Saturday, December 31, 2005

New Macro Lens on the Way for the 20Da

Luckily, I have a relative that is a professional photographer. I have been able to borrow all the lenses she wasn't regularly using in order to use the Canon 20Da.

Today I ordered a lens for myself. Since a lot of my work is close-up photography, I researched lenses and found one that looks like it's going to work out quite well. It's the 100mm F/2.8 Canon USM macro lens. It should be here within the week. Here's an example photo in macro mode on the Olympus 1020Z that I was using before.

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I'm hoping to get as good or better results with the new setup, even though the Olympus, despite being a point-and-shoot, is actually pretty hard to beat in terms of flexibility and photo quality.

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Hall of Shame - Cheap Toys - Part 1

The post-Christmas season around the household here is always a good time to take stock of toys that work and toys that do not.We're very lucky to have the opportunity to either purchase toys or receive them from the many family members that live nearby.

The vast majority of these toys work really well. Some do not. This is going to be a post about one that does not.

It's the Battery Operated Road Race Set. It's distributed by Midwestern Home Products, Inc. P.O. Box 0591 Wilmington DE 19899. The item number is 06245. It seems to be a slot car track.

It says ages 5 and up. However, you have to be a careful adult with a deft touch to not break the thing putting it together.

And, even then,

1) both posts of the start/finish line broke apart while trying to attach them to the track. One post broke at the top somehow. the other at the bottom.

2) the catch fence feet, where they attach to the track, sheared off 20% of the time, leaving most of the catch fence barely hanging on to the track. This affects the racing because the catch fence keeps you from sliding off the track if you keep the car floored, which is about all you can do with the controllers that came with the track.

3) the places where the track fits together are frail. I had to bend the metal ins and outs back "in" the very first track layout. If you shear these off, you're done with that piece, as the electrical connection between the track segments can't be reliably made.

4) the box can't be used as storage due to the very cheap and flimsy packing material. You're on your own for storage.

5) the accessories mentioned on the box include two extremely small signs that are supposed to attach to the track. You would almost miss them if you didn't know they were "advertising billboards". That's supposed to be the accessories as far as I can tell.

6) The figure-8 layout is the only one that goes together without irritating gaps between track segments.

The cars themselves were the only positive thing in the box. So, trying to be a good sport, I played with this set with my little boy for a long time. The whole while I pondered frail, fragile, cheap, plastic toys.

This would have to be my first real encounter with something that did not seem to be play-tested at all whatsoever. For that, I'm quite grateful.

For a great link to a good read that includes a bit about Midwestern Home Products, check out Cheesy Toys #9.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Woodworking + Toddlers

9 December 2005 042

Here's Michael at his woodworking class. Normally you wouldn't expect woodworking and toddlers to be a winning combination. However, this woodworking class is a San Diego treasure. The class is held in a converted bus called The Wood Bus. See below for bus.

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Each child has a station with all the tools you need to make a little toy or object. The work area is adjustable up and down, and everyone does their own work. Everyone gets to choose their project. The bus is jam-packed with tools and plans and the woman that runs this venture is one of the neatest people I've met in a long time. She comes around to all the schools and teaches basic woodworking.

The day that this photo was taken, one of the parents at the school walked up to her and said "You probably don't remember me, but I took your class, and I am going to sign up my son for your next session."

Turns out she's been at this for 30-some years. She told me that the day she runs into a grandchild, she might think about quitting.

She's had two or three buses over her career as a woodworking teacher, and said that getting a new one requires a tremendous amount of work to outfit. After seeing the inside, I believe it. I hope we get to do this class again sometime. Michael totally loved it. He made a walkie-talkie with a flip-up antenna and a little plane with spinning propeller. What a great experience he had!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Everquest Fan Fiction - Trueflight

If you're not familiar with my D&D/Everquest/RPG character Trueflight, then this post may not make a whole lot of sense. If you're familiar with the game or fan fiction in general then this is just more Trueflight RP. Hope you enjoy!


They had the best table in the Heartwood Tavern. It was near the door, but out of the way of the draft. Despite the crowd, most of the Kelethin natives gave the table a wide berth. No one stood within two strides of the elf and the human seated there.

“Thank you for meeting with me, Trueflight” the young man said sincerely. He pulled his chair in closer to the table then glanced around, admiring the workmanship of the tavern interior.

“You’re quite welcome,” answered the elf. “You mentioned you wanted to talk about blacksmithing. You know I wrote a book on the subject. But, I can’t think of anything that I could tell you that wasn’t already in it.” Her arms were casually crossed, elbows leaning on the richly varnished table. The plain linen shirt was speckled with spark marks. Her hair, cut short, stood up in a series of reddish cowlicks.

“Well, to be honest, the reason I’m here is not exactly for a recipe, or for a process, or anything like that. I’ve read your book. I had it translated. It took some doing. Everyone wants elvish poetry. Try getting some nonfiction translated and everyone acts like it’s torture.”

“It was torture to write. It should be torture to read,” Trueflight answered, snapping off the cork from her bottle with her thumb. The human visitor watched her pour a glass, realizing the stories about her strength must be true. It usually took a heavy tool to wrench the cork from a bottle of elven wine.

“Want yours opened too?” she said politely, nodding towards the bottle that had been placed down in front of him earlier.

“Sure. Thanks. I guess they forgot the corkscrew.”

“They do that on purpose to confound the humans. By the way, you might not want to drink it all. The Heartwood doesn’t exactly follow the purity laws for Kelethin brewers. It’s about twice as strong as what others serve, but that’s not the issue. You look like you can handle a drink. The problem is that they don’t filter the water first.”

“Oh, thanks for the tip.”

She poured him a full glass and then set the bottle down in the center of the table.

“So, you don’t want to know about blacksmithing recipes. You don’t want to know about forging processes. What exactly is it that you want to know?”

“How did you lose your leg, and why did you decide to replace it with a piece of metal?”

Trueflight looked at the human and rubbed her chin.

“I won’t answer the first question. But I can answer the second.”

“Ok, fair enough.” He leaned forward, excited to hear the story from the source herself. A story that had not, to his knowledge, either been told or found out by anyone else.

“The adventuring life is a dangerous one. You yourself have several scars,” Trueflight began. “There’s one on your neck, another on your arm.”

“Yes, that’s true,” he answered, recalling the origins of both with gritted teeth. He rubbed the scar on his forearm with his thumb.

“Well, you can imagine that if you adventure enough, and if you take risks, that you will fall prey to some opponents that will best you. Normally my race restores limbs through the powers of our healers. It’s an area of study that offers great reward in terms of wealth as well as reputation.”

She paused to drink. He decided to try a sip. It was delicious. Whatever unfiltered substances were in the water, at that moment, he didn’t care about one bit.

“It’s good, no? Anyway, there came a time where I lost my left foot, ankle, and lower leg. I knew from previous study that the phase spiders could attach armor plating to themselves with a particular substance. This allowed the extra armor, regardless of origin, to bond to their ethereal form. Otherwise, the plating wouldn’t make the jump when the phase spiders phase in and out. This armor, or carapace, could be removed only upon the death of the spider. Most of the rest of the body would disintegrate.”

“Phase spiders. They’re rumored to be found in the necropolis of the dragon.”

“Yes, my friend. That is where they are found,” Trueflight confirmed.

“The armor plating, a carapace, was from the material plane, and not the plane of the phase spider. Traditionally, it was assumed that there was some sort of magical adhesion at work. However, I examined many of the carapaces recovered from the necropolis. There was no aura of magic, other than what had been cast upon the spider to kill it. There was only a particular type of phase spider silk.”

“Ah,” the visitor said, his enthusiasm hard to contain, “The spiders put it upon themselves with their own silk?”

“Yes,” Trueflight smiled, “That seemed to be what they had done. However, it had to be confirmed. And that took some patience, some luck, and almost two years of observing the phase spider in the wild.”

“So that is indeed what they do?”

“Yes. There are some things that must be done to the phase spider silk in order to make it work well with human skin, but the bonding worked perfectly on the third try.”

She moved her left leg out from under the table and lifted up the cuff of her pant leg. A ripple of whispers arose from the crowd. Several patrons stared with unmasked curiosity. Most, if not all of them, had never seen a maimed elf. Hardly any would ever see one again.

“This is a band of mithril. It’s three inches wide, a half inch think, and about two feet long. It’s curved like a lower leg and foot. The mithril sheet it was made from was folded over 500 times to give it a very springy and uniform quality. I can’t afford to have this metal fail.”

The metal seemed to grow out of her leg and then curve gracefully to the floor. It seemed to be undecorated, except for the very tip where the toes would have been. A filigreed triangular pattern could be seen gleaming in the light.

“What’s that design on the end?”

“Oh that. It’s a surprise,” she answered.

“And you didn’t write a book about all this, by any chance, did you?”

Trueflight pondered for a moment. She dropped the pant leg back down and swung both legs back under the table.

“I don’t rightly remember when the reports were filed. I’m sure it’s with the Ranger Guild.”

“Well that would explain it,” the human said. “I haven’t been able to access the archives. I don’t have the correct certification, or standing, with the guild.”

Trueflight looked at him with a raised eyebrow and took another drink. “Well, all you have to do is prove yourself. How hard can that be?”

He laughed quietly. “Well, these scars aren’t the only ones I got in efforts to prove myself to elves. I am coming to the conclusion that it simply can’t be done.”

“Nonesense,” she answered. “We have many decorated humans within the ranks of the guild auxiliary. You just haven’t come across the right mentor.”

“And who might that be?” He demanded.

“If you ask me nicely, then it might happen more quickly than you think.”

“Oh,” he said, suddenly embarrassed. “But you hardly know me. I’m just a bard, looking for lore. I got involved with these legends on a dare. There are many more deserving.”

“But they’ve never had the gall to ask me how come I don’t get a real leg.”

“So, you admire my gall?” he preened.

“Don’t get ahead of yourself. Your gall might be delivered to you on a platter if you become too much of a smart ass.”

He decided to drink some wine instead of respond.

“Good choice,” she said, raising her glass. “Next stop, the guild hall. After that, it’s up to you.”

Monday, December 12, 2005

San Diego DMV Should Not Be Closed

The Department of Motor Vehicles should absolutely not be closed on a work day.

I motored on over to do some normal citizen-unit paperwork, only to find the DMV closed. Now, you might say, maybe I should have checked before I went. Perhaps, but it's a non-holiday Monday. Even the banks are open. Schools are in session. And, the parking lot had cars in it. And a lot of people walking back and forth from their cars to the doors.

About halfway to the door, a woman said "It's closed" in a very irritated voice. "They don't open until tomorrow morning."

I drove 20 minutes to find out that this DMV is open for 80% of the work week. Now, if it was a truly free service, I might not mind so much. But if you live in San Diego, you know how much you pay in taxes. For those of you who don't live here, it's a high-tax burden state and city. What a joke.

In the short time it took me to walk back over to my car, I counted 12 people walking back and forth. All were annoyed. 5 cars pulled into the parking lot while I was driving out. Obviously I'm not the only one that assumed that since it was a normal work day, a city office might in fact be open.

Lame, California. Get your act together. I've had quite enough of pension scandals, stripper money laundering scandals, wasted taxpayer money, terrible library schedules, fees fees and more fees, and now stupid state office schedules that incovenience the very people that are paying for all this.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Best email subject line of the day

The title of the email says it all. It was from travelocity.

"Book a Hotel in Las Vegas, Get a Free Survival Kit"

Survival kit? For surviving Las Vegas? Or for surviving something else? Survival from what? Obviously, from zombies. But could it cover nuclear war? Bird flu? Your typical set of in-laws? Mental illness? Bad food? Airplane food? Airplane travel? Bus travel?

Is it free or do I have to actually go to Las Vegas? Or, can I just book the hotel, get the survival kit, then cancel the hotel? Is the survival kit small enough to fit in my pocket? Car? Garage?

If I take this survival kit, will I be under obligation to accept others in the future? Will I feel social pressure to upgrade my survival kit? If I decide to have two survival kits, will this cause jealousy between the kits? If the kits are unhappy, will they fail to assist me in my next attempt at survival? Is there any guarentee of survival success with this particular survival kit, or am I on my own, yet again, with a couple of pressure bandages, some floss, a pair of plastic scissors, and alcohol-soaked swabs? Does the kit include tylenol to help with the survival-kit-management-induced headaches?

I should probably call travelocity and ask...