter, and uses most of two vials of beads. I'd recommend two more vials of beads if you want to make a necklace that doesn't need extra bits of cord at the ends. You could braid a shorter length like this around some cord for an interesting effect.

2009.03.13 at 11:45am EDT

Useful Braid

No posts for ten days; gosh I suck. In my defense, my parents visited last week. Don't get me wrong, I love my parents, and I like spending time with them, but it takes energy I'm not used to expending. I think they had a good time. Anyway, the day before they arrived I finished this practical braid.

Braid 40, eyeglass cord

This is an "8 tama" braid, plaited using eight bobbins. The four white bobbins had two strands of whote silk yarn on them, and the four black bobbins had three strands of black silk on them. This was an attempt to balance out the white yarn being thicker than the black yarn. It worked, but the braid is fairly chunky.

One of these days, I should write up this plaiting pattern. I haven't seen it in any of my books, and I may have invented it. When I show people the sampler baird (#18), they often remark on it.

2009.03.23 at 12:00am EDT

Day Break

I hardly watch any broadcast TV at all, so shows tend to come and go without my notice, unless they're really popular in which case they simply come and go without me watching but with a cerain general awareness I'm missing something. I totally missed Firefly when it aired, and later enjoyed it on DVD. Somebody recently recommended last year's "Day Break" to me, so I borrowed it from a friend and watched the series over this past weekend.

It is great. Combine the mechanic of "Groundhog Day" with a taut crime thriller using Gene Wolfe's passion for detail, and you have this show. Everything, and I mean every last measly detail and every last person the main character meets ties into the story somehow, and it takes thirteen journeys through a single day to find out how.

I've been watching Joss Whedon's new show, Dollhouse on Hulu as new episodes air, and I find myself worrying that as virtuosic as it is so far, the series will only be "worth it" if the things I am seeing in each episode "pay off" in some fashion good or bad. The only way to know for sure is to keep watching or to wait until the end when people tell me. So far, it's doing very well, but it's not yet a sure bet. Let's say 85%.

Day Break is totally worth it. Watch it, take notes, indulge your geekery. It's an action/suspense show, but it is excellent speculative fiction and excellent fiction. Plus, it has Adam Baldwin in it.

I recently watched Drillbit Taylor specifically for the Adam Baldwin cameo. That totally wasn't worth it. Well, the cameo was worth it, just not the whole movie.

2009.03.24 at 12:00am EDT

Another Bead Braid

If something goes well the first time I try it, I usually try it a second time to demonstrate my success is repeatable.

Braid 41, bead braid 2

Once again, I made eight strands of seed beads on Fireline, then braided them together. I started with more beads, so this braid is about eight inches longer than the first bead braid. I need to get some findings for this to turn it into a necklace, as I did with the first one.

I'm also in the middle of a bigger braiding project, doing all six of Jacqui Carey's patterns from her "Beginners Guide to Braiding" in red and white. I'm on the last braid, but it's the most annoying, so who knows how long it will take me.

2009.03.25 at 12:00am EDT

This is Not Me

As I've mentioned before, I have a Google News Alert set up to send me email any time there's a news story that mentions my name. Most often, it's somebody named "Elliott" whose name is mentioned near somebody else's who is named "Evans". Here's a recent one that isn't like that, "Realtor and former North Myrtle Beach councilman Taylor dies".

I don't know any of those people, but a relative's passing is always sad, even if it completes a fortunate life. My sympathies to the Taylor and Evans families. We people named "Elliott Evans" have to stick together.

2009.03.30 at 12:00am EDT

Randall Monroe

Honestly, some days I suspect he's reading the minds of every geek in the world, and pleasing them one by one. Yesterday was apparently my day.

It's a comic about bad parking and how to deal with it.

It's interesting though, that when Mr. Monroe has this fantasy he envisions wielding a blowtorch, and when I have this fantasy I envision wielding a laser.

2009.03.31 at 12:00am EDT

Beaded Braided Bracelet

Took a class, actually took a class in braiding with beads over the weekend at a local bead store. I knew what the standard technique was supposed to look like, but my attempts to recreate it were awful, so I wanted to have somebody show me what I was doing wrong. It turns out that the main thing I was doing "wrong" was using a marudai, as most of the techniques use a braiding disk. So, taking the class showed I just need different techniques or something. Anyway, here's what I made:

Braid 42, bracelet with fire polish beads.

The underlying braid is an 8-strand Kongo Gumi round braid. Four of the strands are unbeaded, two are strung with gold beads, and two are strung with black beads. The standard technique has you only adding a bead when the strand is moving from the "2" position down to the "5" position, but the tension on my strands was not as great even after I upped the weight on each strand to 1.75 ounces, and I was going through cord much faster than I was going through braids. So, I started over and added a bead every time a beaded strand was moving. This gives my braid a double helix instead of a single helix and inspires me to find beads in green, cyan, silver, and tan, and encode something.

I also saw that Jacqui Carey has an entire book out with 192 pages of braiding with beads. I'll have to pick that up at some point.

2009.04.01 at 7:30am EDT

Traditional Tama

For my birthday, my mother in law got me a set of 8 traditional kumihimo tama. "Tama" are the weighted bobbins/spools used by serious kumihimo braiders instead of the home-made things I was using.

Kumihimo Tama

They weigh about 3 ounces each, which is four times heavier than the weights I was using. This puts a lot more tension on the threads, resulting in a tighter braid. Most of the literature I've seen has this the opposite way, so I don't quite understand, but I'm sure I'll have plenty of experimentation. Here's the first experiment right here:

Braid 43, thick and thin and flat

Here's the first braid with the new tama. I used the Hira Nami flat braid pattern with two thick gold yarn strands and six thin black yarn strands. This yields a nice zig-zag pattern, and the braid is tight enough to be somewhat positionable.

2009.04.02 at 12:00am EDT

Friday Catblogging

Dodger on the window sill

2009.04.03 at 12:00am EST

More Example Beginner Braids

I really need to catch up on documenting stuff. I've been posting braids to the blog here, but I haven't updated the Marudai page in months. I'm going to hold off making new braids for a bit while I get caught up, but I still even have a backlog of braids to post here. Today's braid is actually a st of braids.

Six 8-strand braids

These are six 8-tama braids, each about three feet long. They use the six braiding patterns from Jacqui Carey's "Beginner's Guide to Braiding". They all use the "WW RR WW RR" color pattern, which makes some of the braids more interesting, and some of them not as interesting. All of them are braided using needlepoint silk, with two threads on each tama. These will probably, some day, be donated to the Kingdom for use as award cords, but for now they are going to be examples, and possible part of a kumihimo A&S display.

There's also the possibility that I might be teaching a class or two in kumihimo in the near future, if I can work out some technical issues. Stay tuned.

2009.04.07 at 11:00am EDT

Project Brass Bunny Tokens

In the SCA, my "arms" are described as, "Fieldless, on a hexagon Or a rabbit's head cabossed sable". That's a fancy way of saying "A black bunny's head on a gold hexagon". That's a cute way of creating a "Honey Bunny" image. It's suitably Japanese, yet it can be expressed in Western terms, so I think it should be a good SCA badge. So far it's passed the Kingdom Heralds, maybe by Pennsic I'll be able to use it without worrying.

Another tradition is for artists and craftspeople to put items on display at events so others can see what kinds of things people are doing. Sometimes, this display is part of a judged competition, but sometimes it is simply a non-competitive display. In most cases, viewers will often leave "tokens" at displays they particularly enjoy. This is just meant as a "tip o' the hat" to the artisan for a work well executed.

Brass Bunny Token

So these are my new tokens. I've painted black bunny heads on nine brass hexagons, and attached short lengths of braid to each. The braid is an 8-strand Edo Yatsu braid with a nice "interlocking E" pattern in black and yellow cotton. The bunny was simply stencilled onto 1 inch wide brass strip, which I then cut into hexagons and drilled for the cord.

If you're an artisan or craftsperson in the SCA, and if I leave one of these tokens at one of your displays, please consider it an invitation to hunt me out at some point and talk to me about your work.

2009.04.08 at 6:00am EDT

Project Four Marudai

I've been talking lately to an awfully large number of people about kumihimo. I know you're surprised about that. Anyway, the biggest barrier for most people is acquiring a marudai. Not everyone has a pile of tools and scrap wood in the basement. This is also an impediment to me teaching classes in kumihimo, as I can't ask people to all crowd around and just watch me braid. So, I decided to make a few more marudai.

Batch of 4 Marudai

I wound up making four. They're made of pine board and poplar dowels, finished in a satin polyurethane. They're about 16 inches tall and the "mirror" disk of each marudai is about 11 inches across with a 1.25" hole. All edges have been rounded. Two are nearly perfect, but two have minor problems. What I'm thinking now is that I'll make a few more, then teach classes on the imperfect ones and offer to sell the more perfect ones to my students.

Most marudai I've seen for sale on the net are $80 to $100, then you have to pay shipping. These are not as nice as some of the commercial ones I've seen, but they take quite a few hours worth of work anyway. I'll probably sell the best of them for $50 or $60. Contact me if you're really interested, so I can gauge how many more I need to make.

2009.04.09 at 12:00am EDT

Project Marudai Page Updated

I went to show somebody pictures of my braiding online, and I realized that I hadn't updated my marudai page for months. Asking people to sift through months of blog posts looking for braiding pictures is ridiculous, so I'm working on getting that up to date.

The Marudai project page has now been updated to the end of January, showing all of the marudai and kumihimo braids I made in that time. Soon I'll have it updated to the end of March at least, and that takes me into more impressive stuff.

This page is getting a little long now. It started with a single marudai and a few example braids, but now it's four marudai and 30 braids. I imagine it's quite a pain waiting for all the images to download. Soon it will show all the extra marudai, and 16 newer braids from February, March, and April. I haven't even started in on learning the patterns in the books Sharon got me for my birthday!

I have also updated the main project index to at least show a list of all the projects I've completed so far this year. I still need to document some projects from July of last year, so it will be a while before that is complete.

2009.04.10 at 12:00am EDT

Malaysian Marudai Manufactory

Our friends who do combat archery in the SCA have a phrase that describes what a room looks like when they all get together as a group to produce SCA-legal combat arrows. They call it, the "Guatemalan Arrow Factory." (This is not meant as a racial epithet, but as a tribute to the hard work in poor conditions of the third-world workers who usually get taken for granted.)

Right now, my basement is full of pieces to make Marudai. Here are some pictures of what it looks like:

Here you can also see my shelf of Ryobi tools
and Sharon's open toolbox. The tank under my work table
is helium, not propane. That clock needs a new battery.
Mirrors for eight marudai

Resting work on sawhorses like this is really precarious,
but I was out of good srufaces and needed the workbench as a
working surface. I've seen some nice clips that fit inside
drilled holes like that, mostly used for finishing cabinet
doors after holes have been drilled for Europena hinges.
I could probably make up some cheap substitutes,
but I like drying things flat.
Square bases for eight marudai

The bases and mirrors are up on blocks so that their wet edges don't rest on anything while they dry. By the time I'm done finishing one side of all 16 pieces, the first pieces are dry enough to be flipped and have their other sides done. I finish the bottom surfaces first, so the top (visible) surfaces have more time to dry in their final position. Sanding usually has to wait until the next day to let the finish cure completely.

Do you like my swanky dowel-finishing racks?
Unfortunately, they can only hold a dozen dowels at a time.
Dowels for legs for eight marudai

Thankfully, I realized that I could do some preliminary finishing on the dowels before cutting them up into 15 inch pieces. Unfortunately, I'd already cut up one dowel; that's why there are three shorties in that picture.

So far, these are the steps I've completed on the build:

  1. Cut squares for bases.
  2. Cut squares for mirrors.
  3. Cut mirrors into circles.
  4. Drill holes for legs in bases   mirrors.
  5. Drill big holes in center of mirrors.
  6. Route all lower edges with 1/8" roundover bit.
  7. Route all upper edges with 3/8" roundover bit.
  8. Sand with 80 grit to remove saw marks and complete shaping.
  9. Sand with 120 grit to smooth.
  10. Finish with sanding sealer.

You'd think steps one and two could be the same, but it turns out that not all 1x12 lumber is the same width. One 8 foot 1x12 I bought was 11 inches wide, and the other was 11 3/8 inches wide. Craziness. I used the wider lumber for the circles, since I was cutting 11 inch circles out anyway, and it would be easier if I had a bit of margin while cutting.

Next is:

  1. Sand with 220 grit to smooth.
  2. Finish with polyurethane.
  3. Cut dowels into legs.
  4. Sand with 320 grit to smooth.
  5. Assemble marudai.
  6. Finish with polyurethane.
  7. Sand top surfaces and edges of mirrors and bases with 440 grit to smooth.
  8. Finish sanded surfaces with polyurethane.
  9. Wet sand top surface of mirror using 1200 grit.
  10. Finish sanded surfaces with polyurethane.

So, mostly the hard hard work is over, but assembly and finishing will take another week or two. Making four marudai at a time was fun, but eight at a time is somewhat grueling. The plan is to sell the nicer half dozen, and use the less nice half dozen to teach classes.

2009.04.13 at 12:00am EDT

Desktop "Poplar"

This is a scan of some of the poplar wood used for the fuzukue project.

2009.04.14 at 12:00am EDT

Second Batch of Marudai is Complete

Just put the last coat of finish on the top of each of these marudai, so I declare them complete!

Eight more marudai in the basement

Now I have a dozen marudai, and it's time to decide which six are going up for sale and which six are becoming "student marudai".

2009.04.15 at 4:30pm EDT

Warm Bead Braid

Looks like I'm going to wind up making a bunch of these, as I keep giving them away as presents. Here's one I finished last week but haven't yet posted about.

Red and Gold Braided Beads

Once again, these are eight strands of glass seed beads on Fireline, braided with the edo yatsu braiding pattern. This time I used the "Interlocking E" color pattern (XX XO OX OO), which makes it very difficult to see what the actual pattern is in this braid. I think that's kind of neat. These colors together make this braid very warm.

2009.04.16 at 12:00am EDT

Friday Catblogging

Mischa wrapped in Ethel's tail

This week's award for gratuitous feline cuteness goes to...

2009.04.17 at 12:00am EST

My Own Tama

Yesterday, I went over somebody else's house and used his router table to start shaping my own tama from 1.5" poplar dowel. Today, I bought some steel rod to make slugs to weight those tama and put the slugs inside the bobbins.

Poplar Tama with Steel Cores

Altogether, these weigh about 1.6 ounces, which is about half the weight of the commercial tama, but should be good. The heavy tama are nice for heavier yarn, but maybe a bit too heavy for embroidery floss, so these will be a good addition to my kit. They're tons cheaper, too, if you don't count the time I put in.

2009.04.21 at 9:15pm EDT

Silk Braid with Heavy Tama

Speaking of those heavy 3-ounce tama, here's a braid I made with those on one of the best of the second batch of marudai.

Blue and Gold Silk Yatsu Rai

This braid uses eight strands of combed silk yarn, 4 blue and four gold. As a little stylistic flourish, I braided the cords together in a 4-strand maru yotsu braid before doubling them over, so the rbaid has a braided loop at the starting end. The bulk of the braid uses the yatsu rai pattern, which I think is just a special name you use for yatsu sen when it makes this "S" pattern.

It's a pity we usually associate these colors so strongly with the Cub Scouts, since they go very well together.

2009.04.22 at 12:45am EDT

Blue and Green Bead Braid

So OK, I decided to make another one of these bead braids. They make great presents, OK?

Blue and Green Bead Braid

This one is braided using a "Houndstooth Check" color pattern on the edo yatsu. See what I'm saying about the great patches of color this produces? You can also really see the colors travelling back and forth through the braid.

I also figured out why the tension is a little uneven on these bead braids. The start of the braid is always very tight, but it loosens up over the course of the braid. The reason is that the beaded strands have significant weight, which shifts from the outside to the inside while the strands get shorter and the braid gets longer. I need to start changing the weights as I braid, maybe startig with 3/4 ounce weights on the strands and switching to 1 ounce weights later on.

2009.04.23 at 3:45am EDT

Completed Tama

Completed that project to make eight wooden tama bobbins. I'll probably never put these into mass production for sale, since they're such a pain I'd have to charge just as much as everybody else does for them, like $5 each.

Eight 1.7 ounce Tama

The orange dots on the ends are the wood filler I used to seal up the hole with the steel weight in it. Wow, is that ugly. A friend suggested using old copper pennies as weght instead of steel, if I make more. That's a good idea because I'll be able to use 3/4" poplar dowel to plug the holes insetad of filler.

As with everything else, this project isn't really done until I use it.

Tama in Use

2009.04.24 at 11:30am EDT

Workbench Re-Org

I've been spending quite a bit of time in front of the workbench lately, and my frustration with it has been growing. Tools have been mounted on it haphazardly on an ad-hoc basis, so almost nothing was placed logically. All that came to an end today, as I re-organized nearly the whole pegboard.


I even got rid of some stuff that had been hanging, so there is significantly more room for expansion. I wish the Dremel accessory rack could be a bit closer to the Dremel holder, but moving either would be way too disruptive.

I pretty much expect to spend the next six months looking for tools in the places they've been for the past six years instead of their new locations, so if you never hear from me again you know I've driven myself insane.

2009.04.29 at 7:30pm EDT


I have to say that adding pistachios to this batch of granola didn't really improve the taste enough to balance out the down side of having little crunchy green bits in something you're trying to eat.

2009.05.02 at 3:00pm EDT

More Tama

Eight is not enough!

I decided that eight hand made wooden tama were not enough, so to round out my collection I made 16 more. Actually, I made 18 more and declared two of them to be substandard, but anyway...

16 Kumihimo Bobbins

These are made from 1.5" poplar dowel just like the others, but I shaped them using a 3/4" sanding drum in my drill press instead of using somebody else's router table. This method was a little slower, but it used tools I have at home.

Another difference is that instead of using iron rod to add weight to the tama, I used old copper pennies. Copper pennies (pre-1982) are cheaper per ounce, and fit well in a 3/4" diameter cavity. This also meant I could use dowel to plug the hole instead of bright orange wood filler.

2009.05.04 at 12:00am EDT

Happy Star Wars Day

May the fourth be with you!

2009.05.04 at 12:01am EDT

Silk Braid with Home-Made Tama

Used the first set of home-made tama to braid some black and white silk yarn in the hira nami "flat waves" pattern.

Black and White Silk

My main goal was to make the 30" glasses cord you see in front, but I loaded so much silk on the tama that I wound up making more than four feet of additional braid.

2009.05.05 at 12:00am EDT

Chess Table

Chess Table, by Joseph Lamar

On sale at Pittsburgh's Construction Junction, for $250. Includes chess pieces made from household hardware!

2009.05.08 at 5:00pm EDT

Books for Girls

Books for Girls

Now, I know this isn't the case. I know these shelves are only empty because of some inventory thing, but I thought it was a funny image. What does that mean, anyway, "books for girls"? Do they smell nice? Do they have pink bows on them?

2009.05.09 at 12:00am EDT


Biggest news first, I have a new contract. That's part of why I didn't post at all last week. The new contract is with a large financial organization, through a local staffing firm. No names here only because I don't want search engines linking my blog to those venerable (and possibly vindictive) organizations, though you can find all the relevant info on my LinkedIn profile. Anyway, the contract only lasts until the end of the year, which is OK with me if that's all it turns out to be, though I did manage to get a promotion on my very first day, which bodes well for the future. Their expectations of contractors appear to be quite low.

The company, though based in two separate downtown areas (bank mergers were once quite popular) only has office space available out in the sticks. That is to say, my commute is long. Probably not very long compared to what some of you deal with, but quite long for Pittsburgh at about 30 miles. These 30 miles take 45 to 50 minutes to traverse, leaving me with over 90 fewer minutes per day when I cannot braid but during which I am not being paid to do something else. I do have a few braids completed that I haven't posted about, so that might get me through the rest of this week.

2009.05.18 at 7:00am EDT

Star Trek

Sharon and I saw the new "Star Trek" movie over the weekend, and we really liked it. I thought it managed to hit all the notes just right to convey to viewers that it is Star Trek, just not the Star Trek you're used to. It has the same great balance between action, adventure, humor, and drama that some of the best TV and cinematic trek adventures had. It has new actors, and their new interpretations of what their characters should be like are pretty different, but I liked them. If there are more movies with this team I think they will settle into their characters very well and gvie us some great performances. As usual, a lot of the responsibility will rest on the writers to give us a script that is worth watching.

Now, it definitey had some problems, but nothing so major that we won't mostly forget about if there are several better films afterwards. Most of the criticisms I've seen have more to do with not understanding Star Trek than than anything actually specifically about this film. Yes, its flavor is much like a Western. So was the original series! Yes, it shares similarity with Star Wars. They both share heroic tropes from the same classic sources! Yes, the characters themselves are more like caricatures. So is every character in every Star Trek ever!

Do you remember how awful the first few episodes of every new Star Trek show has been? This movie is not awful in any of those ways. I dont' think it's awful at all.
…except for the lens flares. Ugh.

2009.05.19 at 7:00am EDT

Twenty Years Ago

Well, not quite twenty years ago actually, but almost, I graduated from High School. This past weekend, I went to my 20 Year Reunion. I had fun! I recommend it to anybody. People have said to me, "I don't want to go see those people. I dont' care about those people. If I cared, I'd keep in touch." Myself, it's not that I don't care, it's that I don't care enough to keep up with the hard work of keeping in touch with all those people. Catching up with them once in a while when they happen to all be in the same place appeals to my laziness, though.

I don't know about you, but my High School experience was largely lacking in malevolence. There were plenty of people who didn't like me, but mostly they just didn't even bother to acknowledge me, so what did it matter to me? Many people with whom I went to HS were nice and even if they weren't motivated to be close friends, were nice enough to be friendly, and it's true to this day, actually. People I haven't really spoken to in 20 years are just as friendly as they were 20 years ago. Thanks, cool people I went to HS with!

I'm also amazed at how well my cohort has aged. We're all pushing 40 now, but I swear some people look exactlythe same as they did 20 years ago. Some of the faces have changed shape into more mature forms, but most everybody looks so amazingly the same. It's encouraging.

Anyway, if any of my EHS friends are reading this, HI! It was "totally boss" (nobody actually talked like this in the eighties) seeing you this weekend.

2009.06.01 at 9:00pm EDT

Desktop "Liberty Wall"

This is a photo of the wall of Pittsburgh's famous Liberty Tubes, These tunnels are about a mile long, and have traffic lights at either end, which mean syou're bound to spend at least a little bit of time each trip staring at the crumbling concrete that enables you to pass through Mount Washington.

2009.06.02 at 12:00am EDT

Traditional Silk Braid

Here's a silk braid I did in brown and dark brown, using the hira nami flat braiding pattern.

Brown and Brown Silk Braid

Instead of using yarn of multi-stranded floss for this braid, I actually did it more traditionally by buying a spool of silk thread and creating 8 strands of warp warp from 40 threads each of two different colors. Fun, but just as expensive as buying silk needlepoint thread, which is thicker to begin with and available in more colors..

2009.06.03 at 12:00am EDT

Black and Gold Bead Braid

I seem to have worked out most of the bugs in my bead braiding process. This braid is nearly perfect, if you ask me. It uses these great matte-finsih glass beads in black and metallic gold. Nearly everybody who sees this braid in person says , "Wow."

Black and Gold Edo Yatsu

I used the edo yatsu round braiding pattern, like I normally do for these bead braids, with a simple "XO XO XO XO" color pattern. Instead of metal end caps, I made short loops of beaded Fireline at endes to hold the toggle clasp.

2009.06.10 at 12:00am EDT

Proofreaders Anonymous

They shut off when your tank is full

You'd think a gas station in this neighborhood would be more careful about posting signs containing the word "ammo".

2009.06.12 at 7:00am EDT

Go Pens!

Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup ice hockey championship versus the Detroit Redwings, four games to three, two goals to one in the seventh game.

The Redwings kicked some serious butt in the series, and the Penguins squeaked out every win, but that's all it takes.

2009.06.13 at 12:00am EDT

AT+T plus iPhone

The iPhone may be killing AT&T.

AT&T thought they were getting exclusive rights to sell the hottest new phone, but it turns out more people are using it as a mobile data device than as phone. Data services are very expensive for mobile carriers, that's why they've typically been very expensive for consumers. Apple talked AT&T into selling a special unlimited iPhone data plan at a discounted rate. iPhone users access more data more often than other device owners, and pay less for the access!

Although iPhone subscribers make up the bulk of new customers for AT&T, I don't think AT&T is making much money at all off of them. AT&T subsidizes the phone as well as the service. I doubt AT&T has very high margin on the iPhone at all. Fully loaded with all the costs of handling wireless data, it's possible AT&T is losing money on many iPhone subscribers.

Many people are pushing Apple to end their exclusive contract with AT&T as soon as possible. I think when iPhone users try to jump ship to other carriers, they'll find their accounts will wind up more expensive or more limited. I think all carriers will raise their prices for supporting iPhone usage. Once they do, AT&T can follow suit.

Instead of Apple dumping AT&T, I think AT&T should dump Apple as soon as possible.

2009.06.15 at 6:00pm EDT

Google Still Rules

There's been a lot of news lately about new web search technologies to rival Google. Two sites in particular, Wolfram Alpha and Microsoft Bing seem to be trying to place themselves not as mere web search sites, but as knowledge aggregators. When you want to know about something, these tools will supposedly give you answers, not just point you to pages that might have the information.

I see the appeal from an a searcher's point of view, but as a content provider why would I want to participate in such a service? Why would I want Wolfram or Microsoft to present my information as its knowledge?

As a content creator and provider, I want other sites to point to mine. That's what Google does, and what it's done well for over ten years. It doesn't represent itself as the site that keeps you from having to visit my page; it's the site that makes it possible for you to visit my page. I want people to visit my pages and see my information the way I want to present it. That's why I have a web site in the first place.

Yay web searching. Boo knowledge engines.

2009.06.16 at 12:00am EDT

Rootbeer Float Braid

Braid number 52:

Brown and Beige Bead Braid

I wanted to make a bead braid that combined the colors of red wine and white wine, but when you're looking at the tubes of seed beads at the bead store, it's difficult to tell how the beads will actually look once they're strung and braided. I think I got the right color beads for the 'white wine' part of this, but the 'red wine' beads are a bit too orange/brown, so together the colors look less like a wine flight and more like a rootbeer float. It's still pretty, and I like rootbeer floats, it's just not what I was actually going for.

2009.06.17 at 12:00am EDT

More Braiding Madness

Back when I wasn't working, I hatched the idea of teaching kumihimo classes to earn some money. There was some interest, and a few places invited me to submit class proposals. This pointed out to me that I didn't have any paperwork, and that if I wanted to take this idea seriously I should really put some together. I was going to need some curricula, background materials, and definitely some handouts.

It didn't take me too long to put the handouts together, but something was missing from them. They really needed some pictures of exemplary braids to go along with each set of instructions. I had plenty of braids, but only a few designed to be good examples for photocopied handouts.

Luckily, I had plenty of black and white silk yarn, and a scanner. My last batch of braids was all about making good pictures for the handouts.

I'm not a big fan of this tsukushi braid, but it's in Jacqui Carey's book and has a braiding pattern that is very different from most other braids, so I can see why she included it.

None of my previous work with yatsu sen was designed to show the vertical streams with such high contrast, so even though I have plenty of this braid I had to do one more.

The maru yotsu braid only has four strands, so I used doubel the amount of yarn to beef it up for the pictures. It's as wide as the 16-strand braid below!

Again, despite much work with the braid, edo yatsu, none of them were made for photographic simplicity. I also had to match the diagrams, so again with the vertical stripes.

The 16-strand kongou isn't more difficult than the 8-strand that most people teach, but it's capable of my greater detail, so I wanted to include it. It also gave me a chance to use all 16 of my home made tama at once.

I haven't decided yet if I want to distribute thes handouts in PDF form or reserve them for people who take my classes. So far they still need material and setting up the marudai and finishing off a braid, so they're not ready anyway.

Then, I need to write up myself, and some proposals for classes. The best idea is actually for a weekly 2-hour class, doing one braid a week for six or eight weeks. That will enable people to leave each week with a useful braid. A single three or four hour class will enable people to experience several different braiding styles, but only create a few inches of each in a sampler.

2009.06.18 at 12:00am EDT

Loose Threads

Found myself browsing through the archives of this blog the other day, and I found a few loose threads I'd like to tie off.

Brett Easton Ellis

Since posting about Ellis in January, I've read his most recent novel, Lunar Park. WTF? I think I got a lot of what he was trying to do here, but just didn't enjoy the book as much as I did Glamorama. I guess I most enjoyed the parts of this book where he was talking about his other books, but considering the fictional nature of this book, it's hard to decide whether any of those parts actually describe the way Ellis really thinks. The overlap between delusion and reality I so enjoyed in Glamorama is mostly aggravating here.

I didn't see the movie they made of The Informers.

Kevin Smith

Since posting about Smith in April of 2008, we watched his most recent film, Zack and Miri Make a Porno. We enjoyed this movie immensely. This movie is not itself pornographic, though like most of Smith's work it is largely profane. It's also hilarious and romantic, and was shot in and around Pittsburgh. It is only the second movie to ever be shot inside the Monroeville Mall. It was only in theatres for a week or two, but it's been out on DVD since January.

Chuck Palahniuk

Since posting about Palahniuk last July, I read his most recent book, Snuff. This book is a little disappointing compared to his earlier works. It's fun and packed with bizarre information, but there's just not that much book there. It's too short, and too lightweight to stand up against some of his stronger and longer novels. I can only guess his publisher was in a hurry to release another novel. I also watched the movie they made of Choke which I also found to be sub-par. I don't think Choke is one of his best, so this is unsurprising.

2009.06.19 at 12:00am EDT

Twentieth International Icehouse Tournament

The first International Icehouse Tournament was held Memorial Day weekend in 1989. Today is the twentieth IIT, because we had year without a tournament. Ever since the the twelfth IIT, I've been designing commeorative statshpads for each tournament, and printing them for tournament participants. This year, you can download a PDF of the design and print it for your enjoyment. It's slightly different from the actual tournament pads, and here it is. (Follow the link to download.)

Commemorative XX IIT stashpad

If you turn and flip the paper, you can print this PDF four times on a single 8.5"x11" piece of cardstock to get four stashpads,

If you don't get the joke, pull out your copy of the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band".

2009.02.27 at 12:00am EDT


Today is a wonderful sunny day in Pittsburgh, so I opened up the living room windows to let in fresh air, but I didn't notice that the windows cleaners had left one of the screens up.

As if to teach me a lesson, one of the cats escaped and is now missing. Imagine unprintable words here.

Lost Cat: Dodger

I've put signs up around the neighborhood. He's easily spooked, even inside, so he probably bumped into one of the neighborhood cats, squabbled, and lit out in a random direction. I hope he finds his way home. I feel awful.

2009.07.04 at 12:45am EDT

Sunday Catblogging


He was hiding two yards away in a pool supplies shed. He's now home safe and sound and singing us songs about his adventures. Thanks for all the good advice, Internet friends.

Also, to "Dave", the guy who took down one of our posters so he could remember the phone number to call and try to scam cash as "reimbursement" for "driving around" looking for our cat, shame on you.

2009.07.05 at 10:00pm EST


This is post number 366 to this blog. Since last year was a leap year, that means I've completed a year's worth of daily posting in just 1.8 years. I'm pretty proud of that.

I would never have made it this far without two things:

  1. You, my loyal and tireless readers.
  2. My insatiable ego.
  3. Congratulations to us both!

    2009.07.06 at 7:00am EDT


    Just saw this movie today, as it finally opened in Pittsburgh, and I urge you to see this film as soon as possible if you haven't already missed your chance. Here in Pittsburgh it's playing at the Regent Square theatre (a local theatre run by Pittsburgh Filmmakers) until Thursday. I think it's also playing at the Loews Waterfront multiplex.

    Anyway, Moon represents the best kind of Science Fiction. The story cannot function without its science fictional aspects, but it is essentially about the effects of those aspects on the people involved in the story. Sam Rockwell does an exceptional job communicating all this.

    2009.07.12 at 9:30pm EDT

    Public Enemies

    Being great big swoony fans of Johnny Depp and Christian Bale, we had to go see director Michael Mann's new film, "Public Enemies". We liked it, and I suppose that our main criticism of the film is that it wasn't quite good enough.

    It's based on real history. Based, sure, and we forgive a film like this its many deviations from historical fact and its excursions into pure fantasy, because we want it to be entertaining, and not just a recitation of dates and occurances, but a film about a historical personality should be a bit more than just an entertainment.

    Johnny Depp already tried his hand at historical drama, with 2004's The Libertine. That was a truly rich portrait of a man and a time. By the end of it, we can feel we know the Earl of Rochester, and the world of restoration England in which he lived. We see Rochester being noble, awful, strong, weak, vital, sick, etcetera, and through contrast we understand that he was a complex person. We understand that he was a real person. We don't necessarily undertsand him, but we understand who he was.

    The portrayal of John Dillinger in "Public Enemies" is not as full a portrait of either the man or the time. It's a picture. It captures the surface without digging any deeper. We don't get to see very many sides to Depp's Dillinger, not very much at all of Bale's Purvis.

    Really, this film is an action film. Plenty of gunfights and fast driving, with little edification. I don't know if I should have expected more from Michael Mann.

    2009.07.14 at 12:00am EDT


    In case you don't know this, every receipt, bill, letter, and reasonably-sized piece of packaging that crosses my desk gets scanned in and digitally stored. It's not that I don't keep the paper too, but that digital images are way easier to search. This has actually come in handy several times, but those of you who are saying to yourselves, "What a colossal pain!" will be glad to hear it's a colossal pain. It's such a pain that I haven't done any scanning since April. Even with scanning multiple BP receipts to a single page, I scanned more than 100 pages of stuff today. I scan most stuff in 300 dpi grayscale, since that produces a print-out that reasonably approximates a photocopy.

    It's worth noting that the disk space necessary to store everything I scanned today exceeds the total storage capacity of my first laptop.

    In addition, I got a bunch of braiding done today. My morning and early afternoon were all about loading pages into the scanner, pushing the button, braiding a few iterations of the pattern, then starting over. I'm hoping to get my current braiding project completed before Pennsic, but given that I have a sewing project and a painting project to complete as well, I don't know if that's going to happen.

    2009.06.20 at 12:00am EDT


    I went to the Barnes&Noble the other day to buy a CD. I know what you're thinking, "Go to a store to buy a CD?" Well stuff it, you kids and your amazonitunes. I like going to stores to buy music on physical media, and B&N was the last reliable place to do so. I say "was" because the guy who was working there said that every month they receive a big box of DVDs and send a big box of CDs back to headquarters. Their CD bins were half empty when I was there and let me tell you they still have a better selection than most other retail stores I've been to lately. You'd think there would be a pretty penny in being the last major store that sells CDs, but apparently not. CDs are going the way of the DoDo and I will miss them.

    2009.07.22 at 12:00am EDT

    Project 'Rain Haori' Completed

    OK, so it always rains at Pennsic. If you're doing generic European garb, you can throw a big cloak over everything and put on a big floppy hat, and still enjoy a day out. In the far East, they had these straw rain cape things, but those are diffifult to pack. I decided to make a piece of traditional Japanese clothing, but use modern outdoors fabric to hopefully keep me dry

    Black and Gold Nylon Haori

    A Haori is a traditional garment. It's not quite medieval, but there is a medieval garment that's quite similar, so it's close enough for its purpose. I figure using nylon outdoor fabric for the shell tosses any level of historicity out the window anyway, so why quibble over dates?

    I used the Folkwear 129, "Japanese Hapi and Haori" pattern, because trying to figure out lined garments from scratch was more than I wanted to tackle. I learned some great stuff, but I think I'd have to do this pattern again before I could make up new patterns that were closer to medieval garb. I had some problems executing even this pattern, so maybe I'll give it another try before improvising.

    2009.07.26 at 12:00am EDT

    PoliTuesday: Health Insurance Reform

    Why is it that health insurance companies will spend any amount of money on marketing and lobbying to avoid spending more money on patients and doctors?

    The reforms being discussed in Congress right now are not helath care reforms, they are health insurance reforms. Every year, health insurance companies are charging us more and more and the amount they are paying out in return is getting smaller and smaller as they find new ways to rescind policies and disallow certain medications and treatments.

    The main reason for this is, of course, the economy. Up until the year 2000, insurance companies could invest the money from our premiums and make a profit even if they were paying all of that money back to us eventually. When the stock market tanked in 2000, it took insurance company profits with it, and every year since then they've had to try to make a profit the old-fashioned way, by actually paying attention to their business.

    This means squeezing more profitability from their customers, and their tactics are skirting so close to the line dividing ethical from unethical that they might as well give up and admit they have become evil. Something has to be done, and only the Democratic party is willing to say it and stand up to the insurance companies and their armies of lobbyists and astroturfers. The Republican party has not only decided to block any changes, but to do so "at any cost", sacrificing even the last shreds of their honesty by creating and spreading lies about the reforms that are being discussed. Lies that have become so extreme, they are angering entire other countries.

    The way I see it, the reforms that are being discussed are intended to create natural competitive forces that oppose the insurance market's slide to the lowest end of the pool. The only alternatives are to stick with the horrible system we have now (that's first in per capita spending, but only 38th in quality of care), or some heavy regulation that ends abusive practices with the force of law.

    2009.08.18 at 8:00pm EDT

    Pennsic 38

    So, Pennsic was cool. Most of the rain fell out of the sky the week before we went up, so my rain haori was mostly useless. The magic began to wear off toward the end of the week, and it started getting drizzly, but nothing major. Sharon had to travel for work the next day, so we had to leave camp without helping out much on clean up, but hopefully next year we can help out extra.

    I braided (a lot) I completed four braids in the week, one of which was quite long. I also went around to the different merchants who were selling kumihimo stuff and chatted with them, and tried to make contact with more kumihimo enthusiasts. Sharon and I chipped in on a nice set of 16 tama for her, and we bought two more books for the reference library. I also bought some brightly colored silk threads, and a replacement water dropper for my suzuribako.

    One thing that will stick this Pennsic in my mind is that due to a space crunch, we wound up having to set up the fly on our tent across a space that people were already using as a thoroughfare. Part of the deal was that we had to keep that space clear of stuff so people could pass quickly through the camp without having to detour around "Yurtistan". This was actually cool since we got a very central location in the camp and were able to do a lot of people watching.

    I wound up selling some of the marudai I'd made for sale, which was cool, and I even wound up selling one of my eboshi when the only merchant selling them ran out of stock. Time to sit down and make a bunch of eboshi, I guess.

    2009.08.19 at 12:00am EDT

    Experimental Ornamental Braid

    Braided Polyester Yarn

    I started this braid with the intention of letting other people try out braiding, but then kind of got embroiled in it and wound up powering through to the finish. It's a flat "yatsu sen" braid made with red and white polyester yarn. I started with a pattern that should have made diagonal stripes, but at some point I let my running commentary to "students" distract me from where I was in the braiding. The strip pattern somehow got reversed! I was so intrigued by that that I decided to try and do it on purpose. I succeeded! So, I then spent the rest of the braid switching the stripes back and forth every six inches or so. This braid wound up holding one of the hanging lanterns that adorned the clan gate.

    2009.08.20 at 12:00am EDT

    First Leather Braid

    One of the things that's much easier to get at Pennsic than anywhere else I normally go is leather lacing.

    Braided Leather

    I went to Spotted Pony Traders and bought four 72" laces made from what must be deerskin or calfskin leather since it's soft "like buttah" to make this braid. I started out doing a 4-strand braid to make the loop in the center. It was a royal pain to keep the laces from flipping around while braiding. Once I switched to the 8-strand "Edo Yatsu" to complete the braid, it became much easier to keep the laces flat while braiding, so the exterior is entirely the smooth side of the laces.

    2009.08.21 at 12:00am EDT

    Longer Leather Braid

    I liked braiding the leather laces so much that upon finishing Braid 59 I went straight back to the merchant and bought eight more laces.

    Not a Whip

    This braid also uses the "Edo Yatsu" pattern, but a different color arrangement creates the interlocking E pattern that I like. I'm not sure what this braid would be good for, but it was a fun experiment in materials. It is not a whip.

    2009.08.24 at 12:00am EDT

    Badge Braid

    Started braiding this braid before Pennsic, actually, but wound up having to cut it off for travel, then restart it at Pennsic and take most of the rest of the week just finishing it.

    One badge, plus braid

    I also made a bunch of leather diamonds displaying the badge of our household ("One Knight Inne"), and this braid wound up getting chopped into shorter sections so we can wear these as household tokens. Our household, led by Sir Maughnus has existed for a dozen years and 13 Pennsics, which is pretty special. This years is also the 20th anniversary of Sir Maughnus' knighting, so these tokens were also a gift to him.

    2009.08.25 at 12:00am EDT


    People make a lot about the purported fact that the Chinese language has a single word that means both "crisis" and "opportunity", but the English Language has a single word that means both "problem" and "child".

    2009.08.26 at 12:00am EDT

    Was Sick

    The Monday after I got home from Pennsic, I started getting sick. At first, I thought it was just my allergies adapting between War allergens and home/work allergens, but over the course of the work day my symptoms got worse and I started getting hungry.

    Sometimes when I get sick, especially if I'm getting a fever, my body decides to stock up on calories. I'm serious. It starts demanding like five meals a day and this keeps up until I start feeling better. Add this to the fact that most food tastes gross when you can't smell it, and colds get very annoying.

    Tuesday I started medicating myself with herbal teas. For a simple cold, this is often sufficient and less disruptive than modern pharmacology. We buy a tea called "Gypsy Cold Care" that is tasty and super effective at toning down mild symptoms. Tea swilling also helps keep you hydrated, which even doctors will tell you is a good idea.

    Wednesday morning, I was feeling better, so hope was strong in me that this cold would blow over rapidly. Over the course of the work day I felt worse and worse until I finally called the doctor to get an appointment. I didn't get an appointment, but the doctor called a prescription for antibiotics over to the pharmacy. What antibiotics are supposed to do versus a viral illness is unknown, but since colds often become sinus infections for me, I agreed to take them.

    While I was at the pharmacy I picked up a new box of generic "TheraFlu" equivalent. This stuff is great, if you've never tried it. It's basically like "NyQuil", only it replaces the licorice flavor and alcohol base with a light lemon flavor and hot water. Drink a big mug, go to bed, and feel better in the morning.

    Feel better I did. I spent most of Thursday and Friday drugged up on decongestants, antibiotics, analgesics, antihistamines, anti-tussives, and caffeine to counter the drowsiness. I felt much better for the weekend, and feel fine now except for the lingering cough I usually get after this type of cold. At least I was able to skip, through diligent work, the full-blown coughing fest I usually get that keeps me up all night coughing for two or three nights.

    This might have been a cold, but it also might have been swine flu. My doctor didn't seem interested, even though the symptoms I described on the phone match very well to the descriptions of H1N1 that I've since found on the Internet. I probably should have stayed home from work.

    2009.06.00 at 12:00am EDT

    Friday Assblogging

    Angle-Parked Cherokee

    Most people where I'm contracting right now park very considerately. Everybody has a bad day though, I guess.

    2009.08.28 at 12:00am EDT

    Dear Building Maintenance

    I'm sure that everybody understands that the signs are supposed to be a warning, but signs in the Men's room saying "Wet Paint" look a bit too much like an invitation for my comfort.

    2009.08.31 at 12:00am EDT

    Kumihimo Page Updated

    I've been keeping the blog here updated on new braids as I've been completing them, but this information hasn't been making it over to the marudai page where all the braid descriptions is supposed to be collected. The last braids displayed were completed back in March. I've now corrected that problem.

    If you've been reading the braid posts here on the blog, there's not really anything new over there. I mostly cut and pasted the descriptions from here into the page over there. If you're a kumihimo enthusiast and refer to the descriptions of my braids, though, it'll be more convenient to browse that list than to comb through the blog archive.

    This page is also available at for easy reference. At some point I'd like to create a better interface to this information at that URL, but for now it's just a symbolic link to the marudai page.

    2009.09.01 at 12:00am EDT

    Quickie Project: Router Bit Box

    I had a few router bits sitting around that were in their original packaging. This was sub-optimal, but buying a box to store these in always seems like a waste of money. There were only four orphans, and the other 8 bits I have came in their own storage case. Why buy when you can make?

    Closed Router Bit Box

    Open Router Bit Box

    My solution was a quickie project made from scrap wood and extra materials, put together in the workshop in an hour or so. It's just a hinge-top box, but the bottom is thick enough that holes deep enough to hold router bit shanks securely don't go all the way through.

    2009.09.02 at 12:00am EDT

    Shop Tweezer Storage Box

    On a recent trip to Harbor Freight, I was suckered in by one of the sale items they have in those baskets right by the door. This item was a set of metal tweezers, in various shapes that I know will be useful in the shop.

    I wanted to keep these tweezers in a cup on the work bench so they'd always be handy, but didn't want them to get covered in the dust that collects on everything that's down in the basement.

    Closed Tweezer Box

    Open Tweezer Box

    My solution was another quickie project: to make a little flip-front box for the workbench that the cup could sit in. When I need tweezers, I just need to flip the box open and grab the one I want. When I'm done tweezing, I put the tweezer back in the cup and slip the box closed. Careful placement of an elastic band both keeps the front flipped down when open, and down when closed. The box is screwed down to the bench so it won't shift, but the cup is just placed there and can be replaced with a large cup if this one starts getting crowded.

    2009.09.03 at 12:00am EDT

    Huge Update

    I've made a huge update to the project index that brings it more or less up to date. All of the icons in the "Most Recently Completed" section now link to a page of some kind, including some projects that were completed a year or more ago.

    Some of the new pages don't say a lot, but they're there at least, and they have some pictures of the project. I've typed up longer insructions for some of them. Myabe I'll get around to explanding some of the ones that are little more than cut-and-pastes of the description I did for the blog.

    2009.09.04 at 12:00am EDT

    Division of Labor

    Maybe it's a sign of my deficient public school education*, but I always thought that in the workplace it was a manager's job to keep track of stuff, and a worker's job to do work.

    Why do I always seem to spend significant portions of my work day maintaining project spreadsheets, updating tracking databases, reporting on dashboards, and entering hours in timesheets?

    You shouldn't even take this as a crisiticism of my current employer. This describes most of the places I've worked.

    2009.09.16 at 9:30am EDT

    New Flat Braid

    It's braiding week here on the blog! I've been braiding for about a year, and have finished up a handful of braids recently, so, uh, if you don't care about kumihimo at all, see you next week!

    Shige Uchi in Red, White and Black, plus some others

    I'm still looking for the best flat braid to use for lacing type purposes. Previously, I'd settled on the hira nami "flat waves" braid as a nice flat and wide braid that was easy to produce with eight bobbins. However, Sharon recently gave me a copy of Jacqui Carey's book, Creative Kumihimo, which has a flat braid type I'd never tried. Carey labels it "8G", but checking around I find that others call it the Shige Uchi "luxurious" braid.

    Shige Uchi is essentially the same braid as the edo yatsu hollow braid, but instead of the threads crossing over at the top to make a round braid, they reverse direction! This "unzips" the round braid into a flat braid with a little bit of cupping to it.

    As is usual for me with a new braid, I messed up a bit. First, I got a couple of threads crossed, changing the color pattern, and then later I accidentally switched back to the familiar edo yatsu pattern. I managed to unbraid all that, but just couldn't get the shige uchi running again. Instead, I switched through hira nami, yatsu sen, and hira kara patterns so that I could compare finished widths. My previous choice for wide, flat briad ahs been hira nami, but this braid is just a little bit wider. If I can just do better following the pattern…

    2009.09.21 at 12:00am EDT

    More Flat Braid

    Such a good result from that last try, here's some more:

    Shige Uchi in Red, White and Black

    More experimenting with the 8G Shige Uchi "luxurious" braid. This time, I used a "WK KK KR WR" color pattern, doubling the yarn for a wider, thicker braid. This braid is very wide and thick, and super soft from the great bamboo/silk yarn I used, but very short. A nice experiment, though, and I don't think I messed up the pattern at all.

    I just realized that although I got started by finding braiding patterns on people's web pages and blogs, I haven't really given anything back to the community that got me started braiding. Here's a movement diagram for Shige Uchi:

    Note the asymmetrical movement in step one. Also, it's best not to let go of strand 4 after step 4. It's now strand 2 and is moved. If you let go of it, you might grab strand 1 out of habit.

    2009.09.22 at 12:00am EDT

    Red Silk Flat Braid

    Time to try it with nicer material.

    Shige Uchi in Red Silk Thread

    Finally, we get to the heart of the matter. My experiments to find a wide and flat braid were centered around the lacing used to make Japanese armor. Not that I'm likely to make armor any time soon, but the question does come up occasionally of "what's the best braid to use for armor?" In my opinion, it's this one.

    This shige uchi braid is fast to braid, and is the widest 8-strand braid I've been able to find. I did this braid all in red silk thread that I bought from a mail-order place in Japan. The thread came in a big skein like yarn does, and I measured it out on traditional-style bodai warping posts. This meant wrapping the thread back and forth between vertical rods to build up a bundle wide enough for braiding. Each strand of the braid has 40 threads in it! Yet, the completed braid is only about a quarter inch wide.

    Based on the rough estimate of 100 yards of braid in a typical suit of armor, I'd need to get eight or nine more skeins of thread to make enough braid for armor. I'd also need to spend about a year braiding it since all the braids I've made in the past year of braiding add up to about 316 feet of braid. Like I said, not very likely to be done soon.

    2009.09.23 at 12:00am EDT

    Second Anniversary

    We interrupt braid week to bring you this important note: Today is the second anniversary of the first post ever to this blog. I'm still coding by hand in HTML, and I still haven't bothered to add comments or a better interface for the archive, but at least I haven't given up.

    Thank you for reading. I'd be trying to do interesting things in my life even without an audience, but it feels good to share my experiences.

    2009.09.24 at 12:00am EDT

    Another New Braid

    Hey, if you're reading this before Friday, hit the back button right now, cheater!

    Yatsu Nishiki in Red and White

    Since I had such good luck with that Shige Uchi braid I found in Jacqui Carey's book, Creative Kumihimo, I decided to go digging through it for a new braid to try with no ulterior motive. This braid is 8N, and the best name I can find for it is Yatsu Nishiki.

    The drawings in the book make this braid look more like a chain of interlocking links, but really its'not very chain like. I used a "WW RR WW RR" color pattern hoping to get a red and white chain out of it. I got a nice looking braid, but it doesn't look like a chain to me.

    This braid is one of the most labor intensive I've ever done. It's an eight strand braid, but it has eight moves in the pattern, instead of the more common four moves. Nevertheless, it's a fast braid to make. I made this whole braid in the down time of a single day-long SCA event.

    2009.09.25 at 12:00am EDT


    Apparently, I have to say this every few years or the universe starts to forget and I have to explain it again:

    Illustrator, Visio, CorelDraw, etc. are vector graphics "drawing" packages best for line graphics like diagrams.

    Photoshop, PhotoPaint, PaintShop, etc. are bitmap editors best for creating and modifying photos and screen captures.

    To use a vector graphic in another program, such as adding a diagram to a Word or PDF document, save it as EPS, WMF (or variants), or SVG (if you are from the future). To use a vector graphic in a web page, save it as PNG or GIF. SVG support is still lacking in many widely-used browsers.

    To use a bitmap graphic in another program, such as adding a screen capture to a document or web page, save it as PNG or GIF. Do not save it as JPEG (JPG) unless it is a photo or photo-quality image.

    Always keep your original graphic in one file and the file to be imported in another. This is especially true if you are saving a vector image as a bitmap on the web.

    Of course, all that glosses over some very technical talk about compression, image quality, and scalability that you can probably find discussed elsewhere on the web in great detail.

    I wrote an article about this in 1995 when many non-geeky people were having to learn this stuff for the first time, and it surprises me when geeky people don't understand it even today.

    2009.09.28 at 12:00am EDT

    PoliTuesday: Protest

    Some of you who are outside Pittsburgh may be wondering if the recent G20 protests affected my life in any way. Not in any real way, no they did not. I work about 30 miles Northeast, and I live about 10 miles East of downtown. I do not live or work in Northside or Squirrel Hill areas where some events took place. I do not live in the Lawrenceville or Oakland neighborhoods where most of the protests took place.

    Since it's Tuesday, though, I get to unload on you my readers regarding how they made me feel. They made me feel ashamed. Not because of the protesters, of course, but because of the police.

    Pittsburgh was built on the backs of hard workers who were willing to take to the streets to make their message heard. These protests weren't all marching and chanting, either. The Homestead Steel Strike of 1892 was violent enough that some exchanges between union workers and private security guards hired by the company are referred to as battles.

    We, the city of Pittsburgh, had a chance to show the world that Pittsburgh is a different kind of place. We could show that in Pittsburgh protest is welcomed as a necessary part of a democratic and free society. We failed. Maybe you are sanguine with my tax money being used to pay my police to use military grade weaponry on citizens of my country on the streets of my city, but I am not cool with that at all.

    Law enforcement in Pittsburgh got ready for violence, and so violence is what they got. They were ready for a fight, and they stood in the path of a group of people they knew were ready to give it to them. Hilarity ensues.

    I think the parents and grandparents many of the cops out on the street, many of whom had protests of their own and run-ins with the powers that be would be absolutely ashamed to see their descendants dressed up like storm troopers, holding their truncheons like bad movie extras, getting ready to beat up on protesters, many of whom were kids the age of the officers' kids.

    "But what are they even protesting?" is a question I've heard repeatedly, to which I respond, "Who cares?" They could be protesting the blue color of the sky for all I care. We all know they're about as likely to have an affect on that as they are to affect whatever it is they were protesting, so what difference does it make? Youth has a duty to protest anything and everything it can think of. Why? Because it can.

    Here's how the police could have entirely defused the situation instead of sparking a riot. First, the city could have given the protesters a permit. I don't care if they requested one or not. The city could have turned an unlawful assembly into a legal one with the same pen stroke that signed the act declaring the city to be in a state of emergency. The days after the march that turned violent, there was a peaceful march with more people. The difference: a permit.

    When the buses openned their doors and the officers came piling out, what if they'd been holding signs instead of truncheons? Aren't they all union members? Don't they have something to say to the international community? Which side are you, boys?

    What if they'd joined the march instead of blocking it? There were only about 500 protesters in that march, and there were 3,700+ officers in the city who could have kept an eye on the whole thing, from within. Who is going to smash a window with a police officer standing right next to them? The confrontation would have fizzled out, the march would have been peaceful, and everybody would have gone home with a spirit of cooperation.

    I think the entire plan all along should have been unlimited peaceful protest. Show the world they can have their meeting here, but they are going to have to take the time to admire our people, not just our shiny new convention center. We failed.

    2009.09.29 at 12:00am EDT

    Return of the Bead Braid

    It's been a while since I've done one of these bead braids, but I still had two full sets of beads left over in my box of beading supplies. The last beaded necklace I did in black and gold came out so well, that I decided to do a new one, but this time in glossy translucent beads instead of matte opaque beads. I used the same "houndstooth check" color pattern of "BG GG GB BB" with the edo yatsu braiding patterm that I used for this other braid to create those large areas of solid color.

    Braid 66, Black and Gold

    The tension on this braid seemed really strange, but maybe it was just that I was out of practice in this type of braiding. I'm happy with the way the braid came out and will probably wind up giving this one as a gift.

    2009.09.30 at 12:00am EDT

    Fiber Management

    For braid 64, I purchased a skein of silk thread from a Japanese supplier. Since the thread had to be bundled to create strands, I needed to pull yards and yards of thread for each strand, and thread is way too thin to consider making balls like with yarn. It was time to research and build some real equipment.

    The whole setup

    A kowaku is a Japanese spool for storing thread. A zaguri is a little machine that winds thread onto a kowaku. A tondo is a wheel that holds a skein of thread open so that it does not tangle as it is wound onto a kowaku. Here's how it goes:

    More information at the "Fiber Management" project page.

    2009.10.06 at 7:00am EDT

    Braiding Into the Future

    A bit of retrospection is followed by full-tilt progressive action. Lamenting my inexperience with 16-strands braids, I dove head-first into this great braid that also includes a brand new material.

    Braid 67, Royal Blue and Off White

    The material is a hemp yarn. Hemp is a traditional Japanese fiber, so I wanted to try it out. I really like the royal blue hue of the blue yarn, but after I got the white yarn home I realize I had just bought a skein of string. It's the nicest string I've ever had, but it's basically string in color and texture. It briads really well, though. It isn't very stretchy, but it bends nicely and makes strongly defined "stitches" in the braid.

    The braid is braid 16P from Jacqui Carey's book, Creative Kumihimo, and is essentially two overlapping edo yatsu braids. I did one braid all in blue and one braid all in white so I could keep them straight easily, but in the last couple of inches I switched the color pattern as an experiment and may do a whole braid that way. Basically you do one braid for four steps, then the other braid for four steps. This creates a tight braid at the center with large looping stitches on the exterior. The braid is solid underneath and knobbly on the outside. It seems very strong, too.

    2009.10.07 at 12:00am EDT

    Friday Catblogging

    Dodger and Mischa

    Trying to ease back into this whole blogging thing, a picture of the two blue boys sharing a sunny spot.

    2009.10.30 at 12:00am EDT

    Collapsible Stool Project

    Back in August, I took a woodworking class. The project for that class was a collapsible wooden stool, and we did almost all the work with hand tools like chisels and handsaws. Mine needed some tweaking after the class, and I finally completed recently.

    Except for the bit of braid, it's all wood. The whole thing is held together with joinery, which we shaped by hand. For more information and a couple more pictures, see the "Collapsible Wooden Stool" project page.

    2009.11.02 at 12:00am EST


    A Wooden Beam

    I had some time to kill yesterday, so I swung by the Construction Junction to see if there was anything screaming to be bought. I found this beam. It's 6 inches by 8 inches in cross-section, and 39 to 42 inches long. I'm not sure what I'm going to make from it, but I don't normally see lumber like this at all, so for ten bucks it was too good to walk away from. I think it's oak.

    2009.11.03 at 12:00am EST


    My recent experience in Mr. Arimoto's woodworking class convinced me that I need to get better at shaping wood with hand tools like chisels. I've been using Sharon's set of three Craftsman wood chisels for years, with poor results.

    The poor results are due to the facts that the chisels have never been properly sharpened and I had no idea how to use them properly. After a few hours of instruction in usage, and a demonstration in sharpening, I feel much more confident, and am now willing to get better at both.

    So, first step is sharpen up Sharon's chisels, right? I went down to the Lowe's to look for sharpening stones, but most of what they ahd was for knife sharpening. They had small diamond hone things and pocket stones. The had one of those big three stone rigs, but it was expensive and seemed more complex than I was looking for. I just wanted a few bare stones: a coarse, a medium, and a fine. In bare stones, they just had medium.

    However, they did have a set of six heavy Stanley "Fatmax" chisels on clearance for twenty dollars. Those chisels cost about ten dollars each to buy separately, so this was a good deal. Even the ten dollar sets of cheaper chisels only have three sizes, and having a greater variety of sizes available is almost as important as better quality blades. Too good to pass up.

    Home Depot wound up also focusing on diamond hones and knife sharpening, but they did have a decent-looking coarse/fine combination stone for five dollars, so that's what I got. It is a double-sided bare stone. I'd have preferred separate stones and a medium stone, but this is a good start.

    After a bit of freehand work with the stone, I tried out the new chisels by clamping a piece of scrap pine lumber to my workbench and cutting out a rectangular mortise to cradle the stone while I sharpen. It didn't take me very long, and it was good practice.

    It's not the most beautiful job, but it's only my second chisel project. Previously, I would have used a router to cut out a cavity like this. It probably would have come out a little smoother and more even across the bottom, but in my experience the router is difficult to control on such a small work piece (I don't have a router table) and is way noisier than just shaving out chips with a sharp chisel.

    Then, I spent some serious time getting Sharon's old chisels back into shape, and practicing my chisel work so I could fine tune that stool project. I'm much better at it now, but I can tell I still have far to go.

    2009.11.04 at 12:00am EST

    Baronial Color Braid

    A braid I started at the 2009 "Agincourt" SCA event, this was just a method to keep me busy for an afternoon. I started with only about six feet of yarn on each bobbin, hoping to get a braid about three feet long so I could donate it as an award cord while I was standing in the house of the Baron and Baroness. I probably could have finished it before the end of the day, but we were told that court was starting any minute, so I packed things away. Of course, court wasn't starting for an hour.

    A silk braid in black and gold

    Anyway, this is more of the shige uchi braid, made with one strand of thick gold yarn per gold bobbin, and two strands of thin black yarn per black bobbin. I tried out a new color pattern to try to get something pretty out of this braid, but given the woven nature of this braid it's really difficult. It should make a nice cord anyway, given the soft materials.

    2009.11.05 at 12:00am EST

    Desktop: Hedge

    A hedge in winter

    It's been a really long time since I did one of these desktop images, so please enjoy this photo of some hedge stalks in winter.

    2009.11.06 at 12:00am EST

    Art of the Samurai

    Sharon and I visited the Art of the Samurai, and the Mandalas exhibitsx(, this Saturday at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Here's a quick review.

    This is primarily an exhibit of blades. If you have a serious interest in the sword maker's art, you should carefully put down anything sharp or heavy, drop whatever else you are doing, and go see this exhibit as soon as possible. The exhibit fills several large galleries, and the walls are mostly lined with glass cases displaying blades. I mean bare blades on stands, so you can see the tangs and maker's marks. Some of them are "named blades" with impressive ownership pedigrees. The description cards give a lot of attention to details about the blade that reveal how it was made and what "school" the maker was following. There are a handful of impressive hilts and scabbards, but mostly it's bare blades.

    Secondarily, there is armor. For the most part, the armor is in the middle of the room, allowing close up (through plexiglas, but less than a foot away), 360 degree (!) views. No pictures allowed, so bring your sharpest memory. You are close enough that you can see where damaged braided lacing has been replaced with dyed leather! Quite sweet, although of course it's impossible to see the inside. Of course I paid a lot of attention to braids. Sorry.

    Most striking are few examples showing a historical portrait scroll of a famous person right next to the armor he wore while posing for the portrait. Some of these scrolls are great, and the detail in them would be very useful, but again, no photos. You might get away with one or two non-flash pictures before the docent yells at you, but choose wisely.

    Other things in the exhibit include a nice collection of impressive kabuto, a few scrolls, some archery equipment, a few jinbaori, one hitatare, and some screens. Most disappointing to me was just four panels from a 26 panel screen showing the "traditional crafts". Displayed are tsuba making, sword polishing, making curved boxes, and house building. Apparently there's a panel in the full set showing kumihimo. I told Sharon if they'd had it on display I would have sent her outside to wait for me while I took pictures of it until they threw me out.

    Once you're in the museum, don't miss the Mandala exhibit over in the Japanese galleries at the other end of the building. Quite a bit of detail over there on devotional scrolls, sculpture, and ritual objects.

    Overall I'd say we spent about five hours in the museum, which also included browsing through a few other galleries (Rodin! Vermeer! A shark in a tank of formaldehyde!) including the traditional visit to see the Temple of Dendur. No visit to the Met is complete without it.

    2009.11.09 at 11:30am EST

    Project Seiza Bench

    As with many things Japanese, it is traditional that a kumihimo braider sit seiza in front of the marudai. Seiza is not kneeling, as some believe. It looks much the same, but you are supposed to be sitting on your feet and ankles. For a Westerner raised to sit in chairs, this position is difficult and painful. If done for long periods of time, the feet and lower legs suffer from a lack of circulation and often "go to sleep".

    As with many things Japanese, the world has developed ways for Westerners to cheat.

    Angled Seiza Bench

    This low bench keep your butt up off your feet for comfort, but keeps your butt and legs at the angle they would be if you were sitting seiza properly.

    There's a bit more detail (but not much) at the Seiza Bench project page.

    2009.11.10 at 10:00am EST

    16 String Braid

    Wanted to try the 16 strand version of the edo yatsu again, and wanted to try out this stringy hemp yarn again, so it was time for this braid. The weave came out really uneven. Maybe the yarn is too stiff for this braid?

    Braid #69, in hemp yarn

    The braid is aggressively hollow, though. If you push a length together and untwist a little, the whole weave opens up like basketry. The stiffness of the yarn keeps the braid mostly ound, but it collapses if you push on it. If I did this braid again but with a brightly colored core, I bet the pressure from the inside would even out the weave a bit, and it would be quite eye-catching.

    2009.11.11 at 12:00am EST

    Free Time

    For those of you who are wondering, yes, the reason I have all this time lately to braid, work on other projects, and post to my blog, is that I am once again "between contracts". This one ended a little sooner than expected, and the only thing I really want to say about that is that I now know why the financial sector is doing so poorly.

    2009.11.12 at 12:00am EST

    Autumn in the Mon Valley

    Autumn in the Mon Valley

    Standing on the Riverview Trail in Frick Park, looking East up the Monongahela Valley towards the Rankin Bridge, the Edgar Thompson Works (da E.T.), and Kennywood Park.

    2009.11.13 at 12:00am EST

    Emphasis on the "Rock"

    Back in February, I bought a tenoning jig at Rockler hardware to do the joinery for the shoji screen project. You might gasp looking at that price, and believe me I think it's expensive, too, but it saved me so much time and effort on those screens I thought it was a good investment.

    A tenoning jig

    Of course, this weekend it broke. I was tightening the wheel to clamp a piece of wood into the jig, and the arm that goes behind the wood just snapped. I was supremely disappointed, and it caused me to give up on a minor project that had already given me way too much trouble.

    Today I took the jig into the Rockler store, and the manager said, "I've never seen one break like that. What would you like, a replacement, a credit, or a refund? Not that it's necessary, but do you have the receipt for this?" Win, win, and win. I took a replacement.

    Rockler has consistently given me excellent customer service, and this latest episode is another great one.

    2009.11.16 at 5:30pm EST

    Watery Bead Braid

    Another bead braid to give away as a present. I have four of these "in stock" right now, but will most likely give away three of them before the end of the year. This one uses Blue beads and aqua beads in a spiral pattern edo yatsu braid. For some reason, this one came out very stiff, probably not enough weight in the counterweight.

    Bead braid in blue and aqua

    The blue beads are really very interesting. Most of the seed beads have a silvery coating on the inside tht makes them sparkle. The aqua beads are like that. These blue beads have a green coating on the inside that gives them a color that gets darker as you look into them, much like deep seawater.

    2009.11.17 at 12:00am EST

    The Prisoner

    [This post contains information that spoils the end of both television shows titled "The Prisoner". You have been warned.]

    I am a huge honking fan of the 1968 television show, "The Prisoner" which was created by its star, Patrick McGoohan. I've spent 20 years thinking about it, and how it has affected my life, and it's not the kind of thing that I can explain in a single blog post. I can probably sum up the show, though, since many people are at a loss as to what it all means. (It's all explained in the last episode, actually.) It's an exploration of the the role of the individual in society. This has been noted elsewhere. The point McGoohan ultimately hits is that most of the great heroes of literature and history were individuals. We, as individuals, adore individuals. However we, as a society, seek to assimilate and destroy them. The reason? Most of the great villains of literature and history were individuals as well. Number 1 is also, pretty much by definition, an individual, right?

    So, if both ends of the hero-villain spectrum represent extreme individualism, what distinguishes them? Most villains see themselves above society, and either seek to dominate it or ignore it altogether. Heroes see the fullness of society and seek to protect other people from its more destructive aspects. This is made explicit in the penultimate episode of the original series, when Number 6 says it, "POP. Protect. Other. People." Really, you can't miss it. [Skip to 1:50 in this video.]

    Anyway, that's why I think this recent Prisoner miniseries, produced by AMC, ultimately succeeds. It succeeds, by which I mean that it is a coherent and logical structure, but I can't say that I like where it goes. It's like that excellent novel you feverishly read to the very end because it's such a well oiled machine of a novel, and then throw across the room because the machine winds up grinding the main character into a smooth paste.

    The original Prisoner series was about society trying to trap our individual. Society has every method to convince an individual to assimilate. At the end, our hero avoids every trap of society, even the urge to lead, and survives intact and secure. In this new version of the Prisoner, the Village tries a trap the old one did not. What if the Village itself is a method to protect other people, people who need to be protected? It snaps shut on the leg of our hero with a clang. A clang of success, certainly, but our hero fails.

    I can't like it, but I must wonder what McGoohan's Six would have done. A trap to catch a king?"

    2009.11.18 at 9:00am EST

    Friday Catblogging

    The 2009 Cat-a-Log

    Tashi in front, then clockwise to Dodger, Mischa, and Ethel.

    2009.11.20 at 12:00am EST

    Bead Spinner

    For making my bead braids (Braids 39, 41, 46, 48, 51, 52, 66, and 70) the part that takes the most time is stringing the hundreds and hundreds of tiny seed beads onto the line. People have been telling me for months that I need a "bead spinner", but since those things cost real money while a simple needle costs just a dollar, I have resisted.

    Then, the craft store gave me a "40% off any single item" coupon, and the spinners really only cost $15, so I bought one of these Spin-n-Bead spinners. I bought the "Junior" model.

    It is totally worth it. It cuts stringing time in half. If I'd spent the money sooner, I would have saved more than eight hours worth of my time. The last 150 beads or so still have to go on by hand, but most of them just fly up the needle. It's amazing. If you do this kind of bead stringing, I totally recommend that you get a bead spinner. This Junior model is big enough to hold a full tube of the beads I use, so I don't know if the larger spinner is necessary.

    2009.11.23 at 12:00am EST

    Speaking of Beading

    Speaking of beading, I have some bead braid posting to catch up on. So remember I said I had four bead neckalaces "in stock"? Well, I gave one of those away, but then I made two more to try out the bead spinner, so I have a net gain.

    Orange and Graphite bead braid

    Green and Silver bead braid

    That's how much faster these braids are with the spinner. I did both of those over this past weekend.

    2009.11.24 at 12:20pm EST

    Skipped a Couple

    I skipped a couple of regular braids so that I could talk about beading. Here they are!

    Square braid in red, gold, blue, and white silk thread

    Here's a tight square (Carey Creative Kumihimo 8H) braid made using some silk thread I bought at Pennsic. Each strand is 24 threads, meaning there is a heck of a lot of thread in this braid. The tightness of this braid makes it only about a quarter inch across, though. In the picture, I've tied the braid into a decorative Chinese luck knot.

    Shige Uchi in red and white silk/bamboo yarn

    More exercise with the shige uchi (CK8G) braid. I was wondering how this braid would actually look with two strands white and six red. The book has nice diagrams to help you plan, but as with most things, the plan and the reality often come out very different. This one's nice, and as far as I know there are no errors or tension problems anywhere in this braid.

    2009.11.25 at 12:00am EST

    Me Am Grownup

    Sharon and I visited my family this past weekend for the Thanksgiving holiday. Usually when you go back to your childhood home, it's difficult to maintain the feeling of adulthood you have in you own home and day-to-day life. This weekend, the day after Thanksgiving, I got to help my father with some home improvement and feel like a grown up partner in the endeavor.

    He wanted to replace the fold-out wooden stairs to the attic with some new metal stairs. In theory, taking out the old stairs and putting in the new ones are something either of us could have done individually, but in reality there are some tricky bits that make a it a two person job.

    We managed to get the old stairs torn out and mostly broken down, and the new steps installed and fully operational, in just one day. He had thought it would only take a few hours, but my estimate of a full day's work was more accurate. We had no injuries, and no fights, even when I managed to break a fairly important fastener. I broke another fastener, too, but it wasn't an important one.

    Anyway, if we'd had more time I would have been able to help breaking down the rest of the old stairs for the trash and putting up new molding around the opening. He can handle it now that all the heaving lifting is done, but it would have felt even better to help complete the clean up.

    It felt good to work on something as a team with my dad. When I was young, he was always taking care of odd jobs around the house, and I was always a little too clumsy to be trusted around anything important with a hammer. It feels really good to know that I've grown up enough to help get important things done.

    Hopefully, the whole thing doesn't fall apart, tearing down the house around my parents' ears.

    2009.11.30 at 12:00am EST

    Gift Bags

    It all started a few years back when we wanted to give a bunch of wine as holiday presents to different people. We bought a pile of fabric "wine bags" to enclose the bottles rather than struggling to wrap them in paper. Since wine bottle are usually similar in size and shape, a lot of different sources makes and sell these bags. Once we had some, we could see how easy they would be to make. They're just a tube that's closed at one end and doubled over at the other to conceal the edge at the opening. So, Sharon bought some fabric and made more for the next batch of gifts. Then I made some more when those ran out. Then, I realized the concept could be expanded to enclose other types of presents. Books, DVDs, and CDs are all roughly standardized within certain deviations. I had a big pile of leftover fabric from sewing projects, so I made a huge pile of bags in different sizes, and our dependence on these gifts bags became overriding.

    I suppose there's an environmental angle. Gift bags can be re-used any number of times, instead of being thrown away after use like most wrapping paper. Really though, they are just fun to make and receive. Now that I don't do as much sewing as a I used to, I even have to buy fabric when we start to run out of bags and need more.

    That's what I did yesterday. I noticed we were running low enough on bags that we probably were not going to make it through this year's holiday season. So, I went to the fabric store. I bought six yards of fabric total, two yards each of three different patterns. I bought these from the deep discount end of the clearance rack, for three dollars per yard. I aimed for fabric dark enough to conceal the conents of a bag, and with a regular pattern to make cutting easier. The best fabrics turned out to be cotton calicos, mostly from a collection of "country" prints. These were all about 45 inches wide.

    The bags themselves are simple rectangles. I simply lay out the fabric, measure in from the end a set amount, cut off a strip, fold the strip right sides together, sew up both edges to make a closed tube, and finish the edges of the opening. Most of the bags start with strips 6.5 inches wide. Wine bags use a full strip, and bags for DVDs, CDs, and paperback book use a half a strip. For hardback books and other medium-sized gifts, the strip width varies from 10 to 15 inches. Most of those also use half strips.

    To wrap a gift in a bag, I simply slide the gift into the bag, double over the opening of the bag, and tuck the extra fabric inside to one side of the gift. Then, I tie the whole thing shut with some decorative cord or fabric ribbon.

    Anyway, I wound up making 44 bags yesterday. I made 6 wine bags, 18 small gift bags, and 18 medium gift bags in three different sizes. Since the fabric cost $18 total, each bag only used about 41 cents of fabric. Not bad for an evening's work!

    44 Gift Bags

    2009.12.01 at 8:00am EST

    Project Tamabako Documented

    I completed this project back before our trip to the Samurai exhibit, but just finished with the write-up.

    Based on the jubako-type design usually utilized for bento-style lunch boxes, this is a small stack of wooden boxes I'm using to store kumihimo bobbins. the Tamabako project page has a bit more detail and explanation, and a couple more pictures.

    2009.12.03 at 9:30am EST

    Science for the Bored

    I'm a big fan of EZ Heat hand warmer packets. They're just plastic packets filled with a super-saturated solution of sodium acetate in water. You put them in boiling water to break down the crystals and "charge" the packet. The crystals can't reform with seeds, so energy from the boiling water is "stored" as potential. Once the packets have cooled, you can click the metal "activator disk" inside to provide a seeding site for new crystals. When the solution cystalizes, the stored heat is released, and the packet's temperature quickly goes up.

    EZ Heat, from Pristech

    I like these things because they can be used over and over for no additional cost. I can charge them at home and then keep them in my pockets for whenever winter is getting me down.

    So anyway, yesterday I charged up my packets and put them in the freezer. I took the first out after about an hour, when it was really cold but still liquid. Clicking the activator caused the solution to cystallize, and the packet quickly rose to… room temperature. Interesting. All the stored energy was used up making he packet "not cold", so it never got hot. OK, I guess I should have anticipated that.

    I just took the other one out this morning. It is frozen solid, so I can't click the activator. I can't be sure, however, if it's frozen solid, or if it spontaneoulsy re-crystalizes at some low temperature. That is, I can't tell if it's full of water ice crystals or sodium acetate crystals. I'll have to let it sit at room temperature and see if it thaws. If it melts as it thaws, that would be pretty interesting, having something you could use as an ice pack that turns into heat pack.

    It would also be pretty interesting if it spontaneously crystallizes as it freezes. Does it warm up when the crystals form? That would delay the freezing, wouldn't it? It would be useful to have a heating packet that kicks in automatically if it gets too cold. If you're stuck in an emergency situation, you wouldn't have to worry about when to activate the packet if you know it will self-activate when it gets cold enough.

    Anyway, I guess we will see… with science.

    2009.12.04 at 8:00am EST

    Science Update

    I've let the frozen handwarmer sit on my desk for hours, and it's now at room temperature, but still crystallized. So, OK, these things seem to self-activate when they're cold enough. I'm not sure if it's chemically based, or physically based. It could be that eventually the activator disc flexes or is flexed. The crystals seem to radiate from the disc, so it's not purely spontaneous. Anyway, more science needs to be piled on this topic before I can build and answer.

    2009.12.04 at 2:00pm EST

    Aerosol Food

    While I was preapring my lunch today, I had the thought, "It's the twenty-first century. I'd have thought we'd have more aerosol food by now." We have aerosol cheese, cooking oil whipped cream, and (most recently) pancake batter, but we (by which I mean "humanity") haven't gotten much further than that. this article from 1958 predicts a boom in aerosol food following the development of wonder-gas Freon. Maybe that explains it.

    2009.12.09 at 8:40pm EST

    Matrix Messiah

    So this week, I re-watched the Matrix trilogy for the Nth time. My original goal was to work on my long-delayed "The Matrix is Better than Most People Think" essay, or maybe put together a Matrix Tarot from screen captures, but instead I was captivated by a new idea.

    The Matrix contains the story of the search for, discovery of, and apotheosis of a messiah. It is, of course, Neo of whom I speak. Morpheus searches for the prophesied messiah, and preaches the gospel of his immanence. Neo learns he may be the messiah, doubts, and eventually accepts his holy mission. He completes the mission, at great personal cost, and the story ends like most messianic stories end.

    The thing that caught my mind this time was a character who I finally realized is Neo's first acolyte. In the real world, this character is known as "Kid". He is first introduced in a segment of The Animatrix as "Michael Karl Popper", who frees himself from the Matrix through his extreme belief in Neo. "Kid's Story" in Animatrix is confusing and dark. In Reloaded and Revolutions, Kid's role is mostly annoying, but it's clear that Kid is sincere. He feels he owes Neo his life, and he really does risk it to help.

    The acolyte moment comes when Kid runs into the room they call "The Temple" and proclaims that Neo has ended the war. He is the first to proclaim the apotheosis of Neo. He is the first acolyte.

    Now, Dune teaches us that the only thing more dangerous to a society than a mortal enemy is the arrival of their messiah. Where does the story go when the fondest dreams of its characters have been fulfilled? In Dune, most of Paul's first acolytes betray him. What does Kid's future hold for himself and for humanity?

    2009.12.17 at 4:30pm EST



    I finally came up with an idea of a thing to do with the beam I bought a few weeks ago, but unfortunately the idea requires more lumber. I went back to the Construction Junction, and bought roughly 12 feet of pine 2x12 for just five dollars! Unfortunately those twelve feet were more like a six foot piece and a two foot piece joined into an eight foot piece using a four foot piece and fifteen big nails. The above photo shows the three pieces drying in the sun after I finally got all the nails pried out. I suspect the joined board was used in some (hopefully very low to the ground) scaffolding. It's dirty, half rotten, and cracked, but that doesn't matter for the use I'm going to put it. Five dollars is an incredible deal on this much wood, but it remains to be seen if it was actually worth it.

    2009.12.18 at 12:00am EST

    Beam Board Bench

    Anyway, so here's what I did with the beam and those boards:

    Beam Board Bench

    I made a bench. I began by sanding all sides of the beam lightly; not enough to smooth them out totally, just enough to clean them up a bit and highlight the milling. After that, I decided which side of the beam was "top", and sanded that side as smooth as I could. Then, I cut two slots into the board to hold pieces of board. Each slot is parallel to the end of the beam to which it is closer. The one end is cut (maybe broken?) at about 64 degrees, so the leg at that end is angled to match. Then, I cut two lengths of board. The first was just a straight rectangle, but the second had to be a specific length and have a specific angle at the lower end so that the bench would be level once assembled. Then, I just slotted the board pieces into the beam slots to make a bench for the porch. There's no hardware anywhere in the bench, that's how tight everything joins together. Most thematically, all this was done by hand. No power tools of any kind were used, just my hand saw, some chisels, a mallet, and some sandpaper. I'm very proud of it. The fact that it's all recycled lumber makes me very happy. $15 in materials to make a bench that would probably cost hundreds of dollars in a catalog or gallery.

    2009.12.21 at 12:00am EST

    Cedar Geta

    I made these a few weeks ago, but never posted about them. They're Japanese geta sandals, madefrom the same wonderful cedar I used to make shoji screens earlier this year.

    Cedar Geta

    I put a linseed oil finish on the to make the grain pop and protect the wood from water and dirt a bit more. I made the straps by sewing fabric tubes and pulling rolls of cotton batting into them. I even braided some silk yarn to make the "between the toes" bits that hold the straps down (braid 75, for those of you keeping track).

    I planed the sole pieces in a friend's planer, and drilled the holes for the straps on the drill press, but most everything else was done by hand. I cut all the pieces to length by hand, rounded the corners by hand, planed the "teeth" by hand, and cut the joinery for the teeth by hand.

    2009.12.22 at 12:00am EST

    Last Few Braids of the Year

    I'm probably not going to get much braiding done the rest of this year, so I figure I should at least post about braids I've done recently. Today, the last non-bead braid.

    Green and Aqua Braid

    This braid is made from two skeins of cotton embroidery floss. I doubled the floss to make the braid a little thicker and shorter. If you compare it to the beaded braid 74, you can see I was trying to compare the two materials. I used the same edo yatsu braiding pattern and the same color pattern. The two braids even came out almost the same length!

    I think that doubling two skeins like this makes a nice thick braid that would be good for turning a large bead into a neckalce. You could pick two colors that match the bead and have a nice piece without much fuss. If I teach classes at a bead store, I think I'll focus on making braids that are about like this one.

    2009.12.23 at 12:00am EST

    Bead Braid Bingo

    Closing out 2009, here are a few more bead braids. The first is a special request.

    Bright Blue and Green

    The request was for "brigh blues and greens" and real silver findings due to metal sensitivity. I think I came through on those, though the braid is another edo yatsu.

    Amethyst Kongou Gumi

    Getting a little tired of the edo yatsu, I decided to experiment with braiding beaded strands using the kongou gumi braid. I like the way it came out, the way the strands all spiral in the same direction. Kongou gumi uses up a lot of material, so this braid is a little shorter than normal, though.

    Orange and Green Hira Kara Gumi

    Moving slightly flatter, I went for the hira kara gumi braid which Jacqui Carey describes as "rounded flat". This was a little weird, but it came out nicer than I feared it might. I love this orange color with the silver-lined beads, and pairing them with the green transparent beads makes a nice contrast.

    2009.12.24 at 12:00am EST

    Last But Not Least

    Closing out the year, a bead braid I didn't post about yesterday. Back to the well in black and gold.

    Black and Gold

    Compare this braid to the one I was trying to re-create, braid 51. It looks pretty similar. It uses the same beads and the same braiding pattern. It feels very different, though. The braid is stiffer, and the tension isn't as even along the braid. I'm not sure if this is because of the different tama I used, or because of the heavier fireline on which the beadsare strung. Once I use up this 10 pound Fireline, I think I'll go back to using 8 pound.

    Anyway, I probably won't post at all next week, so have a happy New Year everybody!

    2009.12.25 at 12:00am EST

    Project Sugorokuban

    Ok, I was a wrong about posting this week, I finally found some time to document a project I completed back in November, the Sugoroku-ban.


    Sugoroku is an ancient Japanese version of Backagammon, and this implementation is as a box with storage space for the playing pieces inside.

    2009.12.28 at 12:00am EST

    Vacation Recap

    So, the wife and I took a little vacation to finish out 2009, and this year's destination was the great state of Arizona. We have some family there outside of Tuscon, so we spent the winter holiday with them and bummed around there for a few days. Then, since a vacation is not a vacation for Sharon unless it contains copious amounts of driving, we drove up to the Grand Canyon. This is basically the entire North-South length of the state, but luckily most of Arizona is what I would call "countryside", so it was actually kind of nice. (For those of you from Arizona who have never driven in California, imagine driving the same distances, but having more than 60% of it look like Phoenix.) The Grand Canyon at this time of year is just as beautiful, but much less crowded and much less hot. We stayed pretty much right at the rim for reasonable rates and were able to get an early start walking and stay late into the evening. We also went up to Lake Powell for a couple of days, which didn't involve as much walking becasue we saw most of it from a boat. Then, we drove back down to Tuscon and spent a night downtown (at the Historic and Hip Hotel Congress) before flying back out to spend our actual anniversary at home with a quiet bottle of bubbly and four loud cats. Great times. I'll probably spread out the detail into some more posts later, but that's the quick recap.

    2010.01.04 at 11:30am EST

    Modern Photography

    So, the vacation I described yesterday was the first vacation I've taken to a popular photogenic location since digital photography got reasonably cheap. If you think about all of the stereotypes of photographers you've seen in every movie and TV show, photographers used to be the oddballs in most situations. Now, in the modern world, nearly everybody takes photographs of nearly everything, nearly all the time. I'm not criticizing, since I'm assuredly part of the problem, but there it is.

    2010.01.05 at 12:00am EST

    What did I read in 2009?

    So, retrospective time, what did I read in 2009. The answer is simple, "Terry Pratchett."

    "What," you say, "all of him?" Well no, not quite, but most of his book-length work. Back at winter holiday 2008, I gave Sharon the last few books she needed to complete her Discworld collection, so it was time for me to catch up. I read the first couple of Discworld books back in the eighties when they were reasonably new, but I haven't kept up. There are actually several sub-series (wizards, witches, DEATH, watch, wiscellaneous) in Discworld, which I read one at a time instead of in the order the books were published. (I'm not actually sure that's the best way.) There's a nice guide to the series you can look at if you don't know how big it is now. I got all the way through Rincewind, Witches, Young Adult, DEATH, Ancient Civilizations, and I'm on the last Industrial Revolution novel in paperback. Of course, a new book is out in hardcover.

    I feel like I've accomplished quite a bit, but the other books have been piling up. The "to read" drawer of my nightstand is full enough to tip the whole thing over if I pull it all the way out. I hope to catch up on that in 2010.

    2010.01.06 at 12:00am EST

    What did I listen to in 2009?

    For the unaware, most recorded music still enters my collection via CD, so what CDs entere my collection in 2009?

    Mogwai, The Hawk is Howling

    Mogwai continues to excite me with their heavy sounds. The band hates to be pigeonholed, but you could call this genre 'progressive punk rock' or maybe 'punk progressive rock' and maybe not get beaten up too badly if they catch you.

    Zombi, Spirit Animal

    I think half the band has moved back to Pittsburgh, and the other half of the band is in New Hampshire or something, and they haven't played a Pittsburgh gig in years, but I still love them. These two guys totally rock. They're a bit more progressive and a bit less punk than Mogwai, but they probably wouldn't threaten to beat me up. I might have to buy a couple of rounds, though. This album wasn't instant earwig material like some of their other stuff, but it has definitely grown on me.

    Elbow, Cast of Thousands

    This album completes my collection of music from last year's earwig award winner (earwigner?), Elbow. Working backwards from their most recent album was maybe a route to disappointment, but I assure you these lads appear to be improving and their next album is probably a safe bet.

    Moby, Wait for Me

    Not the most exciting Moby album ever, but deeply attractive in its way and worth buying, despite the fact that I'd probably buy it even if it wasn't. Moby is one of those artists who have brought me so much pleasure over the years that I'll probably buy any album he releases so he can continue buying groceries.

    Tosca, No Hassle

    I really like this band. This album isn't as infectious as some fo their earlier work, but I enjoy it. They could have left the "live" versions out of this release, though. Really, they just double up its play rate on shuffle.

    They Might Be Giants, Here Comes Science

    Another instructive kids album from those Brooklyn lads. This one has plenty of catchy tunes, and teaches even adults how to think of science as fun. At least one song is a good for bucking up your courage to confront anti-science blatherers, and one song convinced me to put it on repeat until I learned it by heart.

    Chess in Concert

    I've been a big fan of this musical since "One Night in Bangkok" was played daily on pop radio. This new version is a bit different in story and song, but the work they've put into the story is great. The only problem is that when you've been humming along to a song for 25 years, even minor changes in timing can make it sound "wrong". This concert could have been better rehearsed, and I don't like the soprano for Florence, but it's better than the Broadway version.

    Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, Silk Road Journeys; Beyond the Horizon

    Further explorations in new instrumental world music from the world's most influential living cellist and his friends. This is "music from Earth" at its best, and should be way more popular than it is.

    The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Time Out

    Take Five is probably one of the best pieces of music ever, and this is a re-issue of the album it was on. Given that Pandora pegs "unusual time signatures" as a key chromosome in my musical genome, this album is instant earwig material from start to finish.

    2010.01.07 at 12:00am EST

    Friday Catblogging

    A textual cat blogging!

    Sharon's cat Mischa is 14 years old, and the oldest of the current batch. He's a siamese, so he's naturally skinny, but he's been getting skinnier and skinnier the past year or two. We've started to give him wet food a couple times a day to supplement the dry food that sits out all day. Trouble is, now we don't see him at the dry food bowls at all any more. We know he's hungry, because he wolfs down the wet food when we put it out, and yells at us if we walk past the wet food bowls without filling them.

    The other day, he yelled at me for wet food, so I grabbed some dry food from the dry food bowl and put it in the wet food bowl. He ate it! He just doesn't want to eat like a normal cat any more, and wants to be treated as special. Now, every time he yells for food, we give him a dozen or so pieces of dry food. A couple times a day we give him wet food. He could eat as much dry food as he wants if he'd just go to the main food bowls. Silly Mischa.

    2010.01.08 at 12:00am EST

    Project Poplar Marudai

    I completed this project back in November, and actually gave it to Sharon back then, but I didn't want to post about it until the holiday for which I officially gave it to her had passed. (Got that?)

    It's a roughly 24" tall marudai made entirely of poplar, with a linseed oil finish. It also has the same hardware as marudai #3, so it can be taken apart for travel. I managed to find a poplar board with some great grain in it, and the angles around the hole and base edges do wonderful things with that grain. The oil finish is great. I also tried using a router to cut the circle and bevel the hole, which worked pretty well.

    2010.01.11 at 12:00am EST


    Back in High School, I was in the Boy Scouts, and we did a lot of hiking and backpacking. We even did a couple of 50 mile backpacking treks. When the weather's nice, I like to walk in the park. If I'm in good shape, and walking without a pack, I can basically walk all day.

    A couple of times, this has been handy. If your car breaks, it's good to know you can just walk to your destination. It's great when on vacation, since I think you experience much more on foot than you can from a vehicle. Personally though, when I'm out "for a good walk", I stride pretty quickly and don't stop. This can exhaust companions if I'm not careful.

    Also, sometimes it gets you into trouble. When we were in Tuscon, I picked out a restaurant for dinner, and on the map it looked close enough to walk to. We somehow beglected to ask at the front desk if this was a good idea. Forunately, Tuscon is a nice place so it's not that the route was dodgy. Unfortunately, Tuscon is a big place so it's not as if the route was short. The map we were looking at only showed major streets, so the complete distance was probably about four miles. Sharon was pretty upset after we'd been walking 45 minutes and seemed likely to be late for our reservation. We wound up calling a cab, being late, but having a wonderful dinner anyway. The cab ride there turned out to only be about another mile. We probably could have walked it in the time we spent waiting for the cab, but those are the breaks.

    2010.01.12 at 12:00am EST

    Pittsburgh is Like This

    On the cab ride back to the hotel after dinner, the cab driver says, "Where are you folks from?" (Cab drivers can always tell who's from out of town, and this line is ANSI standard dialog.) When we say "Pittsburgh", he responds with the response you get about 60% of the time to that, "You're kidding!" It turns out he only lives in Tuscon 7 or 8 months out of the year. He grew up outside of Pittsburgh and lives there when it's warm. Pittsburgh is like this. You bump into Pittsburghers all over, at the most unexpected times.

    2010.01.13 at 12:00am EST


    We saw it; it's pretty good. I concur with the recommendation we were given, that you want to see this in IMAX 3D or not at all. The movie is intended to be big and dimensional, so that's how you should see it. Part of the point of the film is that you really have to experience something from the ground to understand it.

    Anyway, the movie itself is pretty good, too. The script is good, with no dialog I thought was dumb. The story is good; it's not the most original story, as many have pointed out, but it's good. James Cameron continues to be very good at presenting stories. A key to his story telling style is the way he introduces concepts and key objects way before they are used in the plot. Even if the plot relies on a deus ex machina, at least he shows you the machine and its DEUS button when the characters are getting their tour earlier in the film. If a magician is going to pull a rabbit from a hat, he shows you the hat and tells you about the rabbit before he does so. That's called performance. Cameron is good at it.

    This is a good movie. It's not the most surprising or dramatically innovative, but it's very good, and it's totally worth seeing in the best theater you can. You will find it profoundly disappointing to see on video.

    2010.01.18 at 10:00am EST

    Dear Mr. Sam Worthington

    Now that you're a great big Hollywood star, and a certified genre actor with real box office draw, I'd like you to consider portraying Prince Corwin in a film adaptation of Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber.

    I'm just some guy on the Internet, but I think it could be great. Please talk to your agent about it.

    2010.01.19 at 7:20am EST

    Late Night TV

    I don't watch much TV these days, let alone late night TV, but if it comes to choosing sides in the whole NBC debacle, just let point out that "Conan" is middle name. Really. I'm not kidding. The "C." stands for "Conan". I pronounce it like kah-nen, not like ko-nen or ko-nan, but there it is.

    2010.01.20 at 12:00am EST

    Starting a New Contract

    I'm starting a new contract today. Today is just a half day, starting in the afternoon, so that's why this is being posted after 10am. Anyway, it's just a short term (two or maybe three months) contract through an agency, but the rate is good, and it's at what I'm told is a very good company. The commute is not my favorite, out in Robinson Township, but I've worked out that way many times before and know some tricks to avoid traffic.

    So wish me luck! It's a fun task they have planned for me, and I want to do a good job.

    2010.01.26 at 10:10am EST


    Sometimes, before I post something to my blog, I search the web for that thing (and variations on that thing) just to make sure that all my ideas seem fresh and unique to my Internet readers.

    2010.01.30 at 9:15am EST

    Project Southwest Shirt

    I haven't really done any sewing in more than a year, and I was recently in a fabric store when they were having a sale on polyester fleece, so, inspired by our recent vacation in the Southwest, I decided to make a new shirt.

    Southwest Shirt

    In the winter, I'll often wear a large shirt over a long sleeve T-shirt of some kind. I used the pyjama pattern that I've had some success with in the past. It makes a nice loose shirt, and leaves out a lot of the detail that my favorite dress shirt pattern has. The pyjama pattern has a solid cuff with no buttons or placket, and a one-piece collar that's meant to lie open.

    The shirt came out well, and should be a nice loud addition to my usually somber winter wardrobe. I'm particularly proud of how well I got the fabric pattern to match on the pocket. I'm thinking of sewing on some of the patches I bought at the grand canyon to decorate it.

    It was really great to sit down in front of the sewing machine again after so much time. Making this shirt took me most of Saturday, but getting it all done in one day was very fulfilling. I have three or four other sewing projects on my list, so maybe I'll actually get them done before summer.

    2010.02.01 at 12:00am EST


    I got all the way downstairs, standing in front of the door with my coat on, when I realized that I was *expecting* it to be a mistake to leave the house. So I didn't.

    Work from home!

    2010.02.11 at 7:40am EST


    Snowpocalypse? Snowmageddon? Snowschaton? Snownarok? Kali Snowga? Gottersnowmarung? Frasnowkereti?

    Was this predicted in the Snowptic Gospels? Did the Snowraphim deliver this information in the Snowrah, also known as the Five Books of Snowses?

    (Other suggestions from others: Snowpture! Clusterflake! Snowtorious B.I.G.! Kaiser Snoze.)

    2010.02.11 at 10:30am EST

    Square String Braid

    Wow, it's been a while since I did a braid. Actually, I've done a bit of braiding, but it's for a larger project that I can't talk about. Either that, or it's been a bead braid. It's been a while since I just braided to braid. I had the itch over the weekend though, so I decided to try a braid that worked out well before, but that I don't have a lot of experience braiding, the square braid.

    Blue and White Square Braid

    I used the 100% "string" yarn that I've used a few times before, and the square 8H braid from Jacqui Carey's Creative Kumihimo that I've used once before. I used my heaviest tama to pull this stiff yarn into line, which worked very well with this tight braid. To get the alternating stripes, it really was just a matter of making the odd and even threads the two colors I wanted.

    2010.02.16 at 12:00am EST

    Project Arimoto Lamp

    This past Sunday, I took another woodworking class with Mr. Tadao Arimoto. His lesson for us this time ws to build this lamp.

    Arimoto Lamp

    All of the wood is Black Locust that Mr. Arimoto acquired and planed for us. We cut the pieces to length, and cut all the joinery with hand saws and chisels. The upright joins to the base with a wedged mortise & tenon joint. The disk that holds the socket is joined to the cross piece with a sliding dovetail joint. The crosspiece has a dovetail tenon cut in its other end, which fits into an angled mortise in the upright. A wedge presses the angles together to secure the join.

    I'm using a 40 Watt diffuse decorative bulb in the lamp. The shade around the light is shoji paper. The stone weight on the base of the lamp is a piece of Tarentum, PA curbstone originally cut in the 1920s.

    All told, there is about eight hours of my work in the lamp. Most of the work occurred in class, but it needed a couple of final touches once I got it home.

    2010.02.25 at 12:00am EST


    Everybody knows that it costs the US government more than one cent to make a penny coin. To most people, that seems silly. I just realized it's not.

    I mean, we're now heading into the era when things can be easily fabricated at home. You can now buy milling machines and 3D printers that are intended for the home hobbiest. It's only a matter of time until the capabilities of such machines improve to the point where you could forge an unlimited number of coins at home.

    A US coin hasn't had inherent value since the country went off the gold standard. The US dollar, and by extension the coins and bills based on it, is an abstract representation of value. The true value of the dollar is based on the labor, production, and trade of the entities represented by the US government.

    If producing a dollar's worth of coins costs a dollar's worth of materials and labor, then counterfeiting doesn't matter. Every time you make a dollar, you're actually producing a dollar of value. It's just like working for a living.

    If producing a dollar's worth of coins only costs 85 cents, then the value of the dollar can be decreased easily by counterfeit coins. If making a dollar only takes 85 cents of materials and labor, then the dollar you produce only represents 85 cents of value. That's 15 cents of profit until the price inflation you're causing (and the government) catches up with you. Then, your dollar is only worth 85% (or less) of what it was. Good job.

    Conversely, if producing a dollar's worth of coins costs 115 cents, then any counterfeiting actually drives up the value of the dollar. If your process consumes something, you are increasing the price of that thing (remember supply and demand!). (This is how paying workers below the value of their labor makes factory owners rich, but I digress.) You're increasing the value of the dollar with every forgery. Go for it.

    2010.02.26 at 10:00am EST

    Black Hippari Project

    A week or so ago, some friends and I had a sewing project day, and I was able to complete this garb project I'd done the cutting for previously.

    Black Hippari

    It uses some interesting textured black linen that I bought at Pennsic last year. I originally thought I might use it for a pair of monpe, but I eventually decided I don't really need another pair of monpe. On the down side I didn't quite have enough fabric for the hippari. The neckband is a little short. I could have used another fabric to extend the neckband, but I didn't bother. I'm also using the fabric sideways because I don't tend to wear fabric with horizontal stripes. Anyway, it came out OK, and will be good loungewear for Pennsic, so perfection doesn't matter too much here.

    2010.03.01 at 12:00am EST


    If you need proof of Friday's assertions about the value of the dollar being increased by using expensive metals to make US coins, just look at how the US Mint uses over $500 in gold to make coins with a face value of $10.

    2010.03.02 at 12:00am EST


    Ten dollars worth of terrain

    Anybody need any terrain? I was at the Construction Junction the other day, and I saw this great volcano looking thing that's priced at $10. It's made of screwed together pieces of plywood, so it probably wieghs a ton, but that price is great. A little paper mache or something and you could have the base for next year's science fair winner.

    2010.03.08 at 10:30pm EST

    Show Off Braid

    Here's a braid in which I showw off some skilz.

    Braid 82, in bamboo/silk

    The braid for most of this is just a simple 8 strand edo yatsu, but I had 16 strands of yarn on the marudai. Half of the threads are always in the center of the hollow braid, and thus are not visible. At first, I just alternated between the red and white threads. Then, I gradually phased in the red threads one by one, then back out again. I did some more alternating, then finished up with a 16 strand braid I've been wanting to try.

    2010.03.09 at 12:00am EST


    I really like what the James Bond people are doing with the Daniel Craig incarnation of the character. Casino Royale was good, but Quantum of Solace just might be the best Bond movie ever. Make no mistake, QoS is one of the most relentlessly action-oriented films I've ever seen, but it also manages to present James Bond as a deeply tragic figure. His friends and lovers almost invariably die, but his duty spares him little time for reflection. He's introspective enough, though, to recognize his qualities in others and sympathize. It's telling that this film, like CR before it, ends with Bond alone, and not in bed with a lover as previous incarnations always did.

    This movie also completely avoids the silliness present in most bond incarnations. The villains are simply heartless and driven, not cartoonish. Bond uses his trademark puns to cover his feelings of failure, not to express his feelings of superiority. There is no gadgetry to distract from Bond's humanity, nor silly scenes with Q delivering it.

    If you have any interest in Bond at all, but didn't see CR or QoS because you're not sure if anything new can be done with the character, I urge you to watch them.

    2010.03.15 at 7:30am EST

    Light Green Linen Kosode Project

    Bought some more of that great soft linen at Pennsic again last year, this time in light green.

    Kosode in Light Green Linen

    So, I made another kosode. This one has a few problems with it, at least one of which is visible in the picture. I don't have the heart to tear the mistakes out and re-do them, though.

    I cut and edged the panels at the sewing circle a few weeks ago, but I did all the assembly over this past weekend, on Saturday afternoon.

    2010.03.16 at 12:00am EST

    Video Table with Summaries 2010

    Here's a post of videos I've wached so far in 2010, with short summaries for each. Of course these are completely subjective, and you'll only agree with these if you have the same taste as I do. The list is arranged by release year and IMDb index number within year. The table is also sortable if you have JavaScript turned on, just click on a column heading to sort.

    Snake in Monkey's Shadow 1979 Standard Wuxia fare
    Shaolin Temple, The 1982 Somewhat incoherent in the English dub
    Nineteen Eighty-Four 1984 Dead-on presentation of this important work
    The Razor's Edge 1984 Bill Murray adds divine comedy to human tragedy
    Europa, Europa 1991 A drama about the value of lying
    Supercop 1992 Solid action work from Jackie Chan
    The Ice Storm 1997 Seventies suburbanites get their own awful movie about a kid who learns something
    Songs from the Second Floor 2000 What "Children of Men" would be without a hero in it
    Zero Effect 1998 Best modern Holmes homage before 2009
    Intolerable Cruelty 2003 Divorce lawyers get their own screwball comedy
    Wonder Boys 2000 Academics get their own awful movie about a kid who learns something
    Shadow of the Vampire 2000 Great fairy tale about achieving your awful ambitions at any cost
    Children of Men 2006 Wonderous and highly auditory SF tragedy. Must see!
    Gangs of New York 2002 Great fairy tale about burying the past, even when it's still alive
    Finding Nemo 2003 Ichtyologists get their own father and son relationship movie
    Cooler, The 2003 Good Vegas drama about believing in luck
    Lost in Translation 2003 Even one friend can be enough, when you feel you don't have any
    Aviator, The 2004 A sympathetic portrayal of a genius who falls apart
    Alexander 2004 Historians get their own awful movie about a boy who never grows up
    Synechdoche, New York 2008 If you're lucky, somebody tells you what your art is
    Green Street Hooligans 2005 Hooligans get their own awful movie about a kid who learns something
    Brick 2005 Brilliant noir set among teen angst
    Perfume: The Story of a Murderer 2006 Great fairy tale about achieving your awful ambitions at any cost
    District 13 2004 Parkour enthusiasts get their own awful movie about rogue cops who fight drugs
    The Fall 2006 Great bi-level fairy tale about failing at your high ambitions
    Juno 2007 Somehow, this movie makes me care about these people
    There Will Be Blood 2007 Great example of how the story of your life isn't always what you think it is
    9 2009 Ragdolls fight robot animals for the future of the Earh
    Burn After Reading 2008 Good movie about the dangers of trying to be something you aren't
    Invention of Lying, The 2009 A comedy about the value of truth
    Taking Woodstock 2009 Demetri martin nails the lead role in this little movie about a big party
    Extract 2009 Decent movie about realizing you're not the only person in your life
    Men Who stare at Goats, The 2009 I didn't expect it to be this good
    District 13: Ultimatum 2009 Not enough Parkour in this one,

    Please keep in mind that these are just some movies I've watched in the past few months If it seems like my reactions to most of these are somewhat tepid, remember that these are mostly movies I didn't bother to see in theaters when they came out, and have borrowed from a friend rather than even renting them.

    2010.03.17 at 12:00am EDT

    Another Southwest Shirt

    Sharon really liked the "Southwest Shirt" I made for myself a few weeks ago, so I decided to make one for her as well, and give it to her for her birthday.

    Sharon's Southwest Shirt

    This one's a bit smaller of course, and I used a different fleece print because matching clothing in a married couple is corny. The orange in this print is kinda loud, but I know she really likes turqoise blue and robin's egg blue, so I think she'll like this one.

    2010.03.18 at 12:00am EST

    Friday Catblogging

    Mischa and Tashi

    Sharing a sunny spot in the springtime.

    2010.03.19 at 5:30pm EDT

    Heavy Silk Braid

    I wanted to try the keiruko no himo braid from the end of braid number 82 again, plus I got this new silk yarn.

    Red and white silk rings

    First of all, this yarn isn't anything like the silk yarn I used way back when. The fibers are much shorter, so when the tama cause it to un-twist the yarn just frays apart. I used two pieces of yarn in each strand so that it wouldn't un-twist. Combined with the 16 strands of the braiding pattern this is one heavy braid. I managed to find this braid in Jacqui Carey's Creative Kumihimo as 16T. She points out that although the movements are a lot like the edo yatsu braid (CK8F), it has a twill pattern more like the square braid (CK8H).

    2010.03.22 at 12:00am EDT

    Wide Heavy Braid

    After the difficulties I had with that other yarn, I decided to do another braid with the Maju Silk yarn I enjoyed so much in the past. It was a good excuse to try a new braid, so I pulled out my Creative Kumihimo and picked this 16 strand flat braid.

    Wide Heavy SilkBraid

    This braid is about four feet long and about an inch wide. It uses CK16X, which makes this nice, wide, heavy, stretchy braid. It's a fast braid, and I'm sure I'll use it again. I didn't have any problem with single strands of this yarn fraying apart, so I'm fairly certain the other yarn just uses cheaper short fibers.

    2010.03.23 at 4:30pm EDT

    Saw Stuff Box Project

    I was down in the basement working on something else, and using the table saw for that. The table saw usually has a lot of stuff sitting on it. This isn't just general clutter, but stuff specific to the table saw that freqently has to travel with the saw if I wheel the saw outside. Nevertheless, this stuff has to be moved off of the saw even if the saw isn't going outside, before I can use the saw. I've been telling myself for about two years to make some kind of tote for this stuff, so I finally got around to it.

    Saw Stuff Box

    It's made entirely of 1/2" plywood left over from the Toy Chest Project, which made it a very low cost project. The box is mostly held together with glue and wire brads, but I added some wood screws for re-inforcement. It's about 18" long, about 8" wide, and about 9" deep. I drilled out the handle slots with big Forstner bit, which makes cutting overlapping holes a little easier. I might wrap the top part of the handle with twine to make grips.

    I've mentioned before that I love doing these little mini-projects that solve some problem and use up some scrap materials. I have 99 problems, and a huge pile of scrap is one.

    2010.03.29 at 6:30pm EDT

    Index Card Box Project

    So anyway, the project that I was actually working on when I needed to use the table saw was this little box to hold index cards.

    Index Card Box

    Ever since I noticed that my printer could handle sheets of paper as small as index cards, I've been using them for all kinds of things. This means I have a pile of blank cards, and a pile of cards that have things printed on them. This box can hold both stacks right next to the computer, where I often need one or the other.

    It's made of cedar left over from Shoji Project, but I did some resaw work on the table saw to rip it down thickness-wise. I also went a bit overboard on the joinery, making little dadoes and rabbets for each of the joins. I reinforced the glue with brass escutcheon pins, though. The box is finished with a couple coats of boiled linseed oil, just to protect the wood and pop the grain a little bit.

    2010.03.30 at 12:00am EDT

    Board Table Project

    A few weeks ago, I was visiting CJ and I found this great oak board. It had been a support beam or something, and was about 7.5" wide, 6' long, and 1.75" thick. I wasn't sure what I wanted to use it for, but I had to have it. I decided to make a table, which necessitated two more trips to CJ, but here it is.

    Board Table

    The aprons (the pieces just under the table top) are some oak floor boards. The legs are cedar balluster spindles. The bottom shelf is a yellow pine beam. The rocks on the bottom shelf help lower the center of gravity, given the 25 pound weight of the top surface. The design is just a simple country table, though this one has proportions more like a console table. It's a yard long, about 15 inches wide at the top, and about 29 inches tall. It's meant to live out on the porch with the Beam Board Bench, so it's similarly unfinished and unrefined.

    A bunch of things went wrong during the construction, and I managed to sort most of them out by changing plans, but the final result is pretty good.

    2010.03.31 at 12:00am EDT

    Aburatsubo Mini-Project

    No joke, I'm calling this a project even though there wasn't much work involved in it. It's an aburatsubo, a Japanese tool oiler made from a piece of bamboo.

    Aburatsubo, Closed

    It's essentially a big magic marker filled with oil instead of ink. After you use a steel tool, you should clean it and give it a light coating of oil to keep it from rusting. You could oil it just by dripping or spraying some oil on it and wiping it down, or by simply giving it a few swipes with an aburatsubo. Here it is, open.

    Aburatsubo, Open

    The wider, shorter piece of bamboo is just the cap. The longer piece is the body of the aburatsubo. The body has been filled with a rolled up piece of cotton cloth. What I did was fill the cap with oil, then put the body head down into the cap until it soaked up all the oil. I did this a few times until the cloth was well-saturated with oil. You don't want it too soaked, or it will drip and the tools will have much more oil on them than necessary. The basic goal is to leave a light coating.

    2010.04.01 at 12:00am EDT

    Way Behind

    Ever since I've started blogging about my projects, I've been getting further and further behind in keeping my project pages up to date. I've added blog links to the project index for the most recent projects, but project documentation used to be a lot more complete than it's been since I started the blog.

    Eventually, I suppose I should re-write the project pages to be a lot more automated. I started those pages before the advent of easy blogging software. Even now, I'm not using real blogging software for this blog, so each post is a hand-coded HTML file handled by shell scripts. It's a bit labor-intensive, but less annoying and easier for me to understand.

    Anyway, if you're looking for pictures of an old project, it's still easier to start looking at the project index rather than the blog archive.

    2010.04.02 at 12:00am EDT

    Japanese Toolchest Projects

    Back in September, I wanted to make a traditional Japanese toolchest as a gift for a friend. After some web searching, I found these toolchest plans by master woodworker Toshihiro Odate. I made a couple of changes to them before starting, and made a couple more changes during construction, but the chest came out pretty good.

    Regular Japanese Toolchest

    That's all wood construction. Pine boards for the most part, with wooden dowel fasteners. It's about 30" long, 10" high, and 14" wide. It's kinda big and heavy, being made of 1x10 and 1x12 lumber.

    That came out so nice, I decided to make a smaller one for myself. Instead of big lumber, I bought some 1x8 cypress boards, and cut the length down from 30" to 18". That one came out so nice that Sharon wanted one, so I bought some cedar 1x8 and made one for her. The lighter wood and smaller size make these chests a lot more manageable.

    Two Small Japanese Toolchests

    I took details photos of the construction process, including the easy way to do dowel construction, so maybe someday I'll get around to making a real project page for this.

    2010.04.05 at 8:00am EDT

    R.I.P. Mischa Monster Mousketeer

    I posted a couple of months ago about Mischa's declining health, and he only got skinnier and more sickly since then. He took his last trip to the vet this past Monday. We brought him home almost 14 years ago, only a few months after Sharon and I had started living together, so he's very much been a part of our life. He is already missed.

    Some of Mischa's greatest hits.

    2010.04.08 at 9:30am EDT

    Toolchests Project Page Released

    I actually wrote up a real project page for the Toolchest projects! It's amazing! It's astounding! There is a cut list. There are instructions. There are process photos.

    I recommend this project as a good project for beginning woodworkers. All of the cuts are straight, and almost all of them are at right angles. The project is fairly forgiving if your angles aren't all perfect You can do it fancy with pegs like I did, or do it simple with nails. There's no finishing, since this is supposed to be a rustic item. You don't need a lot of tools, you could do it with just a ruler, a pencil, a saw, a hammer, some glue, and some nails.

    2010.04.14 at 12:00am EDT

    Another Flat Wide Braid

    Finished this braid up over the weekend.

    It's another CK16X braid like braid 84, but using different silk yarn and a "WBBW WBWB BWWB BWBW" collor pattern. I started with 6 feet of yarn, and ended up with 4'4" of 3/4"-side braid.

    I really like this braiding pattern. There's only one crossover, and the rest of the movements are easy to keep track of. Even though it has 16 strands, there are still only four moves per iteration, so it's not much more difficult than an 8-strand braid.

    2010.04.19 at 7:10am EDT

    Toolsday: Jack Plane

    I'm starting what will hopefully be a regular feature here on my blog: tool reviews. I've been reading a lot of tool blogs lately and they mostly seem to cover the new and the interesting, which is good for enthusiasts, but not for people who don't know anything about tools. I'm going to cover general tools, just the kind of things a normal person thinking about getting some tools might acquire. Since I've basically built my tool set and wood working ability from the ground up over the past dozen or so years, I maybe have a different perspective.

    Grosz #5 Jack Plane

    This is a plane. Specifically, it's called a "number 5" or a "Jack" plane. It's apparently called a Jack plane because it's a medium-sized plane good for many different tasks, thus a "jack of all trades". I'm told that Stanley produced a wildly popular version of this size, and that the "#5" was their terminology for it. A hand plane would be smaller, and a smoothing plane would be larger. This is "Western" style plane, which is pushed across the wood. "Eastern" style planes are pulled across the wood, and are typically not as complex in construction.

    I resisted getting a plane for many years, because I really didn't know how to use one, and didn't often need one. When I started buying reclaimed wood, and wood that wasn't finished on all sides, (and I had a 20% off coupon for Rockler,) I gave in.

    A plane is used for shaping and smoothing wood. It works by resting on the surface of the wood and holding a sharp blade at a good angle. You slide the plane, and anything that sticks up from the surface gets shaved off. If you adjust the blade downwards, it cuts in a bit, removing some of the wood as it smooths. Since it slices the wood off with a single blade, instead of abrading like with sandpaper or chewing like with a saw, it leaves a very smooth surface. If the blade is sharp and the plane well adjusted, a planed surface may not need any sanding.

    A smaller plane will have a narrower blade and a smaller body. This will enable you to work in smaller spaces and on smaller pieces, but it will be more difficult to keep flat to the surface, and more difficult to smooth large areas with. A larger plane will have a larger footprint, making it easier for you to smooth large areas, but impossible to do detail work.

    A decent plane will not cost you a whole lot of money. You can get a Craftsman or Stanley plane for less than $50, especially if you wait for a sale. If you're lucky, you can find one at a garage or estate sale for very little money. If you want to spend much more, a number of high-end planes are available. Eastern style planes are more difficult to get in the USA, and are typically much more expensive.

    The main difficulty with getting into planing is that you can't just buy a plane and start using it, the way you would with a saw or hammer. Any plane you buy or borrow probably needs to be sharpened and adjusted before you can use it. This might mean buying and learning how to use sharpening equipment, and tuning the parts of the plane with abrasives. I had the sharpening equipment/skills from working with chisels, but learning how to tune my plane properly actually took me a couple of months of trila nd error. Once you et a plane sharp enough and tuned properly, though, it's a joy to use.

    It pays for itself since a power surface planer would cost you one or two hundred dollars, and a jointer for smoothing the edges of boards would cost you about that, too. Having a small hand tool that fills both jobs for a small fraction of the money is definitely the frugal way. It will also enable you to buy wood that is not finished on all sides, which is usually cheaper as well. Plus, you'll use less electricity and feel all "hard core woodworker".

    [All 'Toolsday' Posts]

    2010.04.20 at 8:20pm EDT

    Japanese Take Out

    Plenty of places serve sushi for take out. Heck, most supermarkets do, these days. But in my mind, the measure of a good place is if they have Chicken Katsu, Mmm, chicken katsu. The place I got lunch today had in its bento list Chicken Katsu, so I got it. It came with the breaded and fried chicken patty, served on a bed of shredded cabbage, with a lemon wedge, and a separate container of katsu sauce; a scoop of rice; a California roll; wasabe and ginger; a separate container of soy sauce; a small pile of edamame (blanched soy beans); and a side salad with soy-ginger dressing. Mmm.

    Those of you out on the West coast probably can pick this kind of thing up at the supermarket, but it's still kind of special here in Pittsburgh.I got this at a place up in Cranberry near where I'm working right now. The place is called "Yama Sushi", which means "Mountain Sushi", which is a little confusing. I'm looking forward to trying some of the other less common things on their lunch menu, like their Udon and Donburi. Just don't get those "Yama Oysters"; they're not what you think.

    2010.04.21 at 4:30am EDT

    Birthday Present

    Sharon bought me a birthday present back when it was my birthday, but I only received it this past weekend. The reason was that the gift was a kumihimo workshop with Rodrick Owen, one of the world's foremost authorities on braiding. Sharon attended, too, so we shared a room with nine other braiders for two days, doing nothing but kumihimo for eight hours a day. It was terrific. He's a great teacher and personable conversationalist. He gave us all instruction, tips, and pointers to improve our skills. Some of us were working on marudai, some on takadai, and some on kakudai.

    Probably five of us were braiding on marudai, and I was probably the most experienced with my 1.5 years. Consequently, he started me out on a 16-strand braid on Saturday, and moved me on to a 24-strand braid on Sunday. The others did 8-strand braids for much of Saturday, and moved on to 16-strand on Sunday. He really pushed everybody to work a little harder and aim a little higher than we maybe thought we were ready for. It was a gentle push, but firm.

    I learned a lot, even thought I only made two braids in 16 hours. The braids he had me doing introduced me to some new moves, and had me doing some pattern reversals. Most of my braids follow a single pattern over and over, which can yield things like chevrons. If you alternate chevrons and reversals, you start to get diamonds and other complex arrangements. Definitely a step forward, and the patterns were complex enough that they were not something I would have tried on my own.

    The workshop was held at a shop in Cortland, Ohio called The Lacemaker that specializes in lacemaking, weaving, needlework, and braiding. We met the proprietor at Pennsic last year, and she told us then about the workshop. Rodrick travels internationally, and it's great of her to bring him so close to home for us.

    We decided that commuting out to the class was going to be too hard on us, so we spent Friday and Saturday nights at a bed and breakfast up the road from the shop called Dream Horse Guesthouse. It was a great place to stay and the hosts were awesome. We recommend it if you want to stay in that area.

    2010.04.26 at 12:30pm EDT

    Toolsday: Tape Measure

    When I started thinking about it, I realized that starting this feature with a review of an esoteric tool like a Jack plane was probably a bad idea. Almost nobody starts their tool collection with a plane. If I was starting over today, I'd start with a tape measure.

    25-foot Tape Measure

    This is the 25' tape measure I keep in the shop, which is probably only one of about six different retractable tape measures we have in the house. Everything starts with measuring, so a decent tape measure is one of the most important tools you can own. Even if you're not going to make anything, you'll probably need one at some point when you are looking at places to live, or at objects to keep there, like furniture. If you are going to make something, measuring your material before you buy it, and measuring your cut parts before assembly, will save you tons of trouble later. It all starts with measuring.

    A 25 foot tape is long enough to measure the size of most rooms. It's definitely long enough for most lumber and furniture. This size is a bit bulky, so if you want something that fits in a pocket, you might get just a 12 foot measure. Since longer tapes are usually wider, though, a 25 foot model will be more durable. I'm a definite fan of metal cases for the same reason. I've seen too many busted open plastic tape measures. Most of the other bells and whistles you can get are not necessary, but a good firm lock with a smooth operation is imperative.

    You don't have to spend a lot, but while you're shopping you should compare the accuracy of the tape you buy to those around it. Some bargain brands really don't "measure up".

    Lastly, as you can see, this one is marked with my initials. Once people find out you have a tape measure, they will want to borrow it. If you ever want to see it again, make sure you mark it.

    [All 'Toolsday' Posts]

    2010.04.27 at 12:00am EDT

    Rodrick Owen's Diamond Braid

    Here's the braid I did on Saturday in the workshop led by Rodrick Owen. It's a 16-tama braid, with each tama holding a doubled-strand of cotton embroidery floss.

    Workshop Braid 1

    The braid starts off with a true blunt end, and progresses with a square braid. Mr. Owen taught me this braid off the cuff, but it s a 16-tama variation on CK8D. Then, it switches to a 16-tama chevron braid that he is thinking of putting in his next book. After that, it switches back and forth between the chevron braid and a reverse-chevron braid to create the diamond pattern. This braid took me all day, and it is full of awful errors. The last two iterations even get some of the thread order wrong so that the braid inverts front and back for the last few inches. Yuck. That's why it's called a workshop, though, I guess. If everything went well it would be a funshop.

    2010.05.03 at 12:00am EDT

    Toolsday: Four-in-Hand File

    For shaping wood by hand, you can use sand paper and plenty of elbow grease, or switch to a file. If you're building up a toolbox from nothing, you might be confused by the wide variety of files and not know where to start. I'd recommend starting with one of these.

    Four-in-Hand, curved side

    Four-in-Hand, flat side

    This file is double sided and double ended, which gives it the name "four-in-hand". One side is flat, and the other side is curved. One end of each side is a coarse rasp, and the other end is a medium file. You obviously need to wear gloves while using it, becuase there's no place smooth to hold it. If you're doing a variety of shaping on wood or metal, though, it speeds things up considerably to have all these options. You can also use the edges to dig into ridges.

    [All 'Toolsday' Posts]

    2010.05.04 at 12:00am EDT

    "Kyou Kara Gumi" Braid

    Here's the braid I did on Sunday in the workshop led by Rodrick Owen. It's a 24-tama braid, with each tama holding a doubled-strand of cotton embroidery floss.

    Kyou Kara Gumi, in cotton

    This braid is from Makiko Tada's book, "Kumihimo: The Essence of Japanese Braiding", where it's on page 36. I don't own 24 matching tama, so I had to borrow some from the Tracy, the owner of the store where the wokshop was held, The Lacemaker. This braid basically took me all day. It only has a few minor errors in it.

    Each full iteration of the braid has 68 individual steps, though some of those are repeast of earlier steps. I tried to use embroidery floss that was nearly the same color as the illustration, but my selection was limited. I'm sure with some more carefully-chosen colors it would not be as garish.

    This pattern has a great 3D texture, and an interesting color pattern. It uses a lot of material, though. I started with more than a yard of floss on each bobbin, but the finished braid is only about 18 inches long!

    I finished the braid off by pairing up the colors and making smaller 4-tama braids with them. This is challenging, since you're trying to work six individual braids on top of each other. It's a lot fancier than just gathering all the threads into a single tassel, though.

    2010.05.05 at 12:00am EDT

    21st Century Phone

    Even before the recent buyout offer from HP, I had decided to give up on Palm. The trouble is that I had decided to jump to Android, and didn't want to switch carriers away from AT&T. This changed when I realized that AT&T finally has an Android phone that is comparable to Verizon's Motorola Droid. It's called the Motorola Backflip, and now I have one. In fact, I am typing this here blog post with it, in Emacs, on a UNIX server, over SSH, via 3G. This thing is like a little laptop. It's taking some getting used to, but it operates so logically, and so close to the way I want it to, that I will definitely expend the effort.

    2010.05.0t at 5:00pm EDT

    Idea I might steal

    Here's an idea I might steal for a project of my own, wooden boxes that look like geta, and have kumihimo hanao.

    "Geta-bako" by Tanabe Furniture and Design

    This is just such a sweet way to combine woodworking and kumihimo into a single project. The boxes themselves are fairly simple, and the kumihimo becomes a handle.

    2010.05.06 at 12:00am EDT

    Mobile Photoblogging

    Self Portrait 2010.05

    I took this picture, ftp'ed it up to the web server, ssh'ed in to the server, and composed this post all entirely from the new phone. Of course, using Emacs over 3G is kind of a 9600 baud experience.

    2010.05.07 at 12:00am EDT

    Toolsday: Gloves

    If you want to reduce the risk of injury in the shop, the single most important piece of safety equipment is a good pair of work gloves. Now, partly that's due to statistics. There are simply more risks of injury to your hands. I don't want to discount the importance of eye, ear, foot, body, head, and torso protection, but most parts of your body are just not put into the kind of danger that your hands are put into nearly constantly in the shop. Cuts, abrasions, solvents, shocks, and punctures are all distinct possibilities, and can be direct results of what you're trying to do, not the collateral effect of some other accident.

    Some people don't recommend wearing gloves while using high RPM tools like router tables, saws, and drills. The danger is that the glove material may get caught by the spinning parts, resulting in your hand getting pulled into the tool instead of just cut. With hand tools, though, gloves provide more protection than danger, so I recommend them.

    My Gloves

    I searched for a while before I finally found a brand of gloves that I really like. As a bonus, these are relatively cheap gloves from Harbor Freight. I see gloves all the time that cost thirty, forty, or fifty dollars. Those gloves may provide even more protection, but they don't fit me as well.

    These gloves fit my hands closely, without much extra fabric that would allow my fingers to slide within the glove. They actually fit closely enough that I can pull nitrile gloves on over them when I am working with solvents or oils. The grippy spots on the fingers help grab things, and the knitted fabric actually provides more cut protection than leather. There's extra fabric on wear points, and some absorbent fabric along the thumbs for wiping up sweat. The stretchy fabric across the back and around the wrist provides the snug fit, and velcro closures keep the glove securely on my hand.

    Once I found gloves that fit well, I went back to the store and bought three more pairs. I recommend you get at least one extra pair so you're not out of luck if one pair becomes dirty or damaged.

    [All 'Toolsday' Posts]

    2010.05.11 at 12:00am EDT

    Blue Doubled Diamond Braid

    So, I really liked the braiding pattern for braid 87, but I didn't feel that I'd gotten enough experience with it in the workshop, or that I'd used materials that really did it justice.

    Blue Doubled Diamond Braid

    In addition, I doubled the steps of the pattern, creating this 'doubled diamond' braid. The thread is silk thread I bought at the Lacemaker, bundled to 20 threads per strand. There are 16 strands in the braid, though it's very thick so it's only about a half inch wide. I started with 12 feet of thread on each tama, so the braid is 7 feet 8 inches long. I think I have have plenty of experience with this braiding pattern now. It's a bit difficult getting the tension right, but it's just beautiful.

    2010.05.12 at 12:00am EDT

    5 Second Films

    Widespread use of video on the web is only about five years old, but already we're starting to see people take it in unexpectedly wonderful directions. 5 Second Films uses video to create a comic strip experience. Not all of the strips are hilariously funny, but there's a new one every weekday. Given the enormous time constraints, they often have to go straight to the punch with unsafe for work dialog or themese, so view these from home and keep them away from children. Sometimes they'll post a few videos on a single theme, like with this series about a guy who steals jokes, but most days it's just a quick bite of sketch comedy, like this one about letting fresh air into a stuffy room. In any case, even if you don't like today's video, you haven't wasted very much time, unless one strikes your fancy, in which case you might watch the video several times, like I did with this one about a guy who's late for work.

    2010.05.13 at 12:00am EDT

    Raised Bed In Bloom

    Several years ago, I built a raised flower bed for Sharon. She's been planting irises in it since then, and here's what it looks like today:

    Raised Bed With Irises

    There are dozens of irses blooming in this bed. Some of them are "grapeys", which are an heirloom breed that smell like grapes. (Modern hybrids have little aroma.) Those bloomed last week for the most part, but there are still a few in there. Most of them at this point are "mauveys".

    It's worth noting that there are dozens more irises out front and next to the house. I think there are going to be a lot of bulbs looking for homes this fall.

    2010.05.14 at 10:30am EDT

    New Feature: Fragments

    Boy, that "Twitter" sure is popular with the kids these days. I can see the appeal of writing tiny blog posts with no context or anything, so I've decided add a new feature to my blog. Those of you who only read via the RSS feed or one of its derivatives will have missed the Fragment at the top of the index page for much of the last week.

    The Fragment is added via a much simpler shell script than the blog posts, and the fragmentary posts themselves are just plain text files with non-special names. The index page pulls the most recent fragment, or you can view the Fragment index/archive or subscribe to the Fragment RSS feed.

    We'll see how long I can keep this up. It's a lot easier to write a tiny text file, but I'm not sure how often I'll have something to say in that format. I can use the same mechanism to add recent pictures, and might do that for special events like Origins or Pennsic. We'll see.

    2010.05.17 at 12:00am EDT

    Toolsday: Ryoba Pullsaw

    Here's a slightly more interesting tool, one that might even be unusual for some of you, a Japanese "ryoba" pull saw.

    Ryoba Saw

    This is a cheap but serviceable ryoba I bought at the Home Despot for about $25. You can spend a lot more on a nicer pullsaw, but this is a sturdy useful saw from a good brand, Marples (now owned by Irwin).

    The first thing you'll notice is that the saw has a straight handle. Most Western saws have "pistol" grips that keep your grip perpendicular to the line of movement, and only have room for one hand on the grip. This saw lines up the hand, arm, and saw, and has plenty of room for a two-handed grip when doing heavy cutting.

    If you ever get to use one of these, you'll notice right off that it cuts on the pull stroke instead of the push stroke. This means that the blade is under tension while its cutting, which results in less bending of the saw and straighter cuts. If you have ever had a hard time using a Western saw without bending the blade, this style of saw might be for you.

    That's not to say that the you can't bend the saw. The blade is actully much thinner than a Western saw, which enables you to cut curves when you want to, and hold part of the saw flush with the surface fo the wood while bending the handle up and away.

    Not all Japanese saws are shaped like this with two cutting edges, but that's what makes this one a ryoba. The edge with the larger teeth is intended for rip cutting. The edge with the smaller teeth is intended to cross-cutting and detail cutting. So, no more need to buy and pack two saws when one has all the teeth you need.

    The blade is removable. This means its replaceable, but also that it can be packed ina much smaller bag. The blade is about a foot long, and so is the handle, so a Western saw this long would need a two foot toolbox. This one can be pulled apart and carried in a much smaller space.

    Especially if you're buying your first saw ever, I recommend buying a quality ryoba.

    [All 'Toolsday' Posts]

    2010.05.18 at 12:00am EDT


    One thing I'll never get used to in Pennsylvania is the way people campaign for candidates right outside polling places. They don't just post signs, either. At my polling place, they stand right outside the door, trying to hand you flyers and verbally campaigning. Where I grew up in NJ, this kind of activity was illegal. You weren't even allowed to post signs within 500 feet or so of the polling place. In my mind, electioneering is one step away from voter intimidation, and it bothers me, even when I'm already planning to vote for the candidate it is promoting.

    2010.05.18 at 10:00am EDT

    Silk Yatsu Sen Braid

    I had some silk thread left over from the doubled diamond braid, but not enough for another big project, sp I decided to do this braiding pattern that I haven't done in a while.

    Silk Yatsu Sen

    This braid has eight strands braided in the yatsu sen flat braid pattern of eight strands. Each strand of the braid has 16 threads in it. If I'd used this silk in braid 90, it would have had 24 threads per strand instead of just 20. Having only two strands of each color in this braid gives it a nice pebbly pattern. I started with six feet of thread on each bobbin, and the finished braid is about four feet long. You'll also note is has a tru bluint end at the start, another trick I learned from Rodrick Owen.

    2010.05.19 at 12:00am EDT

    For Sale: Cat

    Whenever one of Sharon's cats does something reprehensibly catlike, Sharon threatens to sell that cat for a penny.

    This morning, as I was preparing to leave the house for work, I heard a suspiciously muffled 'meow' from somewhere in the living room. I started hunting, and soon discovered that the little white cat had somehow gotten behind the stereo cabinet and was stuck there. She tried to climb out over the top, so when I get home I have to pull the whole thing away from the wall and see if she unplugged any wires. Eventually, she went around to the side of the cabinet, so I pulled away the panel that I installed there specifically so that she couldn't get behind the stereo cabinet. This allowed her to escape. She's lucky I noticed before I left, or she could have been stuck back there all day.

    Silly kitty.

    2010.05.24 at 11:00am EDT

    Toolsday: Hammer

    Once you learn how to cut things apart with a saw, the next step in woodworking is learning to bang them together with a hammer.

    The Hammer is a hammer

    You can get some fancy hammers these days, but I like the classic wood-handed claw hammer. You can buy this kind of hammer at any hardware retailer for ten dollars or less.

    The round blunt end of the head is for hitting things. The curvy, pointy, bifurcated end is for prying things. For instance, use the blunt end to pound a nail into wood; use the claw end for prying a nail out of wood. You can also use this type fo hammer to strike chisels, break things, and lever surfaces apart.

    For best results, use the full length of the handle. I see a lot of people "choking up" on the handle and holding it right below the head. This might provide a little more control of the head, but it provides a lot less mechanical advantage. Holding the hammer down twoards the pommel part gives you more force when prying, and greater accelration when striking. More practice will give you the control you need.

    Not much to say about hammers, but they should be on any list of basic tools. I've seen some lists of this type recently on tool blogs, and they offten forget to include the humble hammer.

    [All 'Toolsday' Posts]

    2010.05.25 at 12:00am EDT

    Phone Wire Braid

    Here's a braid I did with the wires out of a modular phone cord:

    Square Braid of Phone WIre

    Why? Because I was wondering how it would come out. As it happens, I think it's kinda nice. This square braid is very tight, so it curves the wires nicely. The structure of the braid really stands out, and the colors are sharp. The modular plug is glued on, not crimped.

    2010.05.27 at 10:00pm EDT

    Dr. Fun

    Dr. Fun, 1995

    On the wall of the copy room of the place I am working is taped this Dr. Fun cartoon from 1995. Every few years, I'm reminded that I've forgotten about Dr. Fun, one of the first webcomics ever. Seeing a Dr. Fun cartoon posted like this in 2010 is like seeing one of those line printer Snoopy calendars for 1975 hanging in a copy room in 1990.

    2010.05.28 at 12:00am EDT

    Toolsday: Pencil

    Anybody will tell you that you need a marking tool in your workshop, but the option field is wide. You could have a good old carpenter's pencil, a schoolroom pencil, an ink marker, a crayon, a marking knife, a tungsten scribe, or any number of things. This here is my favorite, the Staedtler Mars technico 780 C leadholder.

    Drafter's Lead Holder

    Technically, this is not a pencil, but a lead holder. It doesn't advance the lead with a click, like a mechanical pencil does. The button at the back end just loosens the claws that hold the lead, so you can extend or retract the lead as needed. This mechanism has fewer moving parts and doesn't wear out like mechanical pencils tend to. It uses thick 2mm leads (most mechanical pencils use leads), so the lead is durable and holds a heavy point. You can sharpen it to a razor point if you need to, though, so it makes accurate marks. The body of the technico is metal, so it is durable, thin as a wooden pencil, and protects the lead within. The metal clip holds it in a pocket, and keeps it from rolling off a workbench.

    A pencil like this will run you between five and ten dollars, which is the down side, but it usually comes with extra leads and a high-quality eraser. I bought mine at the office supply store, and you want to look with the drafting tools like T-squares and compasses.

    [All 'Toolsday' Posts]

    2010.06.01 at 9:26am EDT


    Yesterday, I walked out of a Staples office supply store without the product I had selected and was waiting to pay for, because the so-called "retail establishment" could not take my money efficiently.

    First, the cashier at line 2 was serving a customer, but didn't have his light on, so I got in line 1. Then, the cash register at line 1 wasn't able to accept the check of the person in front of me, so this cashier moved to register 3, walking away from a person with cash. Meanwhile, a person had gotten into line 2, but I wasn't going to waste another second on that line 1/3 cashier, so I got into line 2. Then, after the cashier at line 2 asks the person in front of me (who got in line at a register with no light on) if she has a discount card. She doesn't have the card, but after trying two separate phone numbers he hands her a form to fill out while I wait. Forget it. I walked out.

    Staples, you and Best Buy are now in the same club, the club of retail stores that just don't sell things very well.

    2010.06.02 at 12:00am EDT

    Letting People In

    Most cities have certain intersections or merge points where basically the only way for somebody to get in from the direction that has the yield or stop sign is for somebody from the dominant traffic flow to let that person in. Pittsburgh has a lot of these. Many of them function on a "take your turn" system of one for one merging. People in Pittsburgh are very good at this, and polite about it in general. Of course, there is the occasional opportunist. Most people will "punish" such a person, making them wait longer if possible. Over time, each driver developes a set of standard operating procedures that guide their behavior. Here's one of mine, dedicated to the guy in the BMW who pulls into traffic from his sidestreet at the Slagheap Arms every morning: "If you want me to let you in, you should stop at the stop sign first."

    2010.06.03 at 8:30am EDT

    Really, Sunoco?

    My gasoline purchase.

    Really, Sunoco? In a twelve gallon tank? When my gas light *just* came on? Really? This is how you reward people who decide not to patronize the BP that's right across the street? Really?

    2010.06.04 at 12:00am EDT

    Nanofictionary Finals 2009

    I shot these videos last year at the annual Origins game expo in Columbus Ohio, while running the tournament for Looney Labs' card game, Nanofictionary. I actually made the video files last July, but I just uploaded them to YouTube this past Saturday.






    Lee was the winner! Thanks everybody for playing, all the stories were entertaining, and "Hobo help us!" became something of a catch-phrase.

    2010.06.07 at 12:00am EDT

    I phone for what?

    Back two years ago, I commented on Apple's decision to call the second-generation iPhone the "iPhone 3G". I guess they're counting the "iPhone 3Gs" as a full generation, because the new iPhone is called the "iPhone 4". Once again, teh gooPhiness.

    2010.06.07 at 1:45am EDT

    Toolsday: Mini Bolt Cutters

    If you do a lot of tinkering and improvised building, you probably use a lot of "hanger wire". This wire is the kind of hard, thick wire they make dry cleaners' shirt hangers out of, and that's where I get most of the hard wire I use. This stuff is thick enough and hard enough that it's great to make hooks and small tools out of, but it's a bear to cut with regular wire cutters. I used to have a pair of linesman's pliers with hard wire cutters at the sides like fencing pliers often do, but those were sadly stolen. How, I use these mini bolt cutters.

    Mini Bolt Cutters

    Standard bolt cutters are large enough and heavy enough to cut through padlock bolts, construction bolts, and most chain. Their heavy cutters and extreme leverage make easy work out of something that would otherwise take a saw to get through.

    These "mini" bolt cutters are only about nine inches long, but they still use the compound hinge of a standard bolt cutter to add leverage to the cut. The jaws only open to admit about an eighth of an inch of material for cutting, but they cut even hard wire easily and smoothly. Heavy gauge copper wire, which is relatively soft but often awkward to cut quickly, is also no problem.

    This pair is from H.K.Porter, which I think is a Crescent brand. They cost about $15 and are available at most good hardware stores.

    [All 'Toolsday' Posts]

    2010.06.08 at 12:00am EDT

    Android Eeyore

    So, the 21st Century Phone runs Google's Android operating system. This operating system has a logo, and enthusiasts toss this logo around quite a bit. I've started following several Android themed blogs and fora. Now, I have a "personal brand" that's kind of established, so merely emblazoning my forum posts with a standard logo seemed appropriate, but neither did most of my current marks. New artwork was called for!

    Eeyore Android

    Good geeky fun.

    2010.06.09 at 12:00am EDT

    Debts of Artitude

    In yesterday's post I showed you some artowrk I put together, but I didn't talk about my inspirations for it. Here are two things that directly contributed to that design.

    The first is Andrew Bell and his whimsical vinyl toys based on the Android logo.

    The second is this new Eeyore "Pook-A-Looz" toy from Disney. They have a whole line of these stylized interpretations of their famous characters. I really like these designs, even if they're from Disney.

    2010.06.10 at 12:00am EDT


    Right now I'm commuting from the very eastern edge of the city through downtown and up into the Northern suburbs. Normally, my commute is boredom punctuated with moments of terror, but I have to admit that watching a dog stick its head out the window of a car into the driving rain made me smile and reminded me how awesome life can be.

    2010.06.11 at 12:00am EDT


    This post is the 500th post to this blog. It's taken me less than three years to get to this milestone, and I'm strangely proud of reaching it. When I first started blogging, I wasn't sure if I could keep up with it, but I've been able to make at least a post a week almost every week. Most of the rest of the site has suffered for all of the attention that I focus here instead, but at least the information is getting up on the site somehow.

    My site statistics tell me that I have a couple dozen people who subscribe through aggregator services, and there are probably another dozen at least who read regularly. I realize a few dozen readers doesn't make me the most famous person in the world, but it's cool to know there are some people at least scanning the headlines of my life as they go by.

    Good to know you're out there!

    2010.06.14 at 12:00am EDT

    Toolsday: Chip Brush

    Here's a humble tool that I couldn't do without, the "chip brush".

    A small paint brush

    This is just one of those cheap disposable paint brushes you can get at the harware store for a dollar or so. This one was used for painting at some point, but its main purpose now is to clear away waste material. You can often blow away small amounts of dust, but you can't do that every thiry seconds for an hour without getting tired. Blowing also doesn't work on larger chips and saw waste. Besides, who knows what you're inhaling when you huff and puff like like, and you should be wearing a dust mask anyway.

    Having a chip brush around enables you to quickly and gently remove waste material from surfaces and slots. They're also handy for getting dust out of tighter spaces when you're cleaning up afterwards. A chip brush doesn't have to be anything special, as long as it brushes. I use this one all the time. The loop of twine reminds me not to throw this beat up old thing away, and helps me hang it on a pegboard hook.

    By the way, I love this kind of paint brush. I have some nicer brushes for final finishing, but I almost always use this kind of brush for early coats, or anything with lots of pigment. They're supposed to be disposable, but with careful cleaning I can usually use one for a while. Even if I can't get it clean after use, or if it starts to deteriorate, I can toss one out without feeling like I wasted money. I bought a big bulk box at Rockler a while back, and it's handy to be able to have a stock of brushes around for when I decide I need a fresh one.

    [All 'Toolsday' Posts]

    2010.06.15 at 11:00am EDT

    Ring Around the Restaurant

    I hate to admit it, but when I'm working, unless I can remember to make a sandwich every morning, I usually wind up eating fast food for lunch. Often, to save time, I'll get food from the drive through. I've noticed that many fast food restaurants these days force you to drive completely around the restaurant at least once during your visit. What's up with that? Sometimes, given the limited approaches of pad restaurants in new developments, you wind up circumnavigating the restaurant twice. First you have to drive past the restaurant to get to an entrance, then you have to drive around the restaurant to get to the window, then you have to drive past the restaurant again as you exit. I'm not sure what the point is. More time to stare at the building and its ad-laden windows?

    2010.06.16 at 12:00am EDT

    Awesome is as Anderson Does

    "Art rock" icon Laurie Anderson is an overall awesome person, an artist of many kinds. I just got an announcement from her mailing list that she and her husband, Lou Reed, are king and queen of this year's Coney Island Mermaid Parade.

    That is awesome.

    She also has a new album coming out next week. Awesome. It's difficult to overestimate the impact Laurie Anderson has had on my musical tastes and on the way I look at the world.

    2010.06.17 at 12:00am EDT

    What's Your Damage?

    Bumper Damage

    Only about 15% my fault.

    2010.06.18 at 1:00pm EDT

    I Am Your Father

    Apologies to Messrs. Schulz and Lucas

    2010.06.20 at 4:15pm EDT

    Who is Sarah Palin?

    Who is she, and why is she in my national news? Is she a national politician? Only if you count failed politicians. Is she a politician of any kind? Not any more; she resigned her governorship under controversy. Is she a candidate for anything? Not right now she isn't. Does she have a TV show or something? I think she tried that, but I think the ratings stunk. Is she a business leader? No. Is she a diplomat? No. I guess she has a book, but her promotional book tour is already over, isn't it? Why is anybody paying attention to her? Why is the news payying attention to her? Will I get on the news for this blog posting? No. Is that unfair? No, because I am nobody. Does she get on the news for two word Twitter posts? Yes. Why? I don't know. Third base.

    2010.06.21 at 4:30pm EDT

    Toolsday: Bench Vise

    I resited getting one of these for a while, but after using one during a class, I ran right out and bought one.

    Bench Vise

    A large bench vise like this can hold work pieces in ways that are difficult or impossible with clamps. Not only can the vise be used to hold objects directly, the slide-up tab (the wing nut secured item) on a vise like this can be used in conjunction with bench dogs, creating a clamp the size of your work bench. This vise is not installed correctly to let me do that, but it's a possibility for my next workbench. I could also attach a dog to the top of the moving jaw of the vise to approximate this in the mean time.

    The vise doesn't come with the wood jaws, I had to install those myself. Large, soft jaws are vital for a vise. You want to be able to really crank them down for a firm hold, without damaging the work piece. I made mine tall enough to match the top surface of my bench.

    One feature you might not notice from the picture is a "quick release" lever in the lower right. I can pull up on this lever to disengage the screw drive so that the jaws just slide open and closed. This makes large adjustments go quickly, instead of cranking and cranking.

    These jaws actually open wide enough that I can put a nominally 8" wide board in there for planing. That comes in super-handy, let me tell you. The workbench is so heavy that it's pretty immobile.

    A vise like this can be pretty expensive, but if you're willing to take a risk on cheap Chinese stuff, this one is available at Harbor Freight for about $60.

    [All 'Toolsday' Posts]

    2010.06.22 at 12:00am EDT

    Origins 2010

    The Lab

    The Booth

    2010.06.24 at 10:00am EDT

    Twenty-First International Icehouse Tournament

    The first International Icehouse Tournament was held Memorial Day weekend in 1989. Today is the twenty-first IIT, because we had year without a tournament. Ever since the the twelfth IIT, I've been designing commeorative statshpads for each tournament, and printing them for tournament participants. As with last year, you can download a PDF of the design and print it for your enjoyment. It's slightly different from the actual tournament pads, and here it is. (Follow the link to download.)

    Commemorative XXI IIT stashpad

    If you turn and flip the paper, you can print this PDF four times on a single 8.5"x11" piece of cardstock to get four stashpads,

    2009.02.26 at 12:00am EDT


    I dropped off my car today to have the scrape damage fixed from my minor accident two weeks ago. My insurance company (Progressive) helped me arrange for a rental car to use while my car is in the shop, which is covered by my insurance. All that went very smoothly, until it came time for the rental.

    The rental company is Enterprise, and they have a nice feature where they will meet you at the body shop with your rental car. The problem with this feature is that they assume that even when you have an appointment, you will miss it, so they don't even leave their office until you call to ask where they are. If you are polite, you'll wait until ten or fifteen minutes after the appointed time to call them, which means they will arrive 25 or 30 minutes late.

    Now I (obviously) understand how annoying it is to sit around waiting for somebody who can't make an appointment, and I understand that they typically have many more appointments in a day than I do and stand to waste more time waiting, but how is it "good customer service" to assume your customers won't make their appointments?

    2010.07.01 at 10:30am EDT

    Motorola Backflip Tip

    One thing that has been frustrating me with my new phone is the lack of less-than ("<") and greater-than (">") keys on the Motorola Backflip's keyboard. These characters are available in the soft on-screen keyboard, but some applications (like ConnectBot SSH) block access to it. I do some HTML work over SSH from my Backflip using ConnectBot, and I wrote special editor macros to insert these characters. I can delete them now!

    Maybe every other Backflip user in the world knows this, but I just discovered yesterday that while alt-K inserts an open parentheses, shift-alt-K inserts a less-than symbol. To get a greater than symbol, shift-alt-L.

    As well, shift-alt-A inserts a pipe ("|") symbol and shift-alt-Z inserts an underscore ("_"). It just never occurred to me before yesterday to try using shift and alt at the same time!

    My friend Eric writes:

    Useful to Cliq owners, too. Thanks. I'm so grateful, I even write you an email as a workaround for your lack of comment functionality.

    Shift-Alt . = ...
    Shift-Alt N = \
    Shift-Alt F = [euro]
    Shift-Alt J = ^

    Is this an undocumented feature, or a case of a Tech Writer failing to RTFM?

    Those tips don't work on the Backflip, but I've included them for any other Cliq users.

    I do read manuals for new electronics (typically while the battery is charging), but don't remember seeing this. I just checked the online (PDF) version of the Backflip User's Guide, and the "Typing Tips" section (page 20) that talks about modifier keys doesn't mention using Alt and Shift modifers simultaneously.

    2010.07.02 at 10:30am EDT

    Nanofictionary Finals 2010

    I shot these videos this year at the annual Origins game expo in Columbus Ohio, while running the tournament for Looney Labs' card game, Nanofictionary. I actually uploaded them to YouTube within a month this time!.





    Lee was the winner! Thanks everybody for playing!

    2010.07.05 at 12:00am EDT

    Toolsday: Chisels

    One of my favorite purchases of the last year, my wood chisels.

    Six widths of wood chisel

    After taking my first class with Mr. Arimoto I felt confident enough in the use and maintenance of chisels to finally purchase my own set. Luckily for me, this six-pieces set was on clearance at the store for just $25! That's insane, because these chisels are normally about $10 each. Anyway, I bought them.

    If you can't find good chisels on sale anywhere, and can't afford a big set, the two sizes I use most are the one quarter inch and three quarter inch chisels. The small one is needed for detail work and cleanup, and the medium one is a good balance between power and control. Any wider, and you'll have to hit it pretty hard with the hammer to get it to cut. With narrower chisels, unless you're working with hard wood or trying to remove too much at once, you should be able to cut with firm hand pressure on the handle.

    I highly recommend a class or something before you use chisels. They're tricky, and dangerous, and you need to know what you're doing before you start. They really need to be sharp, and they really need to be used properly, but once you have that down there are things you can achieve quickly with hammer and chisel that are difficult and slow with power tools. Now that I have them, I use them all the time for little things and for big things.

    This set is very rugged. See how the "tang" of the blade goes all the way through the handle, so that taps on the back cap with the hammer transmit force directly to the blade edge? See the nice thick blades so that the edge has more metal backing it up and stays sharp longer? I love these chisels. I've tried using traditional Japanese chisels, but the higher quality blades are actually a bit more brittle than these manufactured ones. I've actually ruined the edge on a couple of good chisels, and they've needed to be re-sharpened from scratch. Until I clean up my technique, I'm better off using these cheap ones.

    The above photo is for illustration only, by the way. You should never place your chisels "bevel up" on the table like that. Always place them bevel down to protect the edge and corners. Trivia: in Japanese, the corners are called mimi or "ears".

    [All 'Toolsday' Posts]

    2010.07.06 at 12:00am EDT

    The Drama

    One of the reasons I didn't post a lot last week is that I am trying to not get involved in a huge drama unfolding around a new policy at Pennsic. The nature of the policy is totally unimportant compared to the amount of drama that has been generated in the various discussions of the policy. Huge flame war style arguments have broken out, followed by snarky comments amd calls for sanity, calls for action, calls for information, etcetera. My favorite was somebody who said something like, "Even if I could come to Pennsic this year, I'm not sure I'd want to attend because if this policy." Good gravy, you need to lighten up dude.

    Now I understand that some people really do take the SCA very seriously, and I really do respect the amount of time and effort they put into taking it seriously and making it a more serious organization, but this right here is the down side. If you are so entirely emotionally wrapped up in this organization, maybe it's time for a step back and a deep breath.

    It's a darn good thing Sharon would hurt me if I got involved in the discussion in any way, or I totally would have lost it on some of these people. Also, this right here is one reason I haven't even tried to add commenting to my blog.

    2010.07.12 at 11:00am EDT

    Toolsday: Rubber Mallet

    From something sharp to something blunt, this week I want to talk about my rubber mallet.

    Rubber Mallet

    Ever want to hit something as hard as you can, but don't want to damage it when you do? Then you need a rubber mallet.

    This one is entirely black rubber. I bought it to bend sheet metal for the Cascade fountain (Hoo boy, do I need better pictures of that project.), but I've used it for all kinds of things since. It's great for pounding lumber into alignment when faming things out. It's terrific for freeing up stuck tools or parts. Sometimes I've used to to keep noise down when working with chisels, but I've been discouraged from doing so.

    You can get mallets made of white rubber, or half-and-half mallets, or mallets that have interchangeable tips. The black rubber can leave marks on certain surfaces. That's why one face of this mallet is covered with masking tape. It would be smarter to have a non-marring option that didn't involve masking tape, but then I'd have to figure out how to fit another tool onto the pegboard of my workbench.

    It's been so long since I bought this that I can't even tell you how much you would expect to pay for this useful tool. Probably less than ten bucks.

    [All 'Toolsday' Posts]

    2010.07.13 at 12:00pm EDT

    Bill Collector

    Today I got a phone call for "Joseph Finch". It's the first one in a while; I used to get them all the time. These calls are always from debt collectors.

    My home phone number has been mine since 1996, and it was in Sharon's name for four years before that. That means it hasn't been Joseph Finch's number for at least 18 years, if it was ever his number in the first place. When I told the person on the phone this, she asked if I knew where he could be reached. I've never met the man. His dad used to be in the phone book, but a collector once told me that number is now unlisted.

    Now, either Joseph Finch keeps giving out my phone number, and creditors never sheck it until it's far too late, or those collections agencies never give up trying to collect on a debt, and will go to great lengths to contact you if you owe them money, including calling every phone number that has ever been associated with your name.

    Eeyore's tips for happy living: pay your debts.

    2010.07.14 at 1:00pm EDT

    Android Avatars

    I've started reading some of the Android and Backflip message boards hoping to find tips and tricks to make using my newish device better. one of the boards put out a call for graphics that users might be able to adopt as "avatar" images. I'd made one for myself, so I thought it would be easy and fun to make a few. At first, it was all about just recoloring the logo. Then, I started with some fill patterns and minor shape variations. Here are the nine I have so far:

    Android avatar images on this page are modifications based on work created and shared by Google and used according to terms described in the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution License.

    You can download original, Creative Commons licensed, Android logo images from Google's Android 'Press/Media' page. You are free to create derivative images based on those, provided you comply with Google's request for attribution.

    These avatar images are also shared under the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution License. You are free to use them online or in print, but please attribute them to "Elliott C. 'Eeyore' Evans" or "" when using them, or creating other work using them.

    2010.07.15 at 9:30am EDT

    Antenna Touching

    Apple has finally admitted that touching the antenna (that is, the entire rim of the new iPhone) degrades reception. Steve Jobs correctly states that this is not just an iPhone problem, but that it is a problem on most wireless phones. I can't confirm his claim about a warning sticker on some phones, but I do remember a line in the manual for my last Nokia phone that warned you not to touch the metal logo on the back of the phone. I remember a line in the manual for my very first phone ever (which actually had a pull-out antenna) tat warned you not to touch the antenna. When Steve Jobs announced that the iPhone 4 had an antenna running all around the outside of the phone, I remember saying something to Sharon about these touching antennas, and wondering out loud if Apple had figured out a way around this problem. He was so proud of this "brilliant engineering", I thought for a while that they must have a fix.

    As you've probably heard, no, they did not find a fix for this problem. When people started experiencing the problem, they denied there was a problem. They blamed the user for doing things that the user had no reasonable expectation should be a problem. They blamed software ngineers for a hardware problem. They admitted their software has been lying to users for years about signal strength, in an attempt to avoid admitting there's a problem.

    This reaction became increasingly unbelievable, so finally yesterday Steve Jobs admitted that there is a problem. He's offering a bandaid for the problem, and blaming reality for the problem. If he hadn't denied for so long that there even was a problem, this would not be such a big deal.

    There are three real problems here. The first was reportedly ignoring an engineer who allegedly warned that this antenna design might cause a problem. The second is failing to perform real world tests that might have uncovered the problem before the release of the phone. (As we know from the famous "lost iPhone" story, test units were disguised by putting the iPhone 4 in a case that made it look like an older iPhone.) The third is denying the existence of any problems whatsover when it was blindingly obvious there was a problem.

    Even now, when the denials are over, Steve Jobs drags competitors phones up on stage in front of the press to prove that many popular phones have this problem. Did anybody ever say other phones don't have this problem? By your own claims, some phones even admit they have this problem right on the phone. You're the one who was saying the iPhone did not. Please, just stop with the excuses. An admission, a remedy, and an apology are all that's needed.

    2010.07.17 at 12:00am EDT

    No More Excuses

    I've been wrestling with some 'getting things done' type problems lately, and apparently they came to a head in my subconscious over the weekend because I woke up early Saturday morning with the words "no more excuses" ringing in my ears, out of a dream. Sometimes, your subconscious can give you a new way of looking at problems that might be an answer if you make it into one. The feeling was strong enough that, even though I fell back to sleep, I remembered the phrase upon waking and wrote it down. I'm going to look at that piece of paper every day for a while and see how it works out.

    2010.07.19 at 9:30am EDT

    Toolsday: Paint Can Opener

    Here's another mundane little tool that I think everybody should have. It's just a little pry bar for opening paint cans.

    Paint Opener

    You'll wreck your screwdrivers if you use them to open paint cans. Bending or twisting a screwdriver blade makes it useless for transferring force into a screw, so unless you have an extra screwdriver that you don't mind destroying, you're better off picking up one of these little prybars in the painting tool section the next time you buy a can of paint or wood finish.

    At the very least, you're likely to get paint on any tool you use for opening paint cans. If you then use that tool on something important, you might get bright red paint on your pale wood project, or something equally unhappy. I've been known to use this paint opener as an impromptu stir stick, and it's good to know it probably won't come near anything important.

    These things only cost a dollar or two, so you won't mind using them to pry at other things besides cans. If you're having people over to help paint, I recommend getting a bunch of them so that there's always one handy. You can give them away afterwards. The "handle" end of this one is even designed to be a bottle opener for the end of the day, so there you go.

    [All 'Toolsday' Posts]

    2010.07.20 at 10:00am EDT

    Android Avatars

    Over the weekend, I just couldn't stop thinking about more Android avatars. You'll recall I posted some last week, and they were so much fun I made seven more. I have four more ideas percolating, so watch out for more of them in the future. To see the whole collection at once, there's an index.

    Android avatar images on this page are modifications based on work created and shared by Google and used according to terms described in the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution License.

    You can download original, Creative Commons licensed, Android logo images from Google's Android 'Press/Media' page. You are free to create derivative images based on those, provided you comply with Google's request for attribution.

    These avatar images are also shared under the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution License. You are free to use them online or in print, but please attribute them to "Elliott C. 'Eeyore' Evans" or "" when using them, or creating other work using them.

    2010.07.21 at 12:00am EDT

    That's not cool

    So, if you use Google to do a search of my blog for "world war z", that is, you enter "world war z" in the Google search box, you get two results. One result is the archive index, since it shows the title of a blog post I made reviewing the book, and the other is the actual blog post. So far, so good.

    If you use the Google search box at the top of the archive index to do a search for "world war z", you should get the same results, right? Unfortunately, you don't. You get the same two results as #1 and #2, but you get a third result that is a link to the book on sale at Amazon. (Here's a screen capture.) No link to Amazon appears in that blog post. It's basically an ad inserted into the page as a search result.

    I don't object to Google putting ads on search result pages, especially when they are providing a valuable service to my blog and my readers, but why isn't this marked as an ad? It appears in the site search results, which implies it's a page on my site! This is fundamentally dishonest. Google is beginnning to seriously suck.

    2010.07.23 at 12:00pm EDT

    Sir Maghnus Kamishimo

    Last summer, the knight who heads our household at Pennsic, his excellency, Baron Sir Maghnus an Chnoic na n'Iora, celebrated the twentieth anniversary of his knighting. Their graces, Duke Sir Christopher Rawlyns and Duchess Morgen of Rye bought some great fabric (Sir Christopher was squired to Sir Maghnus), so Sharon and I volunteered to make some Japanese Garb from it. It took us a while, but we recently completed the outfit.

    Sir Maghnus in his new garb

    Sharon made the kosode, and I made the hakama and kataginu. The white himo (ties) on the hakama are both appropriate for Sir Maghnus (in the SCA, only knights wear white belts) and more period than I usually get to make for myself. I had hoped to make the kataginu (vest) from the same fabric as the hakama (pants), but due to cutting, there wasn't quite enough. I found this shiny fabric at the Jo-Ann, though.

    2010.07.26 at 8:00am EDT

    Clown Robbery

    Yes, the "Clown Pants Bank Robbery" happened about a half a mile from my home. We often buy groceries at the Giant Eagle where he tried to steal a BB gun. The Kmart where he actually stole the gun is in the same shopping center.

    The person I really admire is the lady who just got out of her car when he tried to carjack her.

    I do think the robber made the best decision when (sitting in a parked car without keys, covered in red dye, sans the money) he decided to just give up and wait for police.

    If you don't know what I'm even talking about, just do a google News search for "clown robbery".

    2010.07.26 at 2:30pm EDT

    Toolsday: Woodworking Knife

    Let's talk about sharp things again! I want to talk about this ginchy Japanese pocket knife I bought for woodworking.

    Woodworking Knife

    This is a modern, though slightly vintage style Japanese pocket knife. I'm told the design is quite common, and knives like this were typically used as pocket knifes by schoolboys throughout much of the 20th century.

    I bought this one from a woodworking catalog, and probably paid too much, but it struck my fancy as something I wanted. A good sharp knife is handy in the shop, for cleaning out cuts and making careful carves. This one is forged iron, and you can see the difference in color on the blade where the hard steel of the edge gives way to the more flexible steel that makes up the bulk of the blade. This bi-metallic style is what's used on most Japanese blades, including chisels and swords. This blade is about five inches long.

    This one doesn't lock open, which is a slight safety detriment, so you have to remember to keep your thumb on the tab to keep it open. The tab makes it easier to open, too. The good heavy blade means you can exert quite a bit of force. Theoretically, you could even hammer on the back of the blade, but I wouldn't recommend it and haven't tried it.

    This knife is most important because it's given me practice at sharpening this kind of blade on my sharpening stones. I use it to shave the edges of boards, mostly, so it gets dulll if I don't keep at it. The sharpening process has even made the edge shinier over time. I keep it oiled to prevent rust.

    [All 'Toolsday' Posts]

    2010.07.27 at 10:00pm EDT

    Continuing Android Avatar Insanity

    Must. Stop. This. To see the whole collection at once, there's an index.

    Android avatar images on this page are modifications based on work created and shared by Google and used according to terms described in the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution License.

    These avatar images are also shared under the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution License. You are free to use them online or in print, but please attribute them to "Elliott C. 'Eeyore' Evans" or "" when using them, or creating other work using them.

    2010.07.28 at 12:00am EDT

    Software Updates

    Lots of software these days can be configured to check for updates automatically. Every once in some while, the software checks a web site and downloads any updates. Usually it will save the update and install it the next time you restart the program.

    Here's the problem: I hate rebooting. I tend to leave my computer running for weeks or months at a time. Applications I use frequently, like my web browser and mail reader only get closed when I'm shutting down the machine completely. These updates now occur so often that sometimes they stack up.

    Today I had to restart my browser to install a Java update, and when I restarted the browser it installed an update from I-don't-know-how-long ago. Once that was finished, the browser said, "We recommend you install the most recent version." Yes, the 3.6.7 version I just finished installing is outdated now. So, I can expect to re-live this experience in a few weeks when 3.6.8 installs and 3.6.9 is ready for download.

    2010.07.29 at 9:30am EDT

    For Marc

    ...who got this phrase stuck in my head.

    Check it, *sir*.

    (Tell me they do something.)

    2010.07.31 at 2:30pm EDT

    Project Fail

    In case you think I'm perfect, and that everything I try comes out great, you should know that I'm not. So there. Over the weekend, I tried a new technique for making geta and totally failed.

    Last year, I made a pair of geta from some cedar. A few months ago, I agreed to run a 1 hour woodworking demo at Pennsic. I decided at that time that I'd demonstrated making geta by hand, and that I'd attach the "teeth" of the geta using sliding dovetail joints. Yesterday, I tried out my technique, and I am totally not good enough yet at sliding dovetails to demonstrate this in front of people.

    Part of it is trying to use a "Workmate" portable bench instead of my home workbench, since I won't have my bench at Pennsic. The Workmate I have is totally unsuited for the kind of planing I'm trying to do. Part of it was trying to get the whole thing done quickly. Probably if I'd spent more time measuring and checking to make sure that everything was up to specification, it would have gone more smoothly.

    In any case, my wood was splitting, my joinery didn't fit together, and the whole thing was a big failure. I can demonstrate this same technique and explain that I'm still learning, or I can build them using the same technique I used last year. The one I made yesterday is going onto the "burn" pile, though.

    2010.08.02 at 10:00am EDT

    I just fixed a bug

    I just fixed some XML coding bugs in basically three years of blog posts, so if your RSS feed reading software freaks out, that would be why. I fixed category tagging so that there is only one tag per category container, and I fixed the capitalization on all the pubDate tags so that they are correctly interCapped.

    2010.08.02 at 12:15pm EDT

    Toolsday: Bench Brush

    A few weeks ago, I talked about using a spare paint brush in the shop as a chip brush, but what if the job is somewhat bigger?

    Bench Brush

    I use this big (It's about 18 inches long) bench brush. It's similar to the kind of brush you might get with a dust pan. I got this great wood-handled one at the Harbor Freight. The larger number of bristles yields superior sweeping power, and the larger size enables you to cover more ground with each sweep. The forward rake of the bristles at the nose hels you dig in to get dust and chips out of crevices and slots. I also bought a big metal dust pan, so I can sweep all this waste onto the basement floor, then lift the piles into the trashcan.

    Again, some of these mundane tools aren't very exciting, but having them around makes your life happier. A clean shop has more room for getting things done, and less chance of injury. You don't have to spend big bucks on a shop vacuum if you can manually keep mess under control.

    Bonus vocabulary word: When you're machining metal, the beautiful and jagged scraps that come flying out are called "swarf".

    [All 'Toolsday' Posts]

    2010.08.03 at 7:00am EDT


    I'll do my best not to spoil this movie for anybody who has not yet seen it, because this movie is all about its reveals. I say "reveals" and not "surprises", because most of them are built up to very well. This movie has a finely crafted story. It doesn't spring the unexpected on you. It builds a conclusion supported by facts you know, even if you didn't put them together until that moment. Some people have found it confusing, but just sit tight, listen to what they tell you, and incorporate it one piece at a time. These pieces click into place.

    This film is wonderfully composed and shot. The scenes are large and dynamic, full of interesting and constantly varying light levels. The sound and music are as layered and complex as the plot, build tension where needed, and release when necessary. The costumes are awesome and build on character traits in interesting ways. Top to bottom, it's beautiful. You want to see this on a big screen with big speakers. I'm not sure an Imax screen is necessary, but don't wait to see this on video.

    If you haven't seen it, what you think you know about this movie (from trailers, commercials, and Internet banter) is not everything you will know coming out. It's just too complex to totally spoil. It draws on themes with which you may be familiar, but it uses those themes in service to an original story.

    Finally, this movie passes two of the main tests I use to determine if a movie is a quality product:

    1. Are Sharon and I still discussing it the next day?
    2. Do I have to look things up to fully appreciate it?

    I greatly enjoyed this film. We took some time out of a very busy week to go see it, because I wanted to make sure to catch it while it was still in a good theater. I recommend it.

    2010.08.05 at 12:00am EDT

    Back from Blogcation

    Not just blogcation, but actual personal vacation, and not just vacation in space, but in time. It was time for our annnoual vacation into the midle ages, at the Pennsic War.

    As usual, it was way too hot. It didn't rain as much as it sometimes does, until the very last day when it poured and the wind blew hard enough to knock some tents down in our camp.

    Then, on Sunday, we couldn't get Sharon's car started and it had to be towed. Thanks to our excellent friends (in particular the set with the rented van) we got home without too much trouble, but still, sigh.

    I did a bunch of braiding, a bunch of teaching of braiding, a little woodworking, a passel of hanging out discussing projects, and a modicum of drinking. I met a bunch of new people this year, which was terrific, and saw some friends from way back, which was awesome. I took zero pictures, sorry.

    2010.08.16 at 7:00am EDT

    Toolsday: Calipers

    Stop using a ruler to measure the thickness of objects or the depth of a hole, you lazy bum. Buy some calipers!


    Ever try to measure the thickness of an irregular 3D object using a ruler? It can be pretty difficult. With a decent pair of calipers, though, it's a piece of cake.

    Ever try to check a board to make sure it's the same thickness all the way across? That's pretty tedious with a ruler, but you can set a pair of calipers to a specific thickness and slide it along the edge fairly quickly.

    Ever try to measure the depth of a 5/8" diameter hole you just drilled using a ruler that's an inch or more wide? It's impossible, but these calipers have a depth gauge pin at the back end that will measure that depth in a jiffy.

    Ever need to measure one thing and see if it will fit in another thing? Use one side of the calipers to measure the outside of objects, and the other side to measure the inside of gaps. Handy dandy.

    Unless you need great accuracy, you don't need dial calipers (the kind with the big display dial) or digital calipers (the kind with a digital readout). These simple calipers are all most people need.

    Never push or pull on the jaws; always use the thumb wheel to adjust the gap.

    [All 'Toolsday' Posts]

    2010.08.17 at 9:30pm EDT



    Butterflies really do like the butterfly bush.

    2010.08.19 at 7:00pm EDT


    I was out shopping in the strip the other day, and found some plastic traditional-looking bento boxes for pretty cheap, so I bought them. It was only once I got them home and read the labels, that I realized the enormity of my win.

    Bento Label

    "Adopt and import the automobile motorcycle material refinedly and succeed, durable in use, characteristic of have slip resistance, tough and tensile, not fragiling etc. Places such as very suitable hotel, bar, coffee house, etc."

    Engrish! Comic Sans! Bad photoshopping! Peng!

    2010.08.23 at 12:00am EDT

    Toolsday: Carpenter Square

    Since I talked about a tool for accuracy last week, let's talk about this slightly less accurate tool, the humble carpenter square.

    Carpenter Square

    You may also see these referred to as "rafter squares", since they're commonly used when cutting 2-by-4's for construction framing. I don't mean to say they're awfully inaccurate, but they're not exactly built for accuracy. They're mostly just built to enable you to work quickly and easily, marking angles on lumber.

    Marking a line 90 degrees from the edge of a board or beam is easy. The upper left edge (in this photo) has a thick ridge. Press this up against the edge of the material and draw a line along the upper right edge.

    The square is also a rudimentary protractor. Drive a small nail into the material through the notch near the apex of the square, then pivot the square away from the edge until the angle you want (at the bottom of the square) lines up with the edge of the material. Then, draw your line. Like I said, not truly accurate, but fast.

    This square is ABS plastic. You can also find these in different metals, but I figured the plastic would be more durable. You can see I've used a pencil to mark multiple measurements directly on the plastic, which is textured. That doesn't work as well with metal, usually.

    [All 'Toolsday' Posts]

    2010.08.24 at 10:00am EDT


    What are these things?

    I found these growing out in the alley. I guess they're mushrooms? Pretty thin caps, and very frilly, but fungi are weird. They don't look like flowers to me.

    2010.08.26 at 12:00am EDT



    I try to be a friend to all living things, and I promise you that I did not harm this thing in any way, but this giant (3 inch body, plus legs) ugly (just look at it) monster (aieeee!) produces a "KILLIT!" reaction in my brain that is tempered only by my unwillingness to touch such a monstrosity, even through an intermediate object like a shoe or rock.

    Update - My friend Marybeth writes in and says this is "most definitely a centipede." I guess my entomology skillz are right up there with my mycology skillz. Wikipedia confirms, giving the order as "Scutigeromorpha".

    2010.09.03 at 7:00am EDT

    Corporate Email Insanity

    Step 0, the setup - Company has a very large mailing list for some reason or another, that includes many people who do not even realize they are on the list.

    Step 1, the instigation - Somebody accidentally sends an irrelevant message to the mailing list. This message lands in hundred or thousands of mailboxes.

    Step 2, Phase 1 - People who understand neither why they received the message nor how email works reply-all to the first message asking to be removed from whatever list sent the message. If the company has an international presence, this phase repeats as each new timezone gets to work in the morning.

    Step 2, Phase 2 - People who do not understand how email works reply-all to the first wave asking that they too be removed from the list.

    Step 2, Phase 3 - People who understand how email works but who don't understand that people are meatheads reply-all to the second wave imploring people to stop replying-all.

    Step 2, Phase 4 - People who find the entire situation absurd start reply-all to any of the waves with cutesy messages because they just can't help acting like meatheads.

    Step 3 - I complain to everybody I know. Welcome.

    2010.09.03 at 10:00am EDT

    Bamboo Box Project

    I'd seen pictures of boxes like this on the web, and it always seemed like such an easy way to make an interesting little box. Recently, I was in a restaurant supply store and saw a big stack of these bamboo sushi rolling mats for not much money each, so I decided to make one.

    Bamboo Box

    It really is just a bamboo sushi rolling mat, two blocks of wood, and a loop and toggle closure, The blocks of wood are just glued in place. I used cypress wood, since I had some scraps lying around. For this mat, the blocks are 3" x 1.25", which leaves just enough mat to overlap for the closure. The toggle is made from another small piece of cypress, and the loop is made from braid 50, which is a silk hira nami flat braid I did last May. I haven't cut the braid yet, all the extra material is currently inside the box.

    I also have pictures of the box open and a close-up of the closure.

    2010.09.06 at 10:00pm EDT

    Toolsday: Center Punch

    Here's a simple tool that comes in handy more often than you'd think, the center punch.

    Center Punch

    This is nothing more than short length of tool steel with a tough point at one end. Its intended use is to make a sharp dent for the center point when you're drilling on metal. Without this center point, the drill bit may skate a bit, and the hole won't be where you want it. To use it, to place the pointed end at the intended spot, hold the tool perpendicular to the surface of the metal, then hit the blunt end with a hammer.

    This tool can be mis-used as a nail set, an through punch, a marking punch (periods and colons a specialty), and fine masonry chisel. I used one to break a neighbor's window a few months ago (With her permission. Her keys were locked inside.) Just about any time to you need to take the force of a hammer, and narrow it down to a tiny point, the center punch is your tool.

    [All 'Toolsday' Posts]

    2010.09.07 at 12:00am EDT

    Cloudy Sky Braid Necklace

    I did this braid back in June or something, but I can't find any record that I ever posted about it.

    Cloudy Sky Braid Necklace

    This bead braid is meant to replace the Amethyst Kongou Gumi bead braid in my "stock" pile, which I gave as a birthday present to a good friend. It uses an 8-strand kongou gumi spiralling pattern, which works very well for bead braiding, and is a nice fast and tight braid in general. In the photo, you can't really see the irridescence on both the white and blue beads. Plus the ble beads are really much brighter with some light behind them.

    It's not that I haven't been braiding lately, but that I haven't been posting about it as much. Well OK, I haven't been braiding quite as much, but I have been braiding. I finished a couple of braids at Pennsic, and I'm in the middle of another really long braid that cuts into my completeion rate.

    2010.09.08 at 9:00am EDT

    More Corporate Email Insanity

    Today's insanity involves a virus email. You know those emails you get that include a link to document that the sender suggests you take a look at and get back to them about? Don't click on those links. Even if the email is from somebody you know, their computer might be infected, or they might have absent-mindedly clicked on a link that did somethig they weren't expecting.

    2010.09.09 at 3:00pm EDT

    Toolsday: Self-Setting Center Punch

    Last week, I posted about the humble center punch. This week, it's over-acheiving sibling, the self-setting center punch

    Self-Setting Center Punch

    The intended use and possible misuses of this tool are identical to the regular center puch, but this time the steel point is mounted in a spring-loaded handle. Instead of whacking the punch end with a hammer, you press down on the handle and when enough force is loaded into the spring, the tools snaps down on the point. The back end is a knob that adjusts the tension at which the spring snaps the point.

    So what are the advantages? First of all, you can use this punch one-handed. Second of all, the force is replicable. Since you set the tension on the spring once, every time it snaps, it snaps with the same force. If you're using it as a nail set, you'll push the nails the same depth every time. Third, you don't have a hammer swinging around. That's good for tight or crowded spaces. I've seen paramedics use these to break car windows in rescue situations. Don't want to be swinging hammers in an already dangerous situation.

    [All 'Toolsday' Posts]

    2010.09.14 at 12:00am EDT

    Square Demo Braid

    I started this braid so that I could show people at a demo what a braid in progress looks like, and let them try out braiding on the marudai.

    Square Demo Braid

    As a result, there's an error in there that changes the pattern about halfway through. I can't honestly say if they made the error or if I did, but I'll take responsibility because I didn't unbraid it to remove the error.

    The braid istself is the Creative Kumihimo 8H braid I like so much, done up in bamboo/silk yarn, It's only a couple of feet long.

    I chose this braid because the movements are identical to a longer braid I'm (still) working on. The braid in progress has 17 strands instead of just 8, though. The 17th strand causes the braid to be a wide, flat braid, though it mintains the twill structure.

    2010.09.15 at 12:00am EDT


    This is really rich, coming out of the mouth of Karl Rove: "It does conservatives little good to support candidates who, at the end of the day, while they may be conservative in their public statements, do not evince the characteristics of rectitude and truthfulness and sincerity and character that the voters are looking for." Does he even listen to what comes out of his lie-hole?

    Although it is telling that he decided (and make no mistake, Karl Rove is nothing if not deliberate) to use the word "evince". "Evince" means "to constitute outward evidence of" or "to display clearly". Not possess rectitude, truthfulness, sincerity, and character, but to display those admirable characteristics. Well played.

    2010.09.16 at 12:00am EDT

    Business Idea

    I bet you could make a business out of a few portable salad bars and a truck. Instead of getting doughnuts or pizza for their employees, small companies could pay a fee to have a full salad bar delivered to the office just before lunch time. Employees could have a nice healthy lunch, and some time in the afternoon you would swing by and pick up whatever was left, with zero clean-up for the company.

    Of all the business ideas I've ever had, I'd rate the ridiculousness (ridiculosity?) of this one at below average.

    2010.09.17 at 2:00pm EDT


    I first caught the film Providence late at night on TV back in the late eighties. It's a difficult film to watch. The main character fades in and out of consciousness and coherence, imagining or dreaming a second plotline. Complementing the main character, I fell asleep a couple of times while watching, and could never be sure I'd seen the whole thing. This pattern repeated itself in the early nineties, when I tried watching the movie again in the basement of the CMU library. Finally, last night, I managed to watch this film all the way through. Now I know what I have been missing all these years.

    Sir John Gielgud was already 74 when he made this film, and he plays a cranky, dying, old man; but he lived for 25 years following this film. You'll recognize Ellen Burstyn and David Warner of course. I'm gaining a greater appreciation for Dirk Bogarde (I watched him a few weeks ago in the nearly unwatchable Despair.) His contrasting facial expressions between the first three acts and the last two acts of this film really make the movie for me. You may also recognize Denis "Wedge" lawson in a minor role.

    This film is from the seventies, when it was still possible to have a Knight of the Realm speak the word "Fuck" in a serious screenplay. It's a difficult film. Keeping everything straight can be quite challenging, especially when the main character cannot. It's a literary film, attempting things on screen that are normally only tried in books. Finally, it's a surreal film. Pay plenty of attention while watching; the scenery changes sometimes when the camera moves.

    Overall, this film is amazing. It succeeds in ways I can hardly believe. It fails only by expecting too much attention from the watcher who has been encourgaed to think of sleep. It is often crude, violent, and unpleasantly graphic, both on a verbal and visual level. The characters are confrontational in ways we have been taught is rude. Not much actually happens, if you're looking for plot. As a portrait of these people (especially Gielgud's Clive) and of their reactions to extreme situations (especially Bogarde's Claude) it is brilliant, and it shines like a diamond hard edges and all.

    You may have a tough time finding this movie to watch. The VHS is out of print and there is as yet no DVD. I wound up borrowing it from a friend.

    2010.09.20 at 11:00am EDT

    Toolsday: Combo Square

    If you do most of your woodworking measurements with a plain old ruler, you should run right out and get one of these tools. It's called a combination square.

    Combination Square

    This tool has a ruler built into it, but it also has a sliding block that can hold the ruler at 90 or 45 degrees to the edge of a piece of wood. The perpendicular part comes in really handy, but the fact that it slides also enables you to easily replicate measurements. You just set the ruler for a particular distance, lock the setting using the thumb knob, and make as many marks at that distance as you need. SOme of these have additional blocks that let you set an aritrary angle, or mark the center of a corner or circle. You can also use it as an impromptu depth gauge. This one comes with a built-in bubble level, which could come in handy, though I have better levels. Most come with a small metal scribe for marking. I never use that, either.

    It's important that you get a good accurate one of these, and that you take care of it. The accuracy of all your work will come to depnd on this tool, so don't mistreat it.

    [All 'Toolsday' Posts]

    2010.09.21 at 9:30pm EDT

    Third Blogiversary

    Today, I have been blogging for three whole years. This is the 550th post, which means that on average I have posted to this blog every other day. The blog still looks and works much the same as it did three years ago, though I've added a few more features here and there. People tell me they enjoy reading my posts, and keeping up with my antics. Thanks for reading!

    2010.09.24 at 12:00am EDT

    Toolsday: Dremel

    How about a power tool?

    Technically, because this one is badged with the Craftsman name, I should refer to this tool as a "high speed rotary tool", but just about everybody I know refers to this kind of tool with the name of the market leader, "Dremel".

    "Rotary Tool"

    The tool itself is basically just an adjustable speed motor, with a fitting at one end for inserting accessories. The key to this kind of tool is the accessories. At the simplest, you can use it as a drill, but there are grinding wheels, polishing wheels, saw blades, wire brushes, router bits, engraving tips, carving tips, and dozens more. Retailers love this kind of thing because even though the acessories are normally only a few bucks apiece, you'll probably wind up buying at least a dozen different ones once you find out how useful they can be. You can also buy more expensive acessories, like the stand that turns this tool into a mini drill press, or the attachment that turns it into a circular saw.

    I use it mostly for drilling, especially when drilling holes 1/8th inch in diameter or smaller. Most of the projects I've made that are fastened with 1/8th inch pegs had pilot holes drilled with this tool. I have the mini drill press acessory, and it did very well for me for years before I needed to get a full-size press. I've also used the sanding drums and polishing acessories quite a bit.

    Some of the accessories can be quite difficult to find. Most retailers carry what looks like a large selection, but if you can find a retailer who carries the full line (Rolliers), you'll truly learn how capable this tool is.

    [All 'Toolsday' Posts]

    2010.09.28 at 12:00am EDT

    A Difficult Braid

    It has also been about two years since I first started braiding. I completed braid number one back in Spetember of 2008, and soon I'll have to start numbering braids with three digits. I thought I'd finish out the second year of braiding with an account of this particularly difficult braid.

    3 Strands in Bamboo/Silk

    One of the younger people in camp at Pennsic this year became interested in the braiding that Sharon and I were doing, and started asking us questions. One series of questions was about the difficulty of various types of braids, and I took the opportunity to toss out a zen parable that you'll inevitably hear if you start studying kumihimo.

    The student asked the master, "Master, what is the most difficult braid?" The master responded, "The most difficult braid is a 3-strand braid, done perfectly."

    One point of that parable is of course that it is most difficult to take care with a task you find trivial, but this student had trouble with it because turned out he'd never done a standard 3-strand braid in his life. I cut off some yarn for him to try, but pretty soon a bunch of us were trying it. I guess it's been at least twenty years since I did this kind of braid. As you can see above, it really is quite difficult to get perfect.

    2010.09.29 at 12:00am EDT

    Another Bamboo Box

    A couple of weeks ago, you might remember, I made a small box by wrapping a bamboo "sushi rolling mat" around a couple of blocks of wood. I sort of picked dimensions for it at random, but soon after that, I realized what size it should have been, and what needed to be stored in one of these. Luckily, I had bought two mats.

    Another Bamboo Box

    It needed to be big enough to hold four bamboo sake cups. I'd bought these cups mail order so we could take them to SCA events, and they were being stored in a plastic zippy bag. That was unacceptable.

    Box Open, with Cups

    I cut some 2 inch squares of cypress, got out the glue, and picked a braid. Still not glamorous, but useful. I'm stillnot sure what I'm going to use the other one for, but this one is now full of stuff.

    2010.09.30 at 12:00am EDT


    I predict that in twenty or thirty years time, the type of person who is curently into "steampunk" will be into what I choose to call "Gernspunk" after legendary SF publisher Hugo Gernsback. Gernspunk will be about the postwar "atomic age" in the way that steampunk today is about the "steam age" of the late 1800's. Instead of being based on the first SF of Verne and Wells, it will be based on the golden age of SF like "Forbidden Planet".

    People will build sleek metal vehicles, and communicate via telescreens. People will eat food that has been compressed into pills, and build robots that perform menial tasks. They will wear bulky space suits that have rings around the cuffs and have big bubble helmets with little antennae on top. Ray guns and disintegrator pistols will still be the accesory of choice, but the dials and aetheric oscillators will make way for gauges and msterious radioactive crystals.

    They will speak with midwestern US accents and be completely slean shaven with buzz-cut hair. They will never swear, and will instead salt their speech with "golly" and "gee-whillikers." One in twenty will go by the name "Cookie" and will drink heavily "on the sly".

    For men, the dominant persona will be football hero amateur scientist, and for women, the fiesty girl reporter or maybe lab assistant to the elder consulting scientist. The emphasis will be on exploration, and the defense of Earth against the sinister alien forces bent on enslaving us to foreign empires.

    It will be swell.

    2010.10.04 at 9:00am EDT

    Toolsday: Drill Bits

    Last week, I discussed a tool that could be used as a drill, so I figured I'd talk today about drill bits.

    Drill Bits

    It's important to remember that drill bits have two relevant dimensions. They have a diameter of hole they drill, and a depth of hole they are capable of drilling. Thicker drill bits are usually capable of drilling deeper holes. A good selection of drillbits has a wide variety, in very small increments. This set goes all the way from 1/16 inch to 11/32 inch in diameter, and from about 1 inch to 5 inches in length. (I'm not counting the "shank" portion of the bit, which is the part held by the drill itself.)

    These are coated in titanium nitride, which is a long-wearing alloy that helps them staty sharp longer. I bought this set at Harbor Freight, which means they are not the best quality, but they didn't cost as much. They came in this nice metal index box, which stores all those drill bits in very little space. They are standard "twist" drill bits, meaning that they are best suited for metal or other solid materials. I wind up using them pretty often on wood, though they sometimes tear out some extra wood when starting holes, because of the grain. They give me the most versatility when drilling pilot holes for screws, though.

    That's what I mostly use drill bits for. If I drive a screw or nail into wood without a pilot, quite often the screw will break, or the wood will split. Drilling a smaller hole first allows me to control where the fastener goes, and removes some of the material that the fastener would otherwise be pushing out of the way. It's important to leave enough material for the fastener to grip, though. That's where this kind of bit variety pays off. For instance, they say you should drill a 1/8 inch hole for a #8 screw, but having this variety lets me drill a 3/32 inch hole instead if the wood is softer.

    I should talk more about the different kinds of drill bits I own and that exist. There are more than you might expect.

    [All 'Toolsday' Posts]

    2010.10.05 at 12:00am EDT

    Paint Box Project

    About a year ago (seriously), a friend of ours who is an artist asked if I could make for her a wooden box for storing paints. She works a lot in water colors, and the paints come in these small plastic pans. Over time, she's accumulated a large collection of colors, and stores them in several small paint boxes. She explained that she wanted a single large box to hold all her paints at once, but the only company that sells such a box commercially wants to sell it to you full of paints, and she doesn't need more paints. She needs a special box because the paint pans are only about 3/8 inch tall, and most boxes are far too deep. Anyway, I finally completed this project recently, and delivered it, so here it is.

    A Box for Paints

    It's made entirely of poplar, finished with linseed oil, with brass hardware. The box has a footprint the same as a standard sheet of paper, 8.5 inches by 11 inches. The walls of the box are a half inch thick, so it's pretty sturdy even though it's shallow by design. Here's what it looks like inside.

    The Box, Open

    There's a little divider inside to make an area for brush storage. When she saw how much space was inside, she was totally excited. She might even have enough room to store some larger pots of Japanese paints in her collection.

    One of the reasons this project took so long was that my first try at making this box was something of a failure. I thought I might be able to get away with using thinner wood for the botom and the lid, but it warped.

    The Mark One Box

    Just look at it. That gap at the left is about a quarter inch! The bottom warped down while I was finishing the box, and stayed that way no matter what I did. The gap is large enough that it would let air and dust into the box, which is bad. I tried again.

    The First Try, Open

    Here you can see that the inside space of both boxes is the same, except this one has a felt liner on the lid that she decided was not really necessary. I'm glad the second attempt was successful, but I'm sorry it wound up taking so long.

    2010.10.07 at 12:00am EDT

    Toolsday: Forstner Bits

    Twist drill bits like I reviewed last week are good for certain kinds of holes, but larger holes and special types of holes sometimes need special bits. One of my favorite types is called a "forstner bit".

    Forstner Bits

    These bits basically cut holes several ways at once. They scrape out a circular hole as they go down, they cut a circular hole around that, and the scrape the sides of the hole. They make a smooth-sided and mostly smooth-bottomed hole. They have a pilot point to keep the hole centered, and the cuttin action around he edge minimizes the amount of wood torn out by the spinning action.

    Most people think about this bits as being for larger holes, but they are much more than that. The smallest bit here is just a quarter inch in diameter, and the largest is just an inch. I have a couple larger, and they come much larger, but forstner bits are really about that cuttin action, not just size.

    I use these a lot for joinery, since the smooth sided holes take dowels and pegs nicely. They're also great for hogging out large amounts of wood from mortise before you smooth the sides with a chisel.

    I used to use spade bits for thise kind of boring, but forstner bits are much more stable, and can even be used to cut holes at an agle to the surface, or overlapping an edge of the material.

    They can be quite expensive, especially if you want a large bit, but I bought this set on sale. I get a lot of use out of them.

    [All 'Toolsday' Posts]

    2010.10.12 at 12:00am EDT

    Barber's Poles

    You can learn the darnedest things on Wikipedia, often when you're looking up something else. From the article on "Barber's Poles":

    In South Korea, barber's poles are used both for actual barbershops and for brothels. Brothels disguised as barbershops, referred to as ilbalso or iyongsil, are more likely to use two poles next to each other, often spinning in opposite directions, though the use of a single pole for the same reason is also quite common. Actual barbershops, or miyongsil, are more likely to be "hair salons". To avoid confusion, they will usually use a pole that shows a picture of a woman with flowing hair on it with the words hair salon written on the pole.

    I don't have any plans to be in South Korea, but I imagine this knowledge is very important in general. I mean, you want to know what you're getting into. So, for sex, head towards the place that looks like a barber shop. For a hair cut, head for the place that has a sign with a woman on it.

    2010.10.13 at 11:30am EDT

    Ko-Karabitsu Project

    This karabitsu is similar in design to my second karabitsu, only instead of holding six gallons of water, this one holds about sixteen ounces.

    Little Karabitsu

    The body and kid are made of quarter inch poplar, and the legs are 3/4 inch poplar. It's just glued together. This was just a fun little project I started on a whime. It came out OK. Here it is filled with dice.

    Dice Karabitsu

    That's not what it's for, that's just what it's doing. The braid is braid 72, which was also looking for something to do.

    2010.10.12 at 12:00am EDT


    Do we have any styrofoam cups?

    2010.10.15 at 11:00am EDT

    Unsolicited Testimonial

    I've been a fan of Art in the Age's ROOT "root tea" liquer ever since I noticed it in Pennsylvania state stores back in the spring. It's a "root beer" flavored liquer that is not sweet, and is strong. I like cutting it 3 to 1 with seltzer for a 16oz rootbeer that's 10% ABV.

    Today I noticed they have a new liquer in stores, called SNAP. It's a "ginger snap" flavored liquer that is not sweet, but is spicy and ginery and strong. It smells like gingerbread, it tastes like gingerbread, but it kicks like scotch at 80 proof. You can sip it as a post-prandial, or mix it. AitA recommends several things, including cider and lemonade as mixers, but again, even seltzer does the trick.

    These things may not be available in stores in every state, but if your state allows mail order liquor, there are a couple of web sites that carry it. I think stores in PA, NJ, SC, and CO carry it so far.

    This has been an unsolicited testimonial. I have not been reimbursed by AitA to post this, though I may have been inspired.

    2010.10.19 at 7:30pm EDT

    Toolsday: Gimlets

    One of the more esoteric tools in my shop is this set of gimlets.


    A gimlet is like a drill bit with a handle. The pointed part at the end is shaped like a screw, and pulls the tool deeper into the wood as you turn the handle. The fluted sides auger out the hole and pull material back from the tip. They work best if you're drilling a hole through something, since once you're through you can use the auger part to clean out the hole. They are OK for drilling a hole down into something without going all the way through, but you'll eventually have to back out the screw part.

    Gimlets were once a staple of every woodworker's shop and carpenter's tool box, but they've been completely obsoleted by modern drills and bits. Nothing beats them if you're in a strange situation and need to drill a starter hole for a screw though. They also give you that satisfaction of having done the whole job "by hand", even when that means twisting away at one of these things.

    Good luck finding a set, though. I searched every hardware store in the Pittsburgh area, and even the venerable Rolliers betrayed me. I wound up having to mail order them. They shouldn't cost much if you do find them. I think I only paid $9 for this set, though the price where I got them seems to be $14, now.

    [All 'Toolsday' Posts]

    2010.10.19 at 12:00am EDT

    Android 'Fragmentation'

    When people like Steve Jobs talk about how "fragmented" the world of the Android OS is, they're talking about how an Android device can be from any one of a dozen or so manufacturers and might be running any one of six or so versions of the OS. Now first of all, those people are assuming this is a bad thing. We could probably argue about that for hours. Second of all, they are missing they fact that before Android, those dozens of devices devices would be running dozens of different operating systems. Now, they are all running Android.

    2010.10.20 at 12:00am EDT

    Autumn in Western PA

    View from Work

    One reason I still kinda like living in Western PA is Autumn. I drive to work every day up a highway that runs along woodlands that are deep in Autumn color. The view out the lunchroom at work is shown above. I don't like winter very much, but I like Autumn just fine.

    2010.10.21 at 12:00pm EDT

    Friday Catblogging

    The New Boy

    A feral cat who was born in the neighborhood a couple of years ago gave birth to a litter of kittens under the neighbors' porch this past spring. They have been trying to find homes for them, and Sharon decided to adopt one. He's a total love bug, but he's currently sequestered in the guest bedroom pending a health evaluation and neutering. This bad cell phone picture makes him look evil, but he's actually sweet and kinda shy.

    2010.10.22 at 12:00am EDT

    Toolsday: Bar Clamp

    Ah, the humble bar clamp, also known as the F clamp. Similar to the good old C clamp, but easier to use.

    Small Bar Clamp

    This is a small one, only about 5 inches long. I have a handful of these, plus two low-profile kind, four 12 inch, two 24 inch, and two 36 inch. Yes, awesome yard-long clamps.

    C clamps basically have only one way to adjust them. You have to turn the screw many many times to make large adjustments. With the bar clamp, you slide the clamping head to make gross adjustments, and then turn the screw to tighten things up a bit. The larger clamps have a ratchet to hold the sliding part in place, so you can set multiple clamps up, then tighten them one by one.

    The screw can exert quite a lot of force, which is useful sometimes for easing parts together. With enough clamps, you can force warped wood into position, then hold it there long enough for the glue to set. The larger clamps enable you to pull this trick on bigger and bigger projects. You still need the smaller ones, though, because having giant 36" clamps on a tiny box is not only unwieldy, but liable to make the small workpiece flip up off the bench. If you visit the shop of somebody who does a lot of cabinetry, they will have whole racks of clamps, in many different varieties.

    These little ones only cost $5 or so, but the prices increase pretty rapidly. I would recommend holding off on larger ones until you need them, but don't hesitate to buy once you decide you need them, because trying to "make do" never works out. Since you can always use more of them, they make good gift items from your friends and relatives. Pick a favorite brand and learn how to describe it. (Mine: Bessey, with the red handles.

    [All 'Toolsday' Posts]

    2010.10.26 at 12:00am EDT

    Daily Show President

    If you have any interest at all in the national politics of these here United States, you probably know that President Obama sat for an interview on premiere fake news program "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart. This is neither the end of the, nor the start of a brand new, world; so let's keep that in perspective. The President is catching some flak from the opposition for his decision to appear though, and I want to address that.

    First of all, I cannot consider this to be a soft-ball interview. Jon Stewart may be a comedian, and he may sympathize with the current adminitration, but I think he asked some tough questions, and pushed for real answers. Maybe he didn't ask every question he could have, but I'm sure he asked some questions the President wishes he hadn't. Also, I can't consider any interview to be softball where the interviewer literally laughs in the interviewee's face.

    Second, The Daily Show is in Washington DC specifically for the run up to next week's election day. Since many people, especially in the opposition, view this set of election races as referenda on President Obama and the Democratic party, I think it would have been a mistake for the President to ignore their request for an interview. Some presidents and candidates fear exposure even in friendly settings, so President Obama's appearance took some bravery.

    I think it went well. Stewart got some laughs, President Obama got some exposure for his political message, and we all got to watch a politician respond to criticism in a not-totally-scripted fashion. I think this was a good thing.

    2010.10.28 at 10:30am EDT

    Friday Catblogging

    New Boy in the Sun

    Here's a slightly less evil-looking picture of the new boy. He's socializing pretty well, and will probably be out of quarantine soon. He got a clean bill of health at the vee ee tee, and is starting to show some interest in the world outside the guest bedroom.

    2010.10.29 at 12:00am EDT

    Long Twill Braid

    Back in April, when Sharon and I took that class with Rodrick Owen, I asked him what marudai braid he thought best approximated the type of braids used in Japanese armor. In June, he sent me a pattern for imitating a twill takadai braid on the marudai. I started it soopn after, and I finally finished it up.

    Brown Twill Braid

    Yes, I've been braiding this braid (on and off) for the past five months. It is almost 21 feet long. The braid is a 17 strand braid with a twill structure. I used cotton embroidery floss, in three different colors of brown. I had originally set up the marudai to do a very fast 16 strand braid, but when Mr. Owen sent me this pattern I added one more strand and got going. Wow, now I have a lot of it. I think I have a use for about 12 or 14 feet of it.

    The braiding pattern is actually quite simple, much like the square braid pattern I used for braids like braid 93, but the 17th strand allows the braid to open flat. It really should not have taken me this long to complete even this much braid, but I was only working on it part time, and actually did some other braids in between.

    2010.10.30 at 12:00am EDT

    Sharon in her Garb

    New Fall Garb

    Sharon's been working very hard lately to get some new Japanese garb ready for fall. She showed this garb off recently at a local SCA event, and I thought I'd post this picture here for those who missed it.

    2010.10.31 at 12:00am EDT

    The Question

    The question on my mind is whether Republican victories yesterday are enough to get business leaders (Republicans) to stop holding our country's economy hostage or not. There's plenty of money out there. Businesses can borrow it for basically nothing, and taxes are still lower than they've been in the past 75 years. Businesses are just not spending. They are hoarding their cash instead of expanding, improving their facilities, or hiring workers.

    Now, we all know and understand that if, despite Republican control of the majority of state governments and half of the federal government, the economy doesn't improve more rapidly (it's already improving, by the way) starting in February, the Republicans will continue to blame the remaining Democrats for everything. That's a given. However, if this election proves anything it's that in two years, people can forget why they ever voted for you.

    2010.11.03 at 9:30am EDT

    Friday Assblogging

    Space Invading Minivan

    Went into the local supermarket to do some grocery shoping. Came out to find my parking space had been invaded. As proof that I am not as vindictive and spiteful as some people think, I did not key or otherwise damage this vehicle.

    2010.11.12 at 2:00pm EDT


    Beard 2010

    For no real reason, I decided that instead of letting my full beard grow out this winter, I would try letting just my VanDyke style beard grow out. Normally, I keep it trimmed down to about a quarter inch, but some of these bard hairs are getting pretty long. The beard itself down't seem to be getting much longer, though. The hairs seem brittle, and I think they're breaking before they get all that long. I might keep up this experiment, or I might not. I am considering shaving off the whole thing in march, though. I've had this beard since 1993, though I shaved the beard part off for a job for three months back in 1996. Back in my twenties, I still looked like a teenager. I wonder what my now fully adult face looks like without hair on it?

    2010.11.15 at 12:00am EDT

    Welcome to December

    I have lots to talk about, but no time to write it all down. We went on vacation and saw a bunch of stuff, and I hope to post some pictures. I've been doing some woodworking and hope to post some pictures once all the projects are finished. I still have a pile of tools to review. I'll get to all that, I'm sure.

    Today, I want to talk about driving. It snowed today, the first day in December. Monday, my car's odometer clicked over (They don't "roll" over any more, they're digital.) to 100,000 miles in just under 11 years of driving it. It's still doing mostly OK, but I don't trust it implicitly like I used to. I can probably afford a new car, but I want to wait for the 2012 Focus to come out so I can include it in my selection process. That means driving this aging vehicle through another Pittsburgh winter.

    Today, on my way to work, I watched the person just behind me akid out and almost completely lose it on a highway curve at about 60 miles per hour. That driver recovered fine, but it kind freaked me out. Sigh.

    2010.12.01 at 11:00am EDT

    Tadao Arimoto Site

    I just noticed today that my sometime woodworking teacher Tadao Arimoto has a new web site.

    If you have trouble seeing the larger images in the portfolio, your ad-blocking software is probably hiding them. Mr. Arimoto's last couple of classes in Pittsburgh have been cancelled due to low demand, so pass this link around please, and maybe we can drum up some interest in his work.

    2010.12.02 at 3:00pm EDT

    What did I listen to in 2010?

    I buy CDs. No, really.

    Devo, Something for Everybody

    This album is really pretty good, but it was somewhat overhyped, even though the overhyping was by design. It's also useful for finding out which pieces of music software consider all MP3 files as part of a single album, just because those albums have the same name, even if the artist is different and the files are in separate directories.

    Laurie Anderson, Heartland

    Ms. Anderson apparently had a hard time completing this album, but eventually made it through the creation process with the help of her husband Lou Reed. It's a great story of artistic collaboration, and this is a great album. Laurie is in the golden years of her art, when she has the resources, connections, and experience to create basically whatever she can imagine. This wide open vista must present some confusion for her, but hopefully she can pull a few more albums out of the world.

    Massive Attack, Heligoland

    This band's albums have always been a little more collage-like than their radio play in the US might indicate, but this album is all over the map. I still can't tell you if I actually liked it very much or not. I've probably only listened to it about five times.

    Hans Zimmer, Inception

    This soundtrack is actually designed to be a closed loop, a Penrose staircase of an album that rises and rises every time through until you're right back where you started. If you enjoyed this film (and I did) you will enjoy this soundtrack (and I do). Hans Zimmer is the current star of the film score artform, and for good reason.

    Various Artists, Scott Pilgrim

    This soundtrack album was released in a very annoying form. There's the severely truncated red cover album, and the blue cover album that contains what should have been all the other tracks included on the red cover album. The blue cover album is only available on vinyl and MP3. How could you decide to make a movie that has music as a major focus, and not make the full soundtrack more accessible? The full collection is a great soundtrack, with lots of incidental music from the fight scenes and lots of great rock from the performance scenes.

    The Orb, Metallic Spheres

    A classic 1970's style progressive album from the classic 1990's style dub/electronica band, delivered in 2010. It is two giant tracks of rambly awesomeness.

    2011.01.03 at 11:00am EDT


    As I think I've mentioned before, I scan all my bills and receipts into my computer so that I can refer to them later if I need to. This has actually come in handy a few times, so I mostly continue to do it. I say "mostly" because sometimes I fall behind. When I checked my pile at the end of the year, I discivered that I haven't done any scanning since June. That means scanning roughly six months worth of paperwork, one page at a time. So far, it's more than 200 pages, and I haven't even gotten to the bulk of the receipts yet. Gah.

    2011.01.05 at 12:00am EDT

    Check Yourself Out

    If you live in a modern part of the world, you have probably been exposed to the modern retail trend of "self check-out" lines. These lines have you do the job of casier for yourself, for free. Retailers like them because they can have more checkout lines open without having to pay more cashiers to run them. Some consumers like them because it is often faster than waiting for live person, and they don't mind doing somebody else's formerly paid job for free. Usually, I am willing to wait to have a person check out my purchases and accept my payment. The other night we stopped at a supermarket for a couple of items and were presented with a checkout area that had ZERO live cashiers. There were four self-check lines and no regular lines. Fortunately, the front-end manager was willing to get up and run my purchase when I asked, but we seriously almost just put our stuff down and walked out. I understand these decisions are not made by the staff of the store but by the manager, so I tried to be really nice about it, but seriously it's not very hospitable for there to be zero cashiers in a store.

    2011.01.06 at 11:00am EST

    R.I.P. Natasha


    Well, Mischa died a few months ago, and Tashi was only a few months younger than Mischa, so I suppose we were expecting this sooner or later, but it was altogether a bit sudden anyway. She stopped eating, and even subcutaneous fluids didn't perk her up. She was one of those cats who always liked to drink from the faucet, but by Sunday she couldn't even keep water down and she'd just stand there watching the drops fall.

    She was a wonderful cat, a great cat. She had an extra digit on each paw (polydactyly), so sometimes we'd call her "Mittens". She loved laps, pets, catnip, treats, sunshine, food, running water, fresh air, tuna, and everything else you'd expect for a cat. She would come to greet you when you walked into the house. We miss her.

    2011.01.11 at 10:00pm EST

    Not Me

    Elliott Evans shows the strain as he tests out the new gym.

    Not me, but this is one of the most awesome Google Alerts I've ever received for my name. Feel the burn, dude.

    2011.01.13 at 12:00am EST

    Friday Assblogging

    Porsche Asche

    Don't you wish you could afford to have a Porsche and no consideration for other people?

    2011.01.14 at 9:30am EST

    Two Recent Braids

    I have a big complex braid on my main marudai, but I recently did a couple fo short simple braids on the side.

    Black and White Kaku Yatsu

    I did this square braid in bamboo/silk yarn to make scans of for instructionla handouts.

    Black and Gold Yatsu Rai

    I did this flat S braid to refresh my memory of the braiding pattern, and to try out cotton crochet thread as a material.

    2011.01.17 at 12:00am EST

    Two Cedar Jubako

    Did some woodworking back in December, and since one of these was a gift for Sharon, I couldn't post about it until after the holidays.

    The most interesting part about these is that I started with cheap cedar planks. I started with 1x6 that had only been planed on one side, ripped it lengthwise to make thinner wood, then planed it down to quarter inch thickness. I used to have to buy thin wood like this, but now I can manufacture it at home myself. Yay!

    Cedar 3-Tier Jubako

    This one has squares of 1x6 for the bottom of each box, so it's a little small. It was good practice though, with the planing, sanding, joining, and finishing.

    Cedar 4-Tier Jubako

    This one's a little larger. I started with 1x8 for the bottoms, so they are big enough inside for sixteen tama each. Both are finished with boiled linseed oil.

    2011.01.19 at 12:00am EST

    Film: Never Let Me Go

    I skipped this movie in theaters because I wasn't sure it was worth seeing. I was wrong.

    The trailer makes it seem that over the course of the film we discover the horrible truth of the characters lives, that they are clones, bred only as organ donors. The trailer is awful. That's not the big secret of the movie; that's the premise.

    There are no big secrets in this movie, and no big reveals. There are no chase sequences, no fights, and no explosions. There is just a story.

    This movie is actually remarkable not for what is in it, but for what is not in it. The things they don't talk about say just as much about the world they live in as the things they do. There are things you never see in this movie because the characters never see them. Their absence leaves a great void, and I think this is deliberate.

    2011.01.24 at 12:00am EST

    Braids of Experimentation and Completion

    Finished up a couple of braids recently, and together they round out a nice chunk of history. These two braids are numbers 99 and 100 in my records. Whew.

    Red and White Shige Uchi

    This is more experimentation with cotton crochet thread. I'm not sure I like what it does in a shige uchi braid, the tensions are all wrong and the pattern, which should be nice, gets covered up in places. I don't think this thread is flexible enough for this braid. It should work well for some other braids, though. I just have to find out what those braids are.

    Almost Sawagata Gumi

    I decided to try out Makiko Tada's sawagata gumi using some nice silk yarn I picked up while on vacation in November. The yarn is great. It's more of the "Mulberry Silk" brand I've used before and enjoyed. The braid is a 24-strand monstrosity with five pages of instructions. Unfortunately, those instructions don't actually illustrate all of the movements you're supposed to make. So OK, to begin with it's not right. Next, I did it in installments over the course of three SCA events and four weekends. There are a number of errors. It's difficult to keep track of where you are in five pages of instructions when you're talking to people and packing it up for a week in between sessions. Anyway, so like normal my first try at something isn't perfect. You kind of have to know what you're looking at to know that, so it doesn't bother me too much.

    2011.01.31 at 12:00am EST

    International Revolution Time

    Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has announced that he wishes to die a martyr, but I think think the coolest thing the Libyan people could do it deny him that. Let him die at a ripe old age, retired. It's sad he feels he has to martyr Libyans first, turning himself into a war criminal who cannot be allowed the luxury of retirement or exile.

    So far, at least, Egypt has been cooler. The new government is seeking to reclaim illicit funds, and I'm sure they will prosecute any crimes they might find evidence of, but for now they have simply made Hosni Mubarak irrelevant.

    I was in the ninth grade when we were basically at war with Libya. It was kind of a one-sided war, given that we mostly just bombed the heck out of them, but it was definitely war. We killed a bunch of people, including little kids, so it must have been war. In any case, the goal we sought through a few days of bombing may finally be in sight after 25 years of simply waiting. I'm sure more people have died in a quarter century of waiting than died from our bombing, but somehow it doesn't seem as relevant to politics. That's just life.

    2011.02.23 at 7:00am EST

    Another Collapsible Stool

    I made another collapsible wooden stool, using the design from a class I took with Mr. Arimoto.

    Stool #3

    Instead of the pine we used in class, I used poplar. I also started with 1x12, 1x10, and 1x6, to make it with less cutting. I had to plane some of the parts down to width, but I think if I make another one, I will simply alter the design to use those standard lumber widths.

    My hand-cut joinery is a lot tighter this time. I'm better with the chisels and more careful to clean out the mortises, and match them better with the tenons. It's still not perfect, but it's much better. Of course,it took me much longer than the first one did. I probably put in about 24 hours of work across three weekends.

    2011.02.28 at 12:00am EST

    As Threatened

    As I threatened to back in November I have shaved my face completely for the first time since 1993.

    No Beard, 2011

    I probably won't keep it this way. It's very jarring to look at myself in the mirror. Without the beard, it looks like my mouth is just floating in the middle of my face. Sharon frowned when she saw. She says it makes me look like I'm 25 years old, but that's not true because I already had the beard when I was 25 years old.

    Most of you people probably don't consider how distracting it can be to be able to feel yourself exhale through your nose onto your upper lip.

    2011.03.07 at 12:00am EST

    I'm Impressed

    I have to say that I am totally impressed with whatever employee conditioning techniques are being used by Office Depot to train their cashiers. I went there the other day, and the cashier remembered to ask me, "Do you need any ink, toner, or paper today?" despite the fact that the toner and paper I had gone there to buy were right on the counter in front of him.

    2011.03.14 at 6:30pm EST

    Green Suikan

    I haven't been happy with the spiff level of my Japanese garb. I mean, some friends of ours are being crowned king and queen next month, and I still look like I should be waiting outside. My real goal is to make a kariginu over-robe, but I knew I didn't want to just jump into heavy brocade without a better idea of the shapes I would need to work with, so I decided to start with a suikan. The suikan is basically the same shape as a kariginu, only unlined and in plainer fabric.

    Green Suikan

    The suikan is made from four yards of fabric, fourteen feet of lace, ten silk pom-poms, and hope. It turned out OK. I know what I'll change when I make the kariginu.

    There's actually a simple project page for this, though it's mostly just there to hold a few more pictures.

    2011.03.18 at 4:00pm EST

    Sliding Downhill

    So three years ago, I complained that IKEA only had one human cashier to encourage customers to check out their own purchases. The other day, I visited the local IKEA, selected some items, and when I arrived at the registers I found they now have zero cashiers working in the morning. There was one person working the front end, but that person was unwilling to ring up my purchases. There wasn't even anybody working the service desk so I could register a complaint. I walked out without the items I'd selected.

    We have 9% unemployment in this country, and a highly profitable retail operation can't afford to hire cashiers? It's shameful. I'm disgusted.

    2011.03.24 at 12:00pm EST


    To follow up on the suikan, I made a kariginu A kariginu is basically the same shape as a suikan, though it is more often lined and made of fancier fabric.

    Red Brocade Kariginu

    The fabric is polyester brocade (not historically accurate), but the shape is very accurate, matching several examples. It was a lot of sewing, but it should be fancy enough to attend the coronation event next month.

    2011.03.30 at 10:00pm EDT

    See "Source Code"

    Give yourself a present (Happy Birthday, EZ) and go see the movie Source Code before it leaves theaters. Not because it's one of those movies that needs to be seen on the big screen, but because it's a movie you want to see sooner than later.

    Duncan Jones, who already won my heart with his amazing movie Moon, has established himself in my mind as a director who can really make Science Fiction movies that are about human emotions. Boths films are unmistakably SF and rely heavily on established SF tropes, but the setting and technology is secondary to how the main characters have their humanity tested and confirmed through the plots he designs.

    Source code stars Jake Gyllenhaal, who as usual turns in a good performance, and Vera Farmiga who is even better. They play the only two real characters in the story, and for much of the time the camera is zoomed in very close on their faces, so this is important. Much of the movie hangs on what facial expressions they display when portraying their characters.

    I won't tell you much about the plot, but I'll comment that it has either one of the saddest happy endings I've ever seen, or one of the happiest sad endings. Kurt Vonnegut believed that the most realistic stories were the ones where you couldn't tell what was the good news and what was the bad news. In this film, Jones hits Vonnegut's mark.

    Of course, Source Code and all its Groundhog Day style bretheren (Quantum Leap, Day Break, Heaven Can Wait, &c.) are all just Buddhist allegories, but this one is exceptional because it includes the concept of the Bardo. Most films skip the Bardo, but in this story it's vitally important. Watch the Bardo sequences carefully, they're awesome.

    2011.04.14 at 12:00am EDT

    KGB Party 2011

    A Party

    2011.04.16 at 12:30pm EDT

    Rectangular Braid in Red and White

    I decided to try a brand new type of braid recently, the hira yatsu "flat eight" braid.

    Hira Yatsu in red and white

    This is an awesome braid, and I'm glad I finally tried it out. I used four threads of cotton crochet thread per strand, so this braid came out nice and hefty. The hira yatsu braid is not as flat as the yatsu sen or hira nami braids. It is much more rectangular in cross-section. Much like the kaku yatsu square braid, it's easy to get vertical stripes running down the braid, and easy to get "rings" or "waves" by using a different arrangement of starting threads.

    One of the reasons I took so long to try this braid is that the instructions I have for it make it seem difficult. It's really very easy and fast. I should make my revised instructions available.

    2011.04.26 at 12:00am EDT

    Mogwai? Yes Wai!

    One of the down sides of living in a second-tier city like Pittsburgh is that while you mostly feel like you live in a city, often times you get passed-over for important touring events like semi-obscure foreign bands.

    Scottish band Mogwai at Mr. Small's

    One of my favorite bands of the last few years is the band Mogwai. They're based in Glasgow, Scotland, so they don't make it to North America very much, let alone out to Pittsburgh. They were here this past Wednesday, though, and we went to see them.

    Mogwai is pigeonholed in the genre that is regretably called "post-rock". They play mostly instrumental music, but it's not "prog-rock" like other instrumental favorite Zombi or "art rock" like Icelandic band Sigur Rós. Mogwai plays what is unmistakably rock music, with a punk bend to it and amps turned all the way up. More than one reviewer has called them, "The loudest band on the planet". We brought ear plugs.

    That's not to say they're not capable of subtlety. Some of their tracks have haunting, driving melodies and subtle variations worthy of Philip Glass. They've done a couple of soundtracks for films, so clearly some people feel they can be evocative.

    The venue was "Mr. Small's Funhouse", a converted church in Millvale, a small town just outside of Pittsburgh. It's a mid-sized venue with excellent acoustics. No seats, though, so we opted to sit up in their "VIP Balcony". There's no "charge" for that, but you're making a commitment to buy food and drink there. So, it's a bit pricey, but it's the only way to sit down. You're up in the choir loft, too, which means you have a great view over the heads of the crowd.

    The last ten minutes of the show consist of the band leaving the stage one by one. The last two guitarists to leave wind up putting their guitars down and pretty much just playing with effects pedals for about five minutes. I checked the outside of the church for missing bricks on the way out. Awesome. Just mind-blowingly good.

    2011.04.30 at 12:00am EDT

    Trek in Hell

    Some of you can probably anticipate the "punch line" of this mash-up from just the first panel.

    Trek in Hell, panel 1

    Click through to see the thing in its full "glory", though. You probably won't get it unless you're familiar with the original strip. You might need to be at least 35 years old to understand why the original strip was extraordinary and funny at the time.

    I still can't believe I found three great photos to make the full strip. I hope nobody's offended by this, especially not Misters Groenig, Takei, and Koenig. The idea got stuck in my head, so I had to make it.

    2011.05.02 at 12:00am EDT

    Karabitsu Braids

    We use the "water karabitsu" quite a bit during the year to haul feast gear and other items to SCA events. As a consequence the decorative cords I bought for it were getting a bit ratty. Luckily, I now know how to make nicer ones.

    Rectangular braid in blue chunky yarn

    Round braid in blue chunky yarn

    Both of these are made with a chunky acrylic yarn, so they won't mind getting wet, and are nice and soft. The rectangular braid uses that hira yatsu pattern. The round braid uses that old standby, the hira yatsu pattern, with a core of nylon rope, for strength.

    2011.05.04 at 12:00am EDT

    Shibori Kosode

    First, spend two days learning how to dye fabric. Then, make stuff from the fabric.

    Kosode in shibori-dyed linen

    Kosode in shibori-dyed silk

    These two garments are a bit garish, but they show off most of the dozen or so techniques we learned over ten hours of class with Jan Myers-Newbury. What an excellent class; we learned so much and had tons of fun. Dying fabric is so much easier when somebody else mixes big pots of dye for you, and you have a bunch of other people to help with the stirring and stuff.

    The class was mostly geared towards creating blocks for quilting, but luckily for me one rectangle looks the same as another! I brought in enough panels to make two kosode from our classroom experiments.

    2011.05.06 at 12:00am EDT

    Google Maps Horked

    Google Maps is still not working at all for me under Firefox at home. It's been weeks. It seems like some people have been having this problem for months. Google's responses are like "Try a different browser."

    2011.05.12 at 9:30pm EDT

    Karma Quote

    "Karma is what happens to you because of what you did--every action has a reaction; and if you live groovily, you will have groovy experiences."
    -- Yggdrasil Birnbaum, The Yggyssey by Daniel Pinkwater

    2011.05.16 at 7:30am EDT


    We saw the new "Thor" movie. It was good. I liked it. We enjoyed it. Besides, you know, its lack of fidelity to the eddas, I can only think of one thing that made me unhappy about it. What if Kenneth Branagh and J. Michael Straczynski had used that $150 million to make the first "Amber" movie instead? In a way, of course, they just did, but I mean if they had made a "Nine Princes in Amber" movie that was as good as this "Thor" movie, I would do nothing but watch it, for like, a week. Which is to say that this "Thor" movie is a quite good "Thor" movie, but in the bigger picture of things I am still wistful.

    2011.05.27 at 7:00am EDT

    Two Ton Kumihimo

    After threatening to do this for several years, I actually got around to braiding some paracord.

    Kaku Yatsu in Paracord

    "Parachute Cord" typically has a test weight of 550 pounds, so this 8-strand kaku yatsu briad has a total test weight of around two tons. That should be strong enough to lift the wine karabitsu, I should think.

    2011.05.30 at 4:00am EDT

    Three Rectangular Braids

    Sharon and I taught another kumihimo class, this time at Aethelmearc War Practice. I only taught two braids, kaku yatsu and hira kara gumi. Over the course of that weekend, I actually wound up making three braids of kaku yatsu to use up the material I had prepared for class. All three of these are in cotton crochet thread, either three or four threads per strand.

    "Rings" color pattern

    The first one, I wound up gifting to Sir Ogami Akira to use as a chin strap for his hat. He says it's very comfy.

    "S Braid" pattern

    THL Cadel Blaidd Dhu tried this color pattern, and I liked it so much that I just had to try it.

    "Wu Tang" pattern

    I was trying to see if I could get a spiral in this braid, but instead I wound up with this great swoopy figure.

    2011.05.31 at 12:00am EDT

    Joel Rosenberg, RIP

    I saw a note linked from the Making Light blog about Joel Rosenberg having serious health problems last night, and his web site is reporting that he did not survive.

    From -

    On Wednesday afternoon, June 1, 2011, Joel had a respiratory depression that caused a heart attack, anoxic brain damage and major organ failure. Despite the very best efforts of the paramedics and the team at Hennepin County Medical Center, Joel was pronounced brain dead at around 5:37pm Thursday June 2nd, In accordance with his wishes, he shared the gift of life through organ and tissue donation.

    He is survived by his daughters, Judith Eleanor and Rachel Hannah, and his wife, Felicia Herman. Today, June 3rd would have been his 32nd wedding anniversary.

    Joel Rosenberg was a cantankerous individual, who I'm not sure I would have gotten along with in person, but everything I've ever seen written about him indicates that he was a person very much worth knowing. He was dedicated to his family and friends, and willing to die to protect them. He was the kind of friend who would drive from Minnesota to Texas and back to help a friend move. I enjoyed reading his fiction, he has a fantasy series that he started in 1978 and has been continuing ever since, and I am sad he won't be able to tell us the rest of the story.

    My condolences to his family and friends.

    2011.06.03 at 12:00am EDT

    Hardware Cube

    This is the scene just outside my cubicle today. They're pallettizing some old hardware to be taken away by the recyclers today, and the space outside my cube was the best space they had in which to do it. It was worse yesterday when it was being wrapped. Those stretch-wrap rolls are loud.

    Hardware Cube

    Welcome to honest Eeyore's used hardware bazaar! You want CRTs? We have CRTs! You need memory? We have memory! You need storage? We have storage! Special deals if you buy the whole pallette! Don't miss out! Stop by today before it's gone!

    2011.06.08 at 10:00am EDT

    Check It

    72" Icehouse Pyramid

    Roughly six feet tall, is it the biggest Icehouse pyramid ever?

    2011.06.09 at 12:00am EDT


    Our Man Flint

    Derek Flint did it in 1965; where were you?

    2011.06.10 at 12:00am EDT

    Sword Buying

    In general, if you are thinking about buying a sword for some reason, you discover that there are three kinds of swords in the world. First, there are the kind you can't buy. They are in the hands of museums, private collectors, and possibly angry people. Next, there are the kind are really worth owning, if you care about quality at all. A wide variety of swords in several quality levels are available, from a number of reputable dealers and individuals. Lastly, there are the swords that don't cost thousands of dollars.

    The bind is, of course, that if you don't really need a sword, you definitely don't want to spend thousands of dollars, but if you care about quality at all you know that you are stepping into a minefield. Plenty of reasonable blades at reasonable prices are available from reputable dealers, but how do you know what you are really getting and if it's worth what you are paying?

    I saw this dealer last week at Origins - DragonSong Forge

    They appear to have a bad reputation on the Internet because the guy in charge has a bad habit of shooting his mouth off online. On the other hand, they have a number of satisfied customers. In person the guy in charge is mostly nice, at least if you make it clear you are in the market to buy. Judging by their booth, they also make most of their money selling anime reproductions and things like that, but that's neither here nor there to me; gotta stay in business somehow.

    If you only judge them by their web site and some videos you can find on YouTube, they are a total cheese fest, but again, in person they act more serious. The guy in charge is very opinionated about what manufacturers are worth buying or not, and he will "discuss" it with you if you disagree. He badmouths his competitors a little more than I like to see in a professional. The buying guidelines he has at this page seem like mostly good advice, so promotion and trash talk aside, he does have thoughtful things to say.

    The core of their business is interesting to me, too. Most places I see online only sell completed weapons. DragonSong buys all their parts separately, and will assemble a weapon from the parts you choose This kind of service is available from merchants of high quality blades, and you could definitely save a lot of money learning how to do it yourself in any case, but this is the only place I've seen (in person) that does this high level of service at the same level of the market as the people selling the aforementioned anime blades.

    I'd be hesitant to buy through their web site, but if you see them at a show of some kind (They appear to travel to conventions quite often.) you can carefully examine the blade and all the parts beforehand, and decide if you think it's worth what he's charging.

    I bought a tanto (Japanese dagger) from him. It wasn't a custom job, but he claimed to have assembled it himself. He could have done a better job gluing on the rayskin. In my opinion, the blade is (to my limited ability to discern) in the "not complete crap" class, but not great. I certainly didn't pay for "great". I think I paid enough for "OK", and I'm pretty sure it's OK. It has a defined hamon, the wavy line just back of the edge that indicates the blade has been differentially tempered to produce a hard edge with a more flexible backing. Some cheap swords will have these marks applied with a wire brush or grinder. In many cases, the dealer is even honest about that. Some people just want a cheap sword that looks good for costuming. This hamon appears to be part of the blade as it should be, and not just on the surface. The fittings are attractive, and include a horn kurigata (the cord attachment point on the saya (scabbard)) and brass (plated?) menuki (handle medallions). The price was OK, but not amazingly good. I guess I saved some money not having to pay shipping.

    I still have a little bit of "I bought a weapon at a convention" embarassment. I think the last time I did that was the time I bought a cheap knife (on purpose) at Philcon back in 1994. Anyway, here's a picture.


    2011.06.30 at 12:00am EDT

    Suoh Sugata

    I had the day off from work today, so I finished up this fancy new Japanese outfit.

    Suoh Sugata

    It's definitely upper-class, though technically not very formal. It's a suoh sugata, which comprises a suoh hitatare (the "jacket" part") and suoh no hakama (the "pants" part). You can consider it a leisure suit, if your day job is leading a medieval Japanese battalion.

    This took me about three weeks of work. It's all fully lined; this was only the third lined garment I've made and the first pair of lined hakama I've made. The brocade for the shell was on sale for 40% off!

    2011.07.05 at 7:30pm EDT

    Finally, a Reasonable Sageo Braid

    I've been experimenting with braids lately, and finally came up with a reasonable way to make sageo type braids.

    Black sageo with white accents

    Sageo cords are the cords used to secure the scabbard (saya) of Japanese swords into the waistband of your garment. Looking at photographs, ti always seemed like the braids had nine strands, so it took me a while to figure out how to do a flat braid with nine strands. It's essentially the same square braid pattern I used for braid 96 and other braids, but the ninth strand opens up the braid to create a flat braid with the same twill structure.

    The material is an intersting embroidery thread that a friend of mine bought off ebay but didn't like. It says "silk" on the package, but the Internet tells me it's actually rayon. It looks good and braids well, so I'm sure I'll find a use for it in future braids.

    2011.07.06 at 12:00am EDT

    More Twill Braids

    I've been doing quite a bit of braiding recently, but been neglecting to post about it.

    Dark Red Sageo

    I am still planning on giving the first sageo-type braid to the person who gave me the thread, so I wanted one of these for myself. I used polyester embroidery thread, 24 threads per strand.

    Red Silk Sageo

    I realized that I still had a bunch of this great silk yarn from "Mulberry Silk", so I decided to do another sageo braid, this time in real silk. Since the yarn is thicker, I only had to use two plies of yarn per strand.

    Heavy Red Silk Sageo

    Here's what it looks like if you use three plies of the same yarn per strand. It's also twice as long as the previous braid, since most real sageo appear to be a bit longer than two yards.

    Silk Twill Braid

    At this point, I realized I was using up red yarn at a much higher rate than I was using up white yarn. To try and even that out a bit, I decided to try Rodrick Owen's 17-strand "Taku on Maru" braid again. This has 4 strands of red and 13 strands of white.

    2011.07.16 at 12:50am EDT

    My Second Suikan

    I did my first of these a couple of months ago, but I needed to make another for Pennsic. What do you do if you're asked to lend Japanese garb to His Majesty the Prince of your kingdom when you don't actually have any extra garb to lend? Start sewing, of course.

    Red Linen Suikan

    All the braid is store-bought, unfortunately, since I already have several large braiding projects to work on before this one. Red and white are the signature colors of our kingdom, and I think the gold silk kikutoji make nice accents.

    His majesty is about my height, but as a fighter he is a little more muscular and broader across the shoulders. This garment is tolerant of varying sizes, though.

    Back of Suikan

    It sure is red, isn't it?

    2011.07.18 at 12:00am EDT

    Crab: Bed of the Crab

    I downloaded these images from (I think) a personal web site at CMU in December of 1998. I have lost all other information about them.

    Woe is the Bed of the Crab

    The crab wishes us to contemplate our place in the universe.

    2011.07.27 at 12:00am EDT

    Crab: Between Crab and Coin

    I downloaded these images from (I think) a personal web site at CMU in December of 1998. I have lost all other information about them.

    Between Crab and Coin

    The crab wishes us to contemplate the distinction between the spiritual self and the material self.

    2011.08.03 at 12:00am EDT

    Crab: Crab Without Fear

    I downloaded these images from (I think) a personal web site at CMU in December of 1998. I have lost all other information about them.

    A crab without Fear has the Ear of God

    Note the use of the lower case "c" to indicate a crab, not the Crab,

    2011.08.10 at 12:00am EDT

    Crab: Dance Among The Crabs

    I downloaded these images from (I think) a personal web site at CMU in December of 1998. I have lost all other information about them.

    At Night the dreams of little children sance among the crabs...

    The innocence of youth is holy.

    2011.08.17 at 12:00am EDT

    Crab: Mother Crab Guard

    I downloaded these images from (I think) a personal web site at CMU in December of 1998. I have lost all other information about them.

    Tonight, mother crab must guard her children's dreams...

    The innocence of youth is holy, and must be protected.

    Clearly, the spectral figure is Morpheus, the king of dreams.

    2011.08.24 at 12:00am EDT

    Crab: Ocean Roars

    I downloaded these images from (I think) a personal web site at CMU in December of 1998. I have lost all other information about them.

    The Ocean Roars, But the Crab can Dance...

    The Crab wishes us to consider how we can rise above turmoil.

    2011.08.31 at 12:00am EDT

    Crab: Ropes of Red Velvet

    I downloaded these images from (I think) a personal web site at CMU in December of 1998. I have lost all other information about them.

    The crab's claw behind ropes of red velvet

    Our legacy is our ability to change the world.

    2011.09.07 at 12:00am EDT

    Crab: Spectral Figure

    I downloaded these images from (I think) a personal web site at CMU in December of 1998. I have lost all other information about them.

    "My dreams are haunted by a spectral Figure With empty eyes... Around his neck he wears the Claw of the CRAB..."

    Another reference to Morpheus? Is the figure the conqueror of the crab, or the crab's avatar? What is the signifcance of the fully upper case "CRAB"?

    2011.09.14 at 12:00am EDT

    Crab: Way of the Crab

    I downloaded these images from (I think) a personal web site at CMU in December of 1998. I have lost all other information about them.

    The way of the Crab is wrought with pain...
    But the foolish man sleeps in a bed of rain.

    Note the word is "wrought", not "fraught". Pain is not the obstacle, but the tool.

    2011.09.21 at 12:00am EDT

    Crab: Welcome The Crab

    I downloaded these images from (I think) a personal web site at CMU in December of 1998. I have lost all other information about them.

    Welcome the Crab. Take Joy in the Crab. CRAB crab crab.

    So emphatic !

    2011.09.28 at 12:00am EDT

    Crab: Wheel Of Life

    I downloaded these images from (I think) a personal web site at CMU in December of 1998. I have lost all other information about them.

    Thus is the Crab, And so turns The Wheel of Life

    The hour of the Crab is now.

    (This is the final Crab image. I hope you have found them enlightening.)

    2011.10.05 at 12:00am EDT

    Friday Assblogging

    Yesterday, I walked out of the building where I work, and was greeted by this amazing sight:

    Illegally Parked

    To be fair, maybe the driver couldn't read the signs because they are facing the wrong way.

    Illegally Driven

    Well actually, it's because the driver has come the wrong way up a one-way street to park in a no parking zone. Ass.

    Right after I took this picture, the driver came out of the building, got into the vehicle, and drove away... the wrong way up the one way street.

    2011.10.07 at 7:30am EDT

    Checker Braid

    I'm on a kumihimo mailing list, and another subscriber asked if anybody knew a braid that could produce a checkerboard pattern. There was a bit of speculation, but I mostly disagreed with others' suggestions, so I simply made a braid with my suggestion.

    Black and White Checkerboard

    I wound up having to expand a 16 strand braid (last seen in braid 120) from Jacqui Carey's Creative Kumihimo into a 20 strand braid so that the blocks of color would come out more square and less rectangular. Here is the braiding pattern -

    Looking back, I realized I haven't posted an actual braiding pattern in about two years.

    2011.10.11 at 12:00am EDT

    Bead Braids 2011

    I've given away most of the bead braids I made last year, so my "stock" has been running pretty low. I bought a bunch of beads back in the spring, but I've been too busy doing other things to make braids with them. That problem, at least, is now solved.

    Red and Black Frosted Bead Braid

    Red and White Silvered Bead Braid

    Iridescent Bead Braid with Donut Bead

    Black and Gold Bead Braid

    Red and "White" Wine Bead Braid

    Violet and Green Bead Braid with Donut Bead

    A fair amount of experimentation going on here, with different braiding patterns and color patterns. I even ran out of 10 pound fishing line and had to switch to 8 pound.

    The donut beads were a nice idea. The gray one is held in a loop at one end of the braid, and now I need a better toggle to complete it. The green bead is held on with a simple string of beads.

    2011.10.18 at 12:00am EDT

    There's that horn again

    You know, the horn that's mine that I also toot? Today, I'm tooting my own horn because yesterday I was inducted into The Order of the Fleur d'AEthelmearc for having "accumulated much merit by carving wood, and moreover making cords and clothing in the manner of the land of Yamato." Yes, it's another SCA thing. "The Fleur" is an "Award of High Merit", and entitles me to refer to myself as "The Honorable Lord Ishiyama Gen'tarou Yori'ie" within the society. It does not entitle me to ask them to write that on my cup at the coffee shop.

    My Fleur Scroll

    The scroll was illuminated by The Honorable Lady Ismay Ponde, and the wording on the scroll was composed and translated by Count Jehan de la Marche. The original scroll is about 16 inches wide and 12 inches tall.

    And let that be a lesson to you! Always dress up for court, or that will be the court where they make you stand up in front of everybody. Sigh. I should have T-shirts printed with, "If I'd known I was going to be called to court, I would have worn something nicer" on the back.

    2011.10.23 at 12:00pm EDT

    Shogi Project

    It's been a long while since I made some time to go down into the basement and bang on wood. This weekend I finally got sick of it and headed down to make something I've been wanting for a while. Behold, my new shogi stool.


    While folding camp stools look fine, are widely available, and are quite affordable; when you get into the details, true shogi are noticeably different. They tend to be a bit taller, roughly 18" instead of roughly 12". The crossbars are at the very bottom of the legs instead of most of the way down. The crossbars usually seem to be round instead of square in cross section.

    I took a few short cuts on this project, because I really wanted it to be a one day project: there are marks on the wood from the circular saw, the wood is completely unfinished, the "hinge" hardware is zinc-plated stuff from Lowe's, and the sewing on the seat was not planned very well. On the up side: the verticals are mortised into the crossbars, the cross bars are nice sturdy 1.25" dowels, the fabric is a swanky color of heavy duck, and the crossbars are "reinforced" with brass strips like I have often seen in photos.

    2011.10.31 at 12:00am EDT

    More Silk Braids

    I spent most of the last couple of weeks working on a single complex braid.

    Kyo Kara Gumi in Green and Yellow

    This braid from Makiko Tada's book "Kumihimo; The Essence of Japanese Braiding" is called "Kyo Kara Gumi". It has 24 strands, and the braiding pattern actually has 68 distinct steps. Luckily, many of these steps are similar and flow naturally, so it's pretty easy to remember. After the first few run throughs following the book step by step, you can run through it from memory and it gets much faster.

    I'd worked it before as classwork in Rodrick Owen's class as braid 88, but this one has a simpler color scheme, is much longer (about 5'9" long), and is made with silk yarn instead of cotton embroidery floss. The colors of this silk yarn from "Zen Yarn Garden" are great. I only used 3 plies of yarn per strand, but I could have used about twice that much probably.

    Hira Nami Gumi in red and White

    Most of the motions in the Kyo Kara Gumi are the simple "up down up down" motions found in many flat braids. I was attending an SCA event and wanted to show people that a high strand count doesn't necessarily make for a complex braid, so I set up a spare marudai with a 16-strand expansion of the 8-strand hira nami gumi that Jacqui Carey has as 16L in her "Creative Kumihimo" book.

    This is very similar to the 12-strand braid 119 I did a few months ago, but with 16 strands. Amusingly, I used heavier tama for this braid, so it actually came out a tad narrower than the 12-strand braid did.

    2011.11.01 at 12:00am EDT

    Friday Catblogging

    Rafter Girl / Purr Paws

    I have been extraordinarily remiss in my duties as the blog person in the house. Please meet Rafter Girl, "Raffie", Purr Paws. She is the newest resident of the house. Sharon adopted her from a person who called her Rafter Girl becuase she spent most of her time up in the rafters of the barn. Now tht she's safe in a house, she spends a lot of time with her paws up in the air, purring, and has earned a new name.

    2011.11.04 at 12:00am EDT

    More Kyo Kara Braid

    I can't believe I did this braid again so soon after the last big project using this braid, but here it is, more kyo kara gumi (from Makiko Tada's "Kumihimo: The Essence of Japanese Braiding"), this time about an inch wide.

    Heavy Kyo Kara Gumi

    I loved this braiding pattern when I made braid 148 but the braid came out a bit daintier thn I had wanted. This time, I think I used way too much yarn. I mean, it's OK, but it's more belt-like than I think was necessary.

    I wound up using three different types of silk yarn. The gold yarn is a high-quality, heavy, combed silk yarn. The red and white are that low quality stuff that I am still working through. The black is a lace-weight yarn that is also high quality. The black is actually 16 plies of yarn per strand, which was a bit heavy. I probably could have gotten away with just a dozen plies. The red and white yarn is so fuzzy that it doesn't slide past itself very well. this introduced some tension problems in the braid, but you have to know what you're looking for.

    Anyway, I did this color pattern because with braid 148 I noticed how some of the strands sort of loop back and forth, and I thought I could bring that out with color. It worked pretty well. The black and gold strands provide a nice border and ground for the loops, and introduce a nice subtle black and gold edge.

    2011.11.15 at 12:00am EDT

    Kyo Kara Gumi Video

    In case you were wondering how hard it is to braid the 24-strand kyo kara braid I posted yesterday, the answer is, "Not that hard, really, but it does take 54 steps. Those 54 steps only take about 3 minutes, and each iteration produces almost an inch of braid. It might seem difficult to remember all 54 steps, but if you watch this video you can see it's pretty simple.

    This video is also the first video I've posted to Vimeo. I've previously posted all my videos to YouTube, but YouTube decided that I can no longer log in to YouTube using the YouTube account that I have always used to log in to YouTube. Instead, I'm supposed to create a Google account, or link my YouTube account to an existing Google account. My response to that contains the first profanity I have ever posted to this blog: Fuck you, Google.

    2011.11.16 at 12:00am EDT

    Hatadai on the Workbench

    Here's a picture of the woodworking project that's (literally) on my workbench right now. I just finished up getting all the pieces cut, and this is the first "dry fit" to see if it assembles.


    It is a Japanese hatadai banner stand. Once it's done, I'll be able to slide a vertical pole down through the hole the top cross-piece to rest in the socket of the bottom cross-piece. This vertical pole will probably fly a hata-jirushi style banner. There are actually two concentric sockets in the lower cross-piece so that it can accept large and small diameter poles, and a removable adapter plug in the top cross-piece.

    The most notable aspect of this project from a personal perspective is that the whole thing is assembled using mortise and tenon joinery instead of fasteners. I hand-cut twenty mortise and tenon joints with saw and chisel. The joinery isn't perfect, but you can see that the joints are tight enough to have it stand up without glue.

    Next, I need to stain the pieces, asseble it with glue for durability, and put a coat or two of some kind of finish on it.

    2011.11.17 at 12:00am EDT

    Friday Assblogging

    I'll Take Three

    They recently repainted the parking lot at work, and they striped off some areas to make it easier for tractor-trailers to get to the loading dock. A co-worker characterized this parking manuever as, "Since these aren't actually parking spots, I'll take three."

    2011.11.18 at 12:00am EDT

    Can anybody name this story?

    At least 25 years ago, probably closer to 30 years ago, I read a story about a guy who was a sonic cleaner. In the world of the story, people had figured out that residual sound could build up on the walls of a room. That's why cathedrals with their hundreds of years of devotional singing just feel more holy. This is OK if what you're going for is holiness, but in most other situations the residue is more like dirt. Your average office is covered in typing noises and business conversations that are just a subliminal nuisance.

    They have machines like vacuum cleaners to remove the residual sound from the walls and provide a cleaner sonic environment. The protagonist has an advantage over other cleaners because he can actually hear the residual sound somehow. Recent voices are more clear of course, so he can always clean the tour guide voices out of a cathedral without damaging the Gregorian chants. This all leads to romantic difficulties somehow, but I can't remember how.

    Anyway, can anybody tell me the title of the story and its author? If you could find a copy of it online someplace that would be a total bonus.

    2011.11.22 at 2:00pm EDT

    Banner Stand Project

    So this is a wooden stand meant to hold a banner pole vertical. In Japanese, I'm not quite sure what to call it. The most likely candidates are hatadai, daiwaku, and hatazaotate.

    Banner Stand

    It's made entirely of pine, with no fasteners. I hand cut 20 mortise and tenon joints for assembly with glue. I darkened it with tannic acid (tea) and iron acetate (steel wool dissolved in white vinegar), then finished it with boiled linseed oil.

    I was able to make it with wood I already had in the basement, including some mysterious 2x2 that was here when Sharon moved in more than 15 years ago.

    2011.12.05 at 12:00am EDT

    Banner Project

    What good is a banner stand without a banner? I made this banner so that I'd have something to display, and so that our SCA household, "One Knight Inne" would have its own banner. This banner is designed to imitate a Japanese "hata-jirushi" style banner.

    Hata-Jirushi for One Knight Inne

    The fabric is some leftover navy blue linen I had around, and I made a stencil to guide the application of some white fabric paint to match our household's registered badge. The paint didn't come out perfect, but it's OK. I should really learn how to do screen printing.

    I'm planning to make some more banners over the next few months, but this will always be the first.

    2011.12.06 at 12:00am EDT

    Finishing Touches

    You might remember the Ko-Karabitsu Project from about a year ago. I had a new finishing technique that I wanted to try out, and it seemed like the perfect guinea pig.

    So Shiny

    The main constituent of the finish is a new version of an old standby. Minwax has made a colored polyurethane for years, but now they finally make it in black. I thought it might make a good replacement for lacquer. It does, but it is just as difficult as ever to get a smooth glossy finish using this stuff.

    Eventually, I just decided to try another technique on top. I blew gold-colored metal dust onto the wet finish, producing a simple version of the Japanese maki-e finish. True maki-e would form a picture of some kind, too, but I wasn't ready to try that yet.

    2011.12.07 at 12:00am EDT

    Circles Kosode Project

    I think this may be the most obnoxious kosode I've ever made.

    Circles Kosode

    It's actually a period Japanese pattern, I promise.

    2011.12.08 at 12:00am EDT

    Kingdom Braids 2011

    I finally finished up a 13 braid project over the weekend. This project occupied the majority of my braiding time, which explains the relative dearth of braiding posts over the past two months.

    13 8-strand braids

    These braids are not just medallion cords in Aethelmearc Kingdom colors, they are all 13 of the 8-strand braids in Jacqui Carey's book, "Creative Kumihimo". Some of those braids I have done a dozen or more times (probably 6 dozen for 8K), but at leat one of them I have only done once before, and maybe two of them never before.

    It was fun to work my way through all 13 of these braids (in order, naturally), and instructive in a Mr. Miyagi kind of way. I'm kind of at a loss regarding what to do now, though. I don't want to get wrapped up in a big 24 or 32 strand braid, but I'm a bit tired of 8-strand braiding right now. Maybe I should do a bunch of 9-strand braid. I still need some for sleeve cord.

    2011.12.19 at 11:30am EST

    Another Shogi Stool

    I wanted to make another one, and gifting season was coming up, so guess what Sharon got as a present?

    A Shogi Stool

    This one is made of slightly nicer wood, oak instead of poplar. I also did a better job sewing the seat. I cut more of the joinery by hand, but I also started with narrower wood for the legs so that I wouldn't have to do as much rip cutting. The wood was a quarter inch wider than the dowels, though, so I had to taper each laeg slightly. This introduced some interesting profiles for the brass, but it looks OK, mostly.

    Shogi Detail

    2011.12.29 at 10:00pm EDT

    Music Review 2011

    What did I listen to in 2011? Not a whole lot, actually. I didn't purchase, or listen to, a whole lot of music in 2011. Especially I didn't get anything brand new or groundbreaking. All of these things are new albums from old favorites. Slow year, I guess, or maybe I am just getting old.

    Mogwai, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will

    This album, combined with their tour coming to town and us going to the show, is a big part of 2011 for me. This is a strong album, and this band seems to keep getting stronger. There's a bit of retro-progressive influence on some of it, and some hard scratchy stuff, and some real earworms.

    Elbow, Build A Rocket Boys

    Reportedly, their previous album which I liked so much was their foray into trying to be more commercially appealing, and this album was their attempt to get back to their artistic center. While I approve of that in general, I have to say that I found their previous album more appealing to me. This is nice, and I listened to it a bunch, but very little of it sank in in the way "Seldom Seen Kid" did.

    R.E.M., Collapse Into Now

    I bought this? Wow. I think maybe I've listened to it a couple of times. I hear the band has decided to call it quits. Maybe it's about time. I think each of them has established a strong career individually now, and that's good.

    Zombi, Escape Velocity

    Again, here's an album I like that I listened to a bunch, but just didn't set me on fire like some of their previous stuff. I wish they'd play Pittsburgh (or anywhere) again.

    They Might Be Giants, Join Us

    Liked it; didn't fall in love with any of it; didn't even go see them when they played town. Fact is, their kids albums have more inventive songwriting these days, and catchier tunes. I'll buy their new stuff until the world ends, but their older stuff gets my feet dancing and my lips singing almost involuntarily, and nothing on here caught me the same way.

    Sigur Ros, Inni

    This is a live album compiled from a concert tour, so in a way it is sort of a "greatest hits" album, not that they have had this many commercial hits. The film they made of the tour is a great thing to see if it comes to your town. One edition of the album (2 CDs!) also comes with it on DVD. This is a good intro to the band if you have ignored my recommendation so far.

    [2008], [2009], [2010]

    2011.12.30 at 10:00am EDT

    Last Braids of 2011

    I've been braiding a bit lately to round out the year, and here they all are.

    Silky Hira Nami

    This braid was actually made using silk yarn I measured out but then decided not to you for braid 154. The original concept for that braid didn't have any black, but I decided it was necessary.

    Thin Baronial Sageo Cord

    A 9-strand true shige uchi braid, this braid was also done with 24 plies of polyester embroidery thread per strand, in the traidtional fashion. That wasn't really enough, I think it came out too narrow. I'll use more next time.

    Silk Western Medallion Cord

    Now, in lace weight silk yarn, 24 plies per strand is plenty. This might have been an over-reaction, but it's a nice length. It's in SCA West Kingdom colors, and might be a medallion cord. The next three braids are also medallion cord lengths, and in West Kingdom colors, but they are made with four plies of #10 cotton crochet thread per strand. I figured I might need some presents for Westies in the near future, so these would be nice to have on hand.

    Creative Kumihimo 8N

    Creative Kumihimo 8C

    9-Strand Shige Uchi

    The first two were done as more practice in those under-practiced braids from the Creative Kumihimo project. I love the way the color pattern came out in the 8C braid.

    I had a very productive 2011 braidwise. Braid 100 was the first braid of the year, and I did a couple dozen braids for the armor project. That's more than a braid a week! Many of these braids are relatively short, but still, sometimes I was completing a braid a day for several days ech week.

    Have a good new year!

    2011.12.31 at 12:00am EDT


    I always thought "pleurisy" was one of those archaic medical terms that referred to something that was not actually a thing, like, "the vapors" or "catarrh". It turns out pleurisy is actually a real thing, and I actually have it, though it's a term for a condition and not a particular disease. Pleurisy describes a general inflammation of the pleural lining around the lungs. In my case, it made it painful to breathe. It can be caused by any number of things, but in my case it is most likely the result of a viral infection.

    The doctor prescribed an anti-inflammatory, and told me I could stop taking it as soon as I felt better. I started feeling better within 24 hours of course, because I take medication pretty rarely. I took the medicine for another day just to be safe, but didn't take it yesterday. Today, my lungs started hurting again. Dang. I think I'm going to take it for the rest of this week.

    2012.01.16 at 11:30am EST

    Toolsday: Yotsume Kiri

    Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Hida Tool and Hardware in Berkeley, California. I had viewed their website online a few times, and since we were going to be in the area I definitely thought it was worth a special side trip. I didn't think I was ready to buy a Japanese plane or chisel yet, but one tool I really wanted to acquire was a Japanese gimlet (hand drill) called a giri or kiri. This one is yotsume kiri or "four-sided gimlet".

    Yotsume Kiri Overview

    To use this kiri, you hold it with the tip where you want a hole, and the body completely vertical. You put your hands together on either side of the handle, and move them bck and forth in opposition to rotate the handle. The tapered square tip pushes the wood fibers apart, and the corners of the square cut the fibers off until there is a tapered round hole. This hole is good for receiving tapered wooden pegs for fastening, which is why I got this kind. Here is a close-up of the tip.

    Yotsume Kiri Tip

    I also picked up a pair of thread scissors, a bottle of camelia oil for oiling tools, and a book by Toshio Odate about Japanese tools. It was totally worth the trip. I love the way this store is set up, and I thought that their prices were slightly better than elsewhere. Since they focus on workmans tools and not exquisite jewels, I think that when I am ready to spend more money I will buy my planes and chisels from Hida Tool.

    [All 'Toolsday' Posts]

    2012.01.17 at 12:00am EST

    Two More Banners

    After I made the household banner, I realized that since one of the members of the household was being knighted in the near future, I should make a banner for him as a gift.

    Banner of Sir Thomas Byron of Haverford

    After that, it was time to tackle the difficult one, a banner for the head of our household.

    Banner of Sir Maghnus an Chnoic na n'Iora

    Yes, painting that repeating pattern (called "vair") by hand was a pain, but I figured it was easier to just do it than to figure out some clever way of avoiding that work by doing some other kind of work.

    These are both about 15 inches wide and about 5 feet long. Sir Byron's is painted on blue wool, and Sir Maghnus' is painted on white linen. Both used Jacquard "Neopaque" acrylic fabric paint.

    2012.01.19 at 12:00am EST

    Teleconference of Loneliness


    An empty conference room teleconferenced to an empty conference room. This would make a pretty good art installation.

    2012.01.23 at 3:30pm EST

    Toolsday: Height Gauge

    As an added bonus to this review, I am not cutting and pasting any content, so we will see how many times I can actually type the words "height gauge" correctly.

    I can hear you now. "That piece of plastic and short ruler cost $15?" I know; I know, but this this is so useful you will thank yourself for getting one. More accurate ones and fancy digital ones are also available in case $15 isn't quite enough..

    Trend Height Gauge

    There are two main ways to use this device. The first is prongs down to measure the height of a table saw blade or router bit. The second is prongs up to measure the depth of a hole, slot, or mortise. It can also be used horizontally the measure the distance between, say, a router table fence and the opposite side of a router bit. I have also used it as an impromptu marking gauge when my two combination squares were already holding important numbers.

    The ruler passes through the body of the gauge, and the little toggle switch you can see there locks the ruler in place. A bevel you can't see in this photo makes it really easy to read measurements off of the ruler. The ruler is the same length as the prongs, so when you set it upright with the little "feet" on a saw or router table, the amount of ruler above the body is equal to the gap below the ruler.

    The hole you see in one of the legs is a modification I made to the tool. Without it, it's difficult to hang the tool on a hook. Why this hole is not part of the design is totally beyond me.

    [All 'Toolsday' Posts]

    2012.01.24 at 12:00am EST

    Storage Area of Loneliness


    Some empty, dilapidated storage shelves in a disregarded and unfinished corner of the office. I should ask if I can move my desk in here.

    2012.01.30 at 12:00am EST

    Toolsday: Level

    I'd say that the most common household handyman tasks I do are things like putting up a shelf, hanging a picture, or putting together ome furniture. I'm sure you can figure out a way to use a level for the third one, and the first two are obvious.

    Small Box Level

    This is my favorite level right now. Sharon has a "torpedo level" which is very handy, and I also have a "pocket level" which is a little easier to carry around, but this one is handy all around. A "beam level" is usually longer, which makes it less convenient to store, carry around, and use. This one iss exactly 12 inches long, which makes it a good reference object. The body is ABS plastic, so it has proved to be durable.

    This level is super handy for putting up shelves and pictures. Its big flat base helps it stand up on its own. The boxing around the edges makes it easy to clamp to things, which will make it handy if I ever get around to that fence project I want to do. The ruler isn't super accurate, but it's useful for when you're up on a stepstool and don't want to be juggling multiple tools.

    The only down side to this particular model is that it's difficult to hang on a pegboard. I managed to figure out how to use a really big hook to go through one of the available holes, but I'm always worried about cracking the tube in that hole.

    This particular model should only cost you five bucks or so, and it's really worth having.

    [All 'Toolsday' Posts]

    2012.01.31 at 12:00am EST

    More 'Creative Kumihimo' Braids

    I've been so bad about posting in February that my template still say January! Maybe you think I haven't been doing anything? Well au contraire, mon frere, I just unwisely started another big braiding project. If I wait until it's done, you'll be waiting weeks and weeks to see any of it, so here's an update on the first batch.








    So, the project is to braid all of the 16-strand braid in Creative Kumihimo by Jacqui Carey. Maybe you remember from back in December when I completed the 8-strand section of this book. Those braids were donated to the kingdom back in January, so I decided it was time to try the sixteens. There are more than two dozen of them, so it's going to take me some more time. I hope to have them all done by Pennsic, so I can put them on display.

    2012.02.27 at 8:20am EST

    Desktops "Shibori" and "Shibori 2"

    Almost a year ago, Sharon and I took a class in Japanese Shibori dying. Shibori is like tie-dying, only a greater variety of binding techniques are used. Here's a desktop image made from one of the pieces of fabric we dyed in that class.

    This pattern was created by wrapping the fabric around a piece of PVC pipe, and then schrunching it down to one end of the pipe.

    Over the weekend, Sharon and I did a couple of batches of dying down in the basement. Here's a desktop from that session.

    This time, I sewed the fabric into a long tube, slid that tube onto the pipe, and scrunched it down as hard as I could to one end of the pipe. The fabric was dyed twice, once in golden yellow, and once in carmine red. I don't know when this will be made into a kosode, but it will be quite eye-catching.

    Feel free to download these images for use as desktops. I use the brown one on my personal laptop.

    2012.02.28 at 12:00am EST

    Cranes Kosode and Green Yukata

    I've actually been doing quite a bit of sewing recently, but I haven't been blogging about that either. Much of my sewing has been centered on making five white kosode before Pennsic, to use as white "undershirt" layers, but a couple of other things so far have snuck in.

    Cranes Kosode

    I found this terrific cream cranes fabric in a fabric boutique down in the strip district called "Loom". It was calling out to me to be a kosode, so I made this back in January and wore it to a local event.

    Green Yukata

    A yukata is an unlined cotton garment, much like a kosode, but stretching from the shoulders to the ankles. It's typically worn as the most casual of casual wear, at festivals and to the baths. That's what I'm probably going to mostly use this for, a bathrobe. My mundane bathrobe was getting a bit old, so I made this to use all summer, including Pennsic. I used this cotton print green sakura fabric that is decorated with little flowers. I also made a belt out of some leftover blue linen.

    2012.03.05 at 12:00am EST

    Toolsday: Nail Set

    Ah, the humble nail set. You might underestimate the amount of class this little tool can add you your woodworking projects.

    Nail Set

    When you're assembling something with finishing nails (those are the nails with very narrow heads on them) you have a quandary. If you try to pound the nails flat, you might leave hammer marks on the surface of the wood. If you leave the nail heads sticking up, or actually visible at all, your work will look a little shoddy. Enter the nail set. First, you drive the nails with the hammer until the nail heads are just above the surface. Then, you position the narrow tip of the nail set right in the center of the nail head, and hit the wide tail of the set with the hammer. This drives the head of the nail into the wood, without marring the surface. You can leave this little hole, or putty over the hole before finishing to disguise it.

    You can get these in several tip sizes to match the common sizes of finishing nail, but I've only ever needed this one. The gnurled center provides a firm grip on the tool; having it slip off the nail head and punch into the wood is bad. The square tail keeps the set from rolling off your workbench. How clever is that?

    You don't need to spend a lot of money on these, I often see a little shrink-wrapped bundle of three at the big box store for a couple of dollars.

    [All 'Toolsday' Posts]

    2012.03.06 at 12:00am EST

    Thank You Wikipedia

    I went to Wikipedia this morning to look something up, and was greeted by this.


    I posted this here because I think the web needs more pages that stare at you with giant bloodshot eyes.

    2012.03.08 at 10:00am EST

    Toolsday: Woodworking Picks

    When I first started working with chisels to do joinery, I found it very difficult to get the little bits of wood out of the bottom of mortises and things like that. Then I found this set of picks, scrapers, cutters, and priers at the Harbor Freight

    Woodworking Picks

    Each of these double-ended stainless steel tools is only about six inches long, so you can see that the heads are small enough to squeeze into tight spaces and lever out waste. In conjunction with a set of tweezers, this set of detailing tools makes things much easier. Better would be improving my precision when cutting, but the mean time these help me clean up some of my sloppiness.

    [All 'Toolsday' Posts]

    2012.03.13 at 12:00am EST

    Text Messaging

    My friends, I regret to inform you that you will no longer be able to send SMS "text" messages to my mobile phone. As of today, such messages to my number will be blocked, per my request, by my mobile provider, AT&T.

    I was never that big a fan of text messages. From a phone phone, they are cumbersome. From a data phone, they are extraneous.

    I never had a messaging plan. I allowed messaging to and from my phone mostly as a convenience to my friends, and even in a heavy usage month the 20 cent a la carte charges for these messages never added up to the amount AT&T would have charged me for a messaging plan.

    I'm fundamentally opposed to paying to be advertised to, however. Yesterday and today, I received messages that were obviously ads at best, and scams at worst. I'm pretty sure such messages are illegal, but the AT&T phone rep wasn't able to confirm or deny that. She suggested that I reply "STOP" or "CANCEL" to the messages, but why would I want to communicate in any way with these people? I was told that they could remove the charges for those messages, but that the only way to protect myself from similar messages in the future was to block all SMS messages to my phone.

    So, I guess the amount of money AT&T is losing by blocking all messages to my phone is less than the amount they would have to spend to actually protect me. Thanks, AT&T.

    2012.04.03 at 11:30am EST

    Three More CK Project Braids

    I've kept working on the Jacqui Carey Creative Kumihimo project, fitting it in around some travel, other projects, and a class. Here are the next three braids in the sequence.




    All three of these are variations on the (somewhat boring) braiding pattern known as maru genji, though the CK16K braid varies the polarity of braiding to produce and interesting shape.

    2012.04.18 at 8:30am EST

    Vacation Braids

    Sharon and I are actually so used to braiding in our leisure time these days that we even take braiding on vacation. We take apart our marudais, pack up the tama, and worry about whether we should pack fishing weights in our luggage or try to carry them on to the plane.

    We took a trip to visit some relatives, so I did some fun 8-strand braids because that meant carrying less equipment.

    Flat cotton braid in black and gold

    I normally do this braid in monochrome, but setting up the colors correctly produces this intriguing maze-like pattern.

    Round cotton braid in red and white

    I was hoping to get a young child interested in helping me with this straightforward braid, but they are so easily distracted.

    Flat cotton braid in black and gold

    This braid produces chevrons if you separate the colors top and bottom, but separating them side to side produces this excellent tartan-like pattern.

    2012.04.19 at 12:00am EDT

    Ikat Kosode

    When we were in California back in January, I found some terrific Japanese fabric at a shop in Healdsburg. It's been on my stack of things to sew ever since then, and I finally completed it recently.

    Kosode in Cream and Blue Ikat

    The word "ikat" (pronounced "ick-ette") refers to the type of fabric. The pattern you see is woven in, not printed. Dark stretches are dyed into the fiber before weaving, then the fiber is woven to produce the pattern.

    2012.04.20 at 12:00am EST

    I Have a Book by Demetri Martin

    If you have ever worried that our technological society would fall, and that we would lose the ability to watch Demetri Martin videos on YouTube, then you should be comforted that now there is a book by Demetri Martin called "This is a Book by Demetri Martin".

    This book condenses into good old paper form everything about Demetri Martin's performances that condenses the wonderment of Demetri Martin's neuroses into humorously wonderful form. It contains jokes, monologues, stories, graphs, and statistics. It is equal parts vignette and narrative. It is the perfect book for referring to throughout the day. It will remind you that the world Demetri Martin lives in is profoundly strange, but in a way that endears it to the kind of person you know you are, not the kind of person you hope are. It is also one of the most gracious books I have ever read.


    2012.04.27 at 7:30am EST

    Proud of Myself

    Finally finished up my "five white kosode" project over the weekend.

    When I first started sewing Japanese, I wanted to be interesting. I stayed away from the "black hakama and white kosode" look, not because there's anything wrong with it but because too many people already dress like that. So, I made blue, brown, and green hakama. I made kosode in whatever color of linen I could get my hands on.

    Later, I started "spiffing up" my wardrobe. I made fancy kariginu, and comfortable suikan. Then I realized I didn't have anything plain to wear underneath those fancy garments. My colorful ensembles looked slightly out of place. Plus, they didn't quite match. Sigh. What do *mean* that I still don't have plain black hakama and only a couple plain white kosode?

    So, last year I made a pair of black hakama and a matching kataginu for it. This year, starting in January, I made five white kosode. I made two in linen, two in some excellent cotton, and one in silk. Now I have 7 plain white kosode to go with my more than twice as many colorful and patterned kosode.

    I'm so proud of myself that I can actually feel like I have a respectable Japanese wardrobe. Not jst a bunch of clothing, but a wardrobe of various layers and levels of formality.

    Next up on the to-do list:

    1. 1 black linen kataginu to be decorated with Baronial comets
    2. 1 red linen suikan for Kingdom occassions
    3. 1 red linen kataginu to be decorated with Kingdom populace badging
    4. 1 more linen kosode using shibori dyed fabric
    5. 1 green linen hitatare kamishimo
    6. 1 green linen katatginu to go with the hakama from above
    7. 1 set of white linen underlayer for the hitatare kamishimo

    I hope to get the first few items done before Pennsic, but I probably won't have that whole list finished until the end of the year.

    2012.05.07 at 10:45am EST

    Some Recent Braids

    Whoa, I haven't updated my braid photos in about a month. That sucks considering some of these braid will be given away soon.

    "Side to Side" in Black and Gold

    I didn't have a braid like this in local colors, so I whipped one up in short order. This is fast, fun braid. It had to be fast because I needed to free up my marudai by the end of the week to take a class.

    "Kikkoid" braid in red and black

    Somebody was kind enough to send me a pattern that could supposedly be used to make a "kikko" braid on the marudai with 32 strands. I decided to try it out during a workshop with Rodrick Owen, so I could get some help if I needed it. First off, I used too much thread in each strand, and the wrong number strands of each color. The braid came out super wide and thick,it's not real kikko, and it was tough to get the tension correct. Then, I kept making errors and having to unbraid the whole thing because it was impossible to figure out where I was. This 12 inch braid is the result of about seven hours worth of braiding.

    Workshop Sampler in black and gold

    The second day of the workshop, I made this sampler with four different patterns. The first is a Peruvian pattern that Rodrick Owen is putting into his next book. The other three are from his "Braids 250..." book. The second and third are very similar, but you should see a difference. The third and fourth are also similar, but a subtle imbalance in the braid causes it to twist naturally into a spiral. These are all 24-strand braids.

    Bookmark in black and gold

    As is the case with a lot of 24-strand flat braids, some of the threads are used up more than others. When 8 of the strands were used up by braid 192, I kept braiding this 16-strand braid with what was left on the other tama. I'm glad I tried out this color pattern because I was able to use it later as part of my "Creative Kumihimo" project. This short version makes a great boookmark, as it's only about nine inches long.

    "Hidden Quadrants" in black and gold

    The pattern I used for 192a is an expansion of a common 8-strand braid. I wasn't sure if I'd ever tried the color pattern I used for 192a with the 8-strand variant, so here you go. This looks chaotic, but it's very regular, with the complex repeating shape actually being identical for both colors.

    "Triple Zipper" in black and white

    I hadn't done one of these 9-strand shige uchi braids in a bit, and I wanted to try out this color pattern that uses six black threads and three evenly-space white threads. The color pattern does a godo job of masking the structure of the braid. Hee hee! This braid is only two feet long, but it will make a good component for another project of mine.

    2012.05.18 at 12:00am EDT

    Creative Kumihimo Project Update

    Still going! I'm just about half way through, and it's has only taken me about four months. I had hoped to be done with all of them by Pennsic, but I'm not sure if that is going to happen.




    At least we get a break from maru genji! CK16L is a 16-strand variation of the flat braid that normally produces chevrons. I tried this pattern for that bookmark braid, and executed it full-length here. CK16M is a fun braid that produces a heavy flat braid with a trapezoidal cross-section. I really like it. CK16N is a 16-strand expansion of the good old edo yatsu round, hollow braid. It's so hollow that the tension gets totally thrown off by the slightest thing, leaving the uneven effect you see. I even tried braiding around a sliding core, but it didn't help. There also may be a number of errors in there, since this is a difficult braid to keep track of.

    2012.05.22 at 12:00am EDT

    Baronial Kataginu

    I wanted to have a kataginu with the populace badge of the local barony on it. The Barony Marche of the Debatable Lands (BMDL) is having a birthday party for itself this weekend, and I wanted to show some spirit. For some reason I am really not interested in learning how to screen print. I really should, one of these days, but I don't like doing work just to save myself work. Anyway, I have fabric paint and brushes.

    Front Lapels


    For the large image on the back, I just sketched it in with tailor's chalk and then painted. For the small ones on the front, I printed the design on cardstock, cut out the important sections, then 'sketched' them in using an almost dry brush before painting them by hand.

    Everything has two coats of paint, and was ironed at the hottest temperature to set the paint into the linen. The photos really suffered from the JPEG compression, but I have a nicer image of the front lapel badging. Remind me to run a lint roller over this before I wear it.

    2012.05.18 at 12:00am EDT

    Baronial Banner

    The baronial birthday party, this past weekend also had an Arts and Sciences competition, so I decided to make a baronial hata-jirushi banner in the same style as my baronial kataginu, and display it on the hatadai banner stand I made late last year.

    Baronial Banner and Stand

    Banner is black linen, cut and edged to simulate traditional Japanese fabric width, and hand painted with BMDL populace badge in modern fabric paint.

    The hata-jirushi style banner is one of the three main styles of battlefield banner used during the warring-states period of Japanese history. The nobori banner has tabs along the top and one side, and its suspensory pole has a cross-piece. The sashimono is similar to a nobori, but is smaller and is typically used to mark an individual rather than a group.

    Suspensory cord is hand-braided from cotton crochet thread using a 9-strand shige uchi braid. This braid is typically seen used for the sageo cords that secure a warrior's sword in the hakama waistband.

    Stand is pine wood with joinery of hand-chiseled mortises and hand-sawn tenons. The completed stand was stained with iron dissolved in vinegar, and finished with linseed oil.

    Hatadai stands are typically used indoors in temples to display banners and other ritual items during Shinto ceremonies like weddings.

    This item was awarded the "Baron's Choice" in the competition, and I was asked to bear it and precede the Baronial procession into court!.

    2012.05.28 at 12:00am EDT

    Gary Jules

    Despite the fact that most people only know that one song he covered that wound up in "Donnie Darko", Gary Jules has four whole albums mostly of original, lyrical, musical work. He's doing a short tour of the Northeast USA for the next couple of months, and last night he stopped in Pittsburgh.

    Gary Jules Signed It

    He played at Club Cafe, which is still my favorite venue in Pittsburgh. His warm-up act was the vocalist from (local band?) "Arlo Aldo", and his opener was Mike Bram, who also accompanied him during his set. The warm-up seemed a bit uncomfortable on stage alone, but I'll keep my eyes open for shows with the band. Mike Bram was much more comfortable performing alone, and very entertaining with his classic bluesy stuff.

    Gary Jules played a mix of things from his different albums. He did play "Mad World", which I guess people were expecting he would. He also played "Barstool" which is one of my favorites, and a fantastic cover of Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me". Mike Bram was an excellent accompanist on backup vocals and percussion, and a real pro. I hope these two stick together.

    Jules had a wonderful way of engaging the (unfairly small) audience during the show and greeted us all on the way out while signing CDs and posters at the merch table. He seems like a great person. I really like the quality of his voice, and the quiet strength of his performance. He also really knows how to use a microphone, which it seems like fewer performers really know these days.

    Anyway, compared to the last concert I reviewed, this is a totally different type of music. Where Mogwai is loud and mostly instrumental, Gary Jules is quiet and primarily lyrical; I compare a lot of his stuff to Paul Simon's, playing mostly acoustic guitar while singing. Where Mogwai seems to be using power to blast emotional impressions down into the long bones of your body, Jules is sliding ideas and viewpoints into your brain along the tiny bones in your ears. Despite his reputation as "the patron saint of depressed teenagers", I find most of his work to be upbeat, optimistic, and energetic.

    Check out his tour page, and hopefully he's coming to your town soon. Sit down, have a couple of drinks, relax, listen closely, and smile.

    2012.06.01 at 12:00pm EDT

    More Hata-Jirushi Banners

    I'm not sure why making these banners is so much fun for me, but it is. I had a busy week last week and made four more hata-kirushi style banners painted with various SCA heraldry.

    Four Red Banners

    From left to right: Clan Yama Kaminari clan mon, CYK clan mon with subordinate One Knight Inne household badge, AEthelmearc populace badge, and Clan Yama Kaminari clan mon again.

    The Aethelmearc banner is 100% linen, but the other three are that linen/rayon blend that Jo-Ann sells. It's not as nice to wear, but it makes a good banner. All of the designs were stencilled and hand-painted using Jacquard "Neopaque" acrylic fabric paints. Each design has at least two coats of paint on all elements, but the red dye is so energetic that most of the white paint turned a little pink.

    2012.06.13 at 7:30am EDT


    What do you get if an Oscar-winning director of dramas and comedies and his experienced team of film-makers makes a spy action movie with a supporting cast of six male movie stars and a lead who is a relatively unknown female cage-fighting champion? You get "Haywire"; directed by Steven Soderbergh and written by Lem Dobbs; co-starring Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Bill Paxton, Channing Tatum (?), Antonio Banderas, and Michael Douglas; and starring Gina Carrano.

    This movie has one of the smartest scripts ever in an action movie. Lem Dobbs really knows how to write competent characters who never say anything stupid or pointlessly 'clever', and a story that has the kind of constant gripping tension that might lead to you watching the first three reels without realizing the movie is more than half over. Steven Soderbergh knows how to bring all those things to the screen, and keep this complex, tense, and sometimes confusing story from overwhelming the viewer. Fans of this filmmaking team may find some things familiar here and there in the story, but overall it's original and never takes the easy way out for any of the characters. Sharon points out that even though the female lead is ruthless and brutal up against a series of men, nobody ever calls her any gender-based epithets. In fact, the language is remarkably clean, despite the fact that the first and last word in the movie is an expletive..

    That's not to say this movie is overly intellectual. The same grace Soderbergh brought to caper movies with the "Ocean's" series is here, possibly partially due to a similar soundtrack. Soderbergh had wanted to make an action movie in the spy genre when he happened to ctach a televised Multiple Martial Arts (MMA) cage fight on TV, and he was hooked by the idea of a female lead for a change; one who can really hold her own with speed and strength, pick up a gun when the shooting starts, but run away when running is the smartest thing to do. Carrano does a great job here, playing this subtle character believably, and really kicking butt. IMDb notes they had to digitally deepen her voice for the film, which she should maybe look into fixing with some voice lessons if she wants to continue in movies, but the stunt and action coordinators in the special features laud her exceptional dedication and professionalism.

    Anyway, we really enjoyed this movie. When you're in the mood for an action movie, with a ton of violence but a smart story, I recommend "Haywire".

    2012.06.14 at 12:00am EDT

    Friday Catblogging

    Ethel Underbed

    That cat bed is a heated cat bed. The white cord you see powers a small heating pad so that cats who need a little extra warmth have someplace to sleep. Ethel has taken to sleeping underneath it. She's a burrower. In the winter, if there's a blanket on the couch you have to be careful about sitting down on it.

    2012.06.15 at 12:00am EDT

    Another Red Linen Suikan

    As I mentioned in the post about my second suikan I mad that one so that I'd have something to lend to the then Prince of the Kingdom. Well, that went so well that I decided to make a gift of the outfit to him when he was cronwed King. I felt really good about that, but then it took months for me to get around to making a replacement. Anyway, here it is.

    Another Red Linen Suikan

    More pictures if you follow the link around that one.

    The sleeve cord is store bought becuse I am still in the midst of my big "Creative Kumihimo" project, but the collar cord is a nice silk one from out of my stash, and the kikutoji are hand made of course.

    I have a new method for those that is a bit less labor intensive. Instead of wrapping each one individually, which means counting to 250 ten times per suikan, I do all five of each color from a single long set of wraps, which means counting to 250 only twice. I should do a video or something.

    In any case, that's two projects down out of the list of seven that I came up with back in May. I actually have the first part of #3 done already, so I am still on track to have the first few done before Pennsic.

    2012.06.25 at 7:30am EDT

    Continuing Creative Kumihimo

    It's been a bit more than a months since my last post about this project, and I have four more braids done. I'm not sure I'll be finished before Pennsic as I'd hoped, but the number of braids I have to show already is getting significant.





    Not much to say about these, really. I like 16S quite a bit; it's easy to get a good solid braid. The braid made by 16R (which is very similar in structure) is also nice, but it's more difficult to keep the tension right, as you can see by the unevenness. I'm not a big fan of 16Q; I'm pretty sure there are multiple errors in there, but I don't care because this braid is annoying. I still think 16P makes a nice braid, but I may be doing it slightly wrong.

    2012.06.26 at 12:00am EDT

    Kingdom Kataginu

    After the success of my Baronial Kataginu, I used some of the extra line from my Red Suikan project to make a red linen kataginu and then decorated it with the populace badge of the Kingdon of Aethlemearc. The white shape in the middle is called an "escarbuncle".

    Kataginu Front

    Follow the picture's link for more images, including close-ups of the painted badges. I again used Jacquard "Neopaque" brand acrylic fabric paint, which again wasn't 100% opaque but is close enough. For the large badge on the back, I made a full stencil for the first coat of fabric paint, and did the second coat by hand. For the small badges on the shoulders, I was able to cut a stencil to make sure the arms had the correct length and angles, but I didn't have the patience to cut a detailed enough stencil for the little greebly bits. Those were done by hand with my finest brush.

    2012.06.29 at 12:00pm EDT

    Newest Shibori Kosode

    Back in February, Sharon and I tried some shibori dyeing at home, just to prove to ourselves we could do it outside of the classroom. The fabric I dyed wound up at the bottom of a stack of things to sew, but productivity over the last few months has enabled me to work my way down to it.

    Red Shibori Kosode

    The fabric was actually dyed twice. First in a golden yellow, then in a red that was almost magenta. The body and sleeve panels were prepared by sewing the fabric into a tube and sliding the tube down onto a pipe. The collar and overlap panels were prepared by twisting the fabric tightly and then allowing it to ply itself into a "rope". There's also a picture of the back.

    2012.07.09 at 12:00am EDT

    My New Million Dollar Idea

    My idea is for a a scavenger hunt app for smart phones. The app presents a list of riddles that are clues. The answer to each riddle is a commercial product. To get credit for the solution, you have to go into a retail store and use your phone's camera to scan the shelf tag for that item. Each item would be (of course) a sale item, or located right next to a sale item. Get enough answers and you get a coupon or something. Really it's just a way to convince you to go through the whole store looking at things.

    I'm thinking Target or Best Buy would love to trick you into going around their store looking at stuff.

    The key is to make some of the clues really hard, so that very few people will get them all. Then you can have a national leaderboard, and bigger prizes.

    2012.07.11 at 10:30am EDT

    Friday Assblogging

    Red H3

    The line: you are over it.

    2012.07.13 at 12:00am EDT

    A Difference

    A Bad Bagel

    Look at the giant air bubbles in this "bagel". It's like a pastry. What is this? There's barely even any bagel here.

    A Better Bagel

    See the finer texture? Now this is a properly prepared bagel. There is much more bagel in this bagel.

    ...and that's not even a really good bagel.

    2012.07.23 at 12:00am EDT

    The Light at the End of Creative Kumihimo

    I had hoped to have this project completed before Pennsic, but I've made quite a bit of progress in the last month. I won't be finished in time, but I can see the light at the end of this tunnel!








    I still really like the 16T braid, and this color pattern is fun. Braid 16U is the first foray into the expansions of the Hira Kara Gumi. 16V is similar, almost identical, but faster and softer. 16W is tighter in the middle, but swoopy around the outside. Though different in final structure, 16X has similar movement. 16Y has more tight stitching at the center, but still has swoopy edges. This pattern I used for 16Z reminds me of Space Invaders.

    Just four more braids to go!

    2012.07.30 at 12:00am EDT

    Two More Shogi

    So I've already made a couple of these Japanese-style shogi camp stools, but I decided two more would be handy for Pennsic. Making both at once saved a little time, and let me practice my method.

    Pair of Shogi

    The construction is basically the same as the very first shogi, with poplar boards and dowels, and brass reinforcement straps at the ends of the legs. However, the hinge hardware is all brassy instead of zinc.

    Brass reinforcements

    Brass plated hinge pins

    Brass cotter pins

    I was able to get some brass-plated hinge pins (like for household doors), so I cut them down to length and cross-drilled them to make brass clevis pins. I was able to get solid brass cotter pins and washers to hold them in place. I wish I'd been able to get solid brass hinge pins, but this looks so much better.

    2012.07.31 at 12:00am EDT

    Personal Hata-Jirushi Banner

    I've been working on parts of this for a while, but only recently finished it up. Finally, after all those other banners, I've made on for myself.


    The fabric is shibori-dyed twice, once in golden yellow and once in black. The hexagonal pattern in black didn't come out exactly how I was hoping, but it's interesting nevertheless. This banner is a little wider than the others, but I couldn't bring myself to cut it down or hem it. The bunny head is hand-painted, in my usual style.

    2012.08.01 at 12:00am EDT

    Farewell Panasas

    I suppose I should mention that Tuesday was my last day contracting at Panasas. I've been working there since last April, documenting internal tools and procedures. Most of my work there involved building a collection of documents in a wiki. It was fun, as technical writers measure fun, and I have some good friends there. I don't have anything solid lined up yet, but have some prospects. If nothing pays off soon, I look forward to having some free time. I haven't really had significant time off for a few years.

    2012.08.02 at 12:00am EDT

    Back from Pennsic 41

    I have returned from the Pennsic War, not on my shield (because I don't have shield), but bearing all our other stuff, certainly.

    The main road to the camp site was still missing its bridge, which created no small inconvenience for thousands of people, but we survived. Perhaps by next year, the new bridge will be finished.

    On Sunday, I participated in the procession for opening ceremonies as part of the BMDL contingent. I wore my Kingdom Kataginu for a little bit of spiffiness. I also carried the Aethelmearc populace banner, though since we all got rained on, and my cheap yari blade started to rust almost immediately. I bumped into a friend of mine who was with another delegation, and we went and got some breakfast under a food merchant's dry awning instead of waiting out in the rin or forcing our way into the barn where the ceremonies were held.

    On Monday, I showed off my Creative Kumihimo 16-strand project at the Arts and Sciences Display in that very same barn. There were people from all over the "Known World" displaying impressive projects. This event took all day, and I stayed with my project all day to explain it to people and make friends. It also gave me a chance to finish up the last braid in the project right there at Pennsic. I did two more braids to fill up the rest of the time, though they were just 8-strand braids.

    On Tuesday, I gave a two-hour class on 16-strand kumihimo on the marudai. It was well attended, with nine people there to learn. I only had my six student marudai, but two people brought their own equipment and two people shared. I taught the square genji braid, the flat hira nami braid, and the hollow round keiruko no himo, as well as some basic skills.

    On Thursday, Sharon and I participated in "Narrow Wares Day" on Artisan's row. We spent most of the day sitting and braiding in a tent with other braiders, card weavers, and others. We answered a lot of questions, and I used up some of the extra material from my class.

    Of course, a lot more happened, but those were some of the biggest things.

    2012.08.13 at 10:00pm EDT

    Last Four Creative Kumihimo Braids

    I started the first braid back in January, and I finished up the last braid of this 28 braid project during the A&S display at Pennsic 41.





    I've learned a lot about braiding over the course of this project. By example, Jacqui Carey teaches how to expand, vary, and combine the 8-strand patterns (that are also in her book) to make braids that are more interesting texturally and structurally. I have found some real favorites in here. If you want to see all the braids, I've put together a page showing all 28 at once. Each image is a link to a higher resolution version.

    2012.08.14 at 9:00am EDT

    Oh, IKEA


    2012.08.15 at 9:00am EDT

    Fill-In Braids

    After I completed the final CK braid in the Pennsic A&S display, I filled in the rest of the day with these two 8-strand braids.

    Hira Nami

    Edo Yatsu

    The first is a simple flat braid made with four plies of #10 crochet cotton per strand. The second is a round hollow braid made with only one ply of #10 crochet cotton per strand. It's been quite a while since I did a braid this fine. This braid is straightforward enough that I barely had to pay attention while working it.

    2012.08.21 at 12:00am EDT

    Tokens, Trinkets, Baubles, and Beads

    One of the SCA traditions I find most endearing is the practice of leaving small tokens along side the arts and sciences displays that you enjoy. Normally these tokens are beads or ribbons, but some of them (typically those from other artisans or from SCA royalty) are more elaborate. I've always had a weakness for trinkets and small prizes, so it always tickles me to receive these things, and I try to make sure to bring some of my own tokens with me so I can leave them with others. Here are the tokens left for me at the Pennsic 41 A&S Display:

    Tokens from Pennsic 41

    The one in the center is the site token for Pennsic, and hanging from it is the token for teaching a class in Pennsic University. I believe that the oak leaf bead on the red ribbon was left for me by her Highness the Noyiqan of Aethlmearc, and the coin was left for me by her Majesty the Queen of Aethelmearc.

    A few years ago I made some brass bunny badge tokens, and I still have some left, though I've since switched to some bunny beads I found online. You can sort of see one on the same jump ring that holds the instructor token. I still need to braid up some black and gold braids to fancy them up a little bit.

    2012.08.24 at 2:00pm EDT

    This Explains a Lot

    From Speak Memory (or: 'Conclusive Evidence') by Vladimir Nabokov, in the 1966 revised edition, page 265 where he is writing about his time at Cambridge.

    At a bookstall in the Market Place, I unexpectedly came upon a Russian Work, a secondhand copy of Dahl's Interpretive Dictionary of the Living Russian Language in four volumes. I bought it and resolved to read at least ten pages per day, jotting down such words and expressions as might especially please me, and I kept this up for a considerable time.

    This quote confirms a theory of mine, that Nabokov writes English as only a foreigner with an expensive dictionary does. It turns out that this really developed while he was still writing primarily in Russian.

    Russian, by the way, was not Nabokov's first language. As a boy, his mostly Swiss governesses spoke mostly French to him. Once his tutelage began, he learned English, as was popular in the Russian aristocracy at the time. It was only when he was old enough to begin paying attention to people outside his parents' estates that he learned Russian.

    2012.08.30 at 10:30am EDT

    Arimoto Bento

    Back in early August, I took my third woodworking class with Pittsburgh-area craftsman Tadao Arimoto. We made bento-style lunchboxes. Bento lunches are typically several smaller courses served together in a lidded box. Often, the box has dividers to keep the courses separate. Mr. Arimoto's design was square, but he encouraged us to try other shapes so our projects would not all look alike. There were four of us in the class. I was somehow assigned to try a hexagon, which was not as straightforward as the square, not as angular as the triangle, and not as many pieces as the octagon.

    Hexagonal Bento Box

    More pictures and explanation at the Arimoto Bento project page.

    2012.09.04 at 10:00am EDT

    Sleeve Braid 1

    I finally decided that the plain black braid from the fabric store that I used in the fancy red kariginu was just not cutting it, so I started work on some nicer braids.

    Red Sleeve Braid #1

    I did the 9-strand shige uchi braid with 8 plies of silk thread per strand, in a color pattern that is common for sageo cords. This braid is about ten feet long, which should be more than sufficient. Now I just need to make another one.

    2012.09.05 at 12:00am EDT

    Mini-Projects - Two Small Boxes

    Not everything I make is a big deal. For example, these two small boxes. I only spent a couple of hours making each of these, and they're mostly made from scrap wood I had in the basement. They're not even going to be used for something fancy, they just needed to be a particular size, and rather than searching for boxes exactly the right size I decided to make them.

    Small Box One

    The first is a box for holding index cards. I keep track of my braids and braiding patterns on 3"x5" index cards, and as I keep filling up cards the cards keep filling up card boxes. This box should take a couple of years to fill up. It's roughly 5"x5" on the inside, and a little deeper than 3" of course. The lid a tad loose fitting. The whole thing is made of that cedar I like using, and finished with boiled linseed oil. It is fastened with nails, because I was feeling lazy, but the corners have simple Japanese-stye overlap joints. I actually made this one back just before Pennsic.

    Small Box Two

    I made this one at the end of last week. It's made from cypress, and is a bit larger. It is meant to hold 16 braiding tama. The tama are about 1.5 inches in diameter, so the inside of this box is roughly 6.25" square to give them a little wiggle room. I didn't do the semi-fancy joinery at the corners the way I did on the first box, though I did use wooden pegs for fastening. Again, I finished it with linseed oil.

    2012.09.10 at 12:00am EDT

    Toolsday: Dowel Plate

    One thing I mentioned in yesterday's 'small box' post is using wooden pegs/dowels as fasteners instead of metal nails. I just think this is cooler. It's not necessarily more historical or authentic, I just like it a lot more.

    The difficulty comes when you need dowels. Most hardware stores sell dowels in oak and poplar, and crafts stores maybe have balsa and basswood. Even those are pretty expensive in terms of wood per dollar, and if you hunt down something special like cherry or walnut it can get very expensive. It's probably not worth buying expensive dowels if you're just going to cut them into two-inch lengths, smear them with glue, and hammer them into a hole so that only the very end is visible.

    Constructing something with wood peg fasteners of the same wood as the project is just so much cooler, though. What's an economical woodworker to do? The answer is to spend some money up front and buy a dowel plate.

    Dowel Plate

    This one from the Lie-Nielsen tool company costs about fifty bucks. If you're lucky, you might be able to remove one from your granddads workbench before the rest of the family notices. If you are (or know) a machinist, the dowel plate is just a slab of hardened tool steel with precise vertical holes cut through it in specific diameters. People tell me the underside of each hole flares slightly after the first eighth-inch or so to make it easier to remove the dowel, but if they do flare it's by the tiniest fraction of an inch.

    I have my dowel plate screwed down to a piece of cedar board that I can clamp in my workbench vise. The way you make pegs with it is to split off square pegs from a scrap piece of wood that is about the length of the dowels you want. Then you hammer them through the right size hole to shave off everything that isn't part of the dowel. You can start by cutting them down to nearly the right size by hand, or run them through some of the larger holes first to take off the corners. You can also taper one end of the dowel using a pencil sharpener just to make it easier to get the dowel started.

    Typically, you're making several dowels in a row, so once one dowel is hammered flush with the surface, you drive it the rest of the way through with the next dowel. I put a small bucket underneath to ctach the completed pegs.

    This kind of plate works best with shorter dowels. You have to work to keep the dowel striaght as you hammer, and over a large distance that might not be easy. You can also hammer just a portion of a piece through, for instance just the first half inch of a square rod, to round off the end for joinery. I tried this out, making a 5/8" tenon on the end of 3/4" square rod, and it was tricky but possible.

    I put off buying this tool for a while, since $50 is quite a bit to be spending on such a thing, but being able to make cypress pegs for cypress projects and cedar pegs for cedar projects is going to really make this item worth its weight.

    I put a Dowel Plate Demonstration video up on Vimeo if you're really interested in hearing me hammer and talk at the same time.

    [All 'Toolsday' Posts]

    2012.09.11 at 12:00am EDT

    Frick Park Fungi

    Alien Organism

    I've been doing a lot of walking in Frick Park lately, and recent rains produced a huge crop of fungi on dead surfaces all over the place. Modern conservancy tactics call for leaving fallen wood to decay in place and replenish nutrients in the soil. This means there are logs and giant fungi everywhere. You can see why people started thinking the woods were enchanted. Strange growths would spring up overnight after dark weather.

    2012.09.12 at 9:00am EDT

    Classy mallets

    Wooden Mallets

    I took an introduction to wood turning class on Sunday, and these are the mallets that I and the other two students made. Mine is on the left. We started from split wood out of a wood pile, turned it round on the lathe, then shaped it into these mallets. I concentrated on making mine as curvy as possible, but I like the geometric lines of some of the other works. Mine is made of cherry wood, and actually has an unfortunate soft spalting along much of one side. Anyway, it was a good class at the Society for Contemporary Craft, and now I have some experience on the wood lathe, which is something I've been wanting to learn for some time.

    2012.09.17 at 12:00am EDT

    Folding Hatadai Project

    When I made my first hatadai banner stand late last year, somebody asked me if it came apart or collapsed at all for easy travel. The answer to that was "No", but I had an idea how such a thing might work.

    Hatadai Unfolded

    Hatadai Folded

    The off-center hinge pin means that the pole can't be inserted until the stand is fully open, and once the pole is there, the stand can't close up

    All wood contstruction, with no metal fasteners. I did almost all of the cutting and shaping by hand. The legs were ripped from cypress 2x4, planed roughly square by hand, and mortised by hand with chisels. The cross-beams were ripped from cypress 1x12, planed to width by hand, drilled on the drill press, then tapered and tenoned by hand. I even made the cypress hinge pins using my dowel plate. Everything was glued and clamped together until it was ready to use!

    A few more pictures at the Folding Hatadai project page.

    2012.09.21 at 3:00pm EDT

    Friendly Lumber

    So this friend of mine has a saw mill.

    The Mill

    It's small enough that he can drag it around with a truck, but it's still pretty big. It has an intimidating band saw, and some nice controls to get smooth slices off a log.

    It turns out that milling lumber can be kind of fun, and now he has some large stacks of it that he'd like to get rid of.

    I mean STACKS

    This is all cherry that he cut from some felled trees. There are two more stacks behind the big one you can see. The short stack in front is some of the best stuff that's he's shuffled up front so people can buy it without digging. Anyway, it's a lot of cherry lumber and he needs to free up some room.

    I bought ten board feet of 2-inch thick lumber that I'm probably going to make some marudai out of. I cut it into 5-foot lengths so it would be easier to get it in my car.

    Piece Number 1

    Piece Number 2

    That's a 12 inch ruler sitting on top for scale. You can see that these are some nice big pieces of lumber. He quoted me an excellent price, too. I paid less per board foot for this extra-thick cherry than I did for the standard-thickness walnut from a few weeks ago. He said the price definitely goes even farther down if you want a bunch of it.

    Anyway, if you're at all interested in this stuff, and can go pick it up in Monroeville some time, drop me a line or give me a call and I'll give my friend your contact information.

    2012.09.22 at 5:00pm EDT

    Karabitsu Sleds Mini-Project

    We have all these karabitsu, right? The legs come off to make it easier to store and transport them, but sitting on the floor in the basement isn't going to be good for them in the long term. We get water in the basement sometimes, and storing them under this storage shelf unit means they have to be slid back and forth to get into them.

    Karabitsu on Sleds

    After struggling with several stopgap solutions to this situation, I gave up and built some sleds. The karabitsu rest on the sleds, the sleds keep the karabitsu up off the floor and have handles and glides to make it easier to slide them in and out like drawers. More pictures and information at the Karabitsu Sleds project page.

    2012.09.26 at 9:30am EDT

    Friday Tippy Catblogging

    Tippy-Head Boo

    Boo is the only cat in the house right now who does the 'puzzled cat tippy head' thing. He's not sure what the camera is for, but it makes noises and (for a change) isn't too scary. This picture also shows the pure white, heart-shaped patch on his chest very well.

    2012.09.28 at 12:00am EDT

    Cypress Karabitsu Project

    I made another karabitsu, but this one is kind of special. For one, it's entirely out of cypress, making it the first full-size karabitsu I've made without plywood. Second of all, I did it entirely by hand. I started from commercially available and mechanically planed lumber, but I only used hand tools for cutting, shaping, and assembling. Lastly, there are no metal fasteners at all in this project. It is constructed entirely out of cypress, including the hand-made cypress pegs that secure the joinery. The only modern material in this project is glue, and the project is finished with linseed oil.

    Cypress Karabitsu

    The inside is roughly 18.75"x10.875"x10.5". It took me a long time to make.

    2012.10.01 at 12:00am EDT

    Walnut Marudai

    I needed a present for some people, so I decided to make them this swanky marudai.

    It's made entirely from walnut, and it's very swanky. It's easily thenicest marudai I have ever made. We packaged it up with some tama and other accesories to make a nice braiding kit.

    2012.10.08 at 12:00am EDT

    Green Linen Hitatare Project

    This is meant to be a recreation of the green hitatare kamishimo that is dated in Mitsuo Kure's book as being "Mid-Kamakura", only without all the fabric painting.

    Hitatare and Hakama

    The fabric is a nice heavy green linen from "". I didn't want this project to wait around for me to braid the trim, so all that is store bought. I had enough extra fabric to make a kataginu, but I think it might look a little funny to wear an unadorned kataginu with hakama that have kotsuyu. I still have to make the proper undergarments. I have fabric for them but may not have time for several weeks. Anyway, more pictures at the Green Linen Hitatare project page.

    2012.10.10 at 10:00pm EDT

    Upcycled Marudai

    I have piles of "scrap" wood in the basement. Pieces of wood that are too small to do most useful things with, but too large to throw away with a clear conscience. A few months back, somebody on the block was throwing away an old crib. I snagged the two large sides, and busted the spindles out of them, fiuring that they would be good for making tall marudai, as long as I dind't care what those marudai looked like. So, this project was born. Take scrap wood from the basement, practice making marudai with some new processes, join them with the used spindles, and have some extra marudai that I can let go for cheap.

    Marudai 21 Marudai 22 Marudai 23 Marudai 24

    So, if anybody in the Pittsburgh area is interested in trying out kumihimo braiding on the marudai without having to invest a lot of money, send me some email. Beleive me, these marudai are not worth shipping. I also have some lightweight tama I can sell you for cheap if you need some of those, too.

    Mor information and some close-ups of the mirrors are available on the Upcycled Marudai project page.

    2012.10.15 at 12:00am EDT

    Hitatare Project Updated

    I finished up the undergarments for the green hitatare kamishimo, and managed to take some pictures of myself trying it on.

    Hitatare Kamishimo

    There are some things I might change about this project, but overall I think it was a success. I'm not sure about the size of the kotsuyu "pretzel" decorations, and I'm definitely not happy with the fabric I used for the underlayer. It looks pretty good, though.

    Follow the link on the picture to see images of the individual parts, and a "racy" picture of myself wearing just the underlayers. Scandalous!

    2012.10.19 at 8:30pm EDT

    Cherry Marudai

    As I detailed in "Friendly Lumber" a month ago, a friend of mine has a small saw mill and sold me some 2+ inch thick cherry lumber. I decided to make a marudai from some of it. The mirror is 12 inches in diameter, and the marudai is 26 inches tall. The slabs for the base and mirror are about 2 inches thick. The legs are 1.25" square, and are mortised into place. It weighs about 15 pounds.

    Cherry Marudai

    There are a couple more pictures and a few more details over at the Cherry Marudai project page.

    2012.10.22 at 12:00am EDT

    Sleeve Braid 2

    Whoa, I haven't posted any braiding in over a month. I have been braiding; not as much, but still braiding. Here's one, the second sleeve braid.

    Silk Sleeve Braid

    It's basically exactly the same as the other sleeve braid. It's almost uncanny how identical it is, I'm kind of impressed how consistent my braiding has gotten.

    9 strands of silk thread, braided in the shige uchi pattern with a sageo-cord type color pattern, about ten feet long.

    2012.10.25 at 12:00am EDT

    Friday Assblog: Pulling Through

    Pull Through?

    Many of us have done something that is technically illegal, like pulling through from a head-in parking spot to a head-out parking spot. The key to activities of this type is knowing when to stop.

    2012.10.26 at 12:00am EDT

    Linked Maru Yotsu Braid

    While I was doing my big project earlier this year to braid all of the 16-strand braids in Jacqui Carey's "Creative Kumihimo" I noticed that most of the 8-strand braids in that book were expanded or combined into 16-strand versions, except for 8C.

    Now 8C is really just two 4-strand (maru yotsu) braids that link together after every three iterations. It's a great braid, currently one of my favorites, and it struck me that it should be possible to expand 8C to 16 strands, but figuring out when to do which moves was the difficulty.

    Anyway, I eventually sat down with pencil and paper, and I worked i