Sunday, March 30, 2008

Felt devil

Here's a stuffed creature I made about a year ago. I was going to say that I'm happy with him because he looks a lot like the drawing I made him from...but actually, that's not true. His proportions are quite different. I only have a terrible photo of the original drawing, but I'll place it below. Apparently in the process of making him I went from the original idea of tiny wings to focus on long arms. Anyway, I like how he turned out, although the photos don't do him justice. He's kind of a cross between a ghost and a devil.

I used to shy away from making things from felt, but there are some neat colors of felt now available, and its non-raveling faculty certainly makes things easier.

How is a garage sale like an enema?

Keep your friends close, and your enemas closer? I dunno, I never had an enema. But I did have a garage sale. A big garage sale. We stopped giving things away to Goodwill some months ago...seems like it's been a year, but that can't be right. We started keeping stuff and planning to have a big garage sale to raise money for a trip to Germany through the school.

Well, we used to donate a good sized box of stuff to Goodwill about once a month. Which only underscores the crazy amounts of useless stuff that we take in every week, but in any case -- that's a bunch of stuff that we were NOT giving away anymore. We were piling it in the garage. And that's just the toys, books, clothes, housewares and such that would fit in boxes. Add to that the several furniture items we decided to sell, and the many many items a friend of ours donated when he moved. He moved last week, and that really was the catalyst to get off our butts and actually have the garage sale, because suddenly our house was stuffed with his leftover stuff and we needed to get rid of it.

Well, it feels great to have the space back, let me tell you. That mountain of junk was blocking my access to my workbench....making me not want to even walk through our garage...and making it harder to walk through our house at all. I feel all clean inside and out now.

City and planning photos

Construction photos of the city box....

Sides assembled with base, handle; basecoated using leftover latex house paint.
Here's the drawing I did for the decoration of the box.

Here's the initial tape masking I did for the first color.
Here it is after applying a dark grey color.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A week of no television, and hopefully less going forward

If you don't count watching a movie over at a friends house, and I don't, I haven't watched any television this past week. It's easy to do that when the family is away, as they were -- Tanya took the whole circus up to Wisconsin for Spring Break. The thing is, with no one else in the house, I'm not particularly tempted to turn the TV on. When someone else is watching TV, though, I have a real hard time resisting it. And if I'm having any trouble at all writing, well, then it's sheer torture to be trying to write something difficult when I could be watching an episode of Stargate: Atlantis with Tanya.

And to think I spent several years carefully not knowing anything about Stargate: Atlantis. It was one of the few SF shows on TV where I didn't even know the premise. The commercials simply bewildered me, and I felt no temptation to watch it. Tanya started watching it recently, and now I feel like catching up on the whole continuity....whereas before, I felt like it was a second-tier-quality show and I was simply saving myself some life time by not watching it.

We just cancelled our Dish Network subscription, so we're trying out a period of less TV. Should be interesting to see how this goes.

Before the writer's strike, I would often watch a show every weeknight. The strike has helped a bit. Really, I don't have time to watch a show every night AND get a decent writing session done.

The lesson of Mr. Crabs

I'm recording some paper notes of mine, with random ideas. Basically, I write ideas in whatever notebook is handy, and mostly I'm pretty good about recording them later...but sometimes a notebook sits around for a while before I sift through it for the gold.

Here's a bit of gold dust from August 2006 that I found this morning:

Spongebob's boss Mr. Crabs is a great character because he's a fundamentally
nice guy whose good intentions are completely overwhelmed by his insane greed.
You know he'd sell you out for a dollar, and you still love him for it.
I'm thinking that he can be a model for a type of character, one who has a terrible weakness. In his case though I'm captivated by what a jolly fun character he remains. Honestly, I can see him selling my kidneys on eBay.

It's important to convert time spent watching Spongebob into highfalutin' literary ideas when you have kids. Keeps you sane.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Review of _Hard Time: 50 to Life_

I found this book rather randomly at my local Half Price Books. It's billed as "A teen deals with newfound powers while behind bars." The super power element in this story is relatively serves to equalize things for the otherwise hopeless main character, a bit. But the protagonist has no control over his abilities, so it's small comfort.

It's a DC book but seems to have no particular relation to the rest of the DC universe. No one understands that the kid has a super power, so he's not being thrown into some Dr Seuss-themed power prison, and there's no one else with powers around.

The interest here is the injustice...the main character wrongly thrown into prison at an extremely tender age, cast off by society as if because the crime he was involved in was so horrible that someone had to pay. A school shooting is involved, and the book nicely shows up some of the contradictions: the disdain of the kids' schoolmates, who have no consciousness of how they have prompted the tragedy that occurs.

But the main character fights to survive despite all, and that's all you need. He finds allies in odd places, including a large black inmate who arrives at the prison at the same time as he does.

This volume collects issues 1-6 of the original series. Wikipedia tells me that there were 12 issues of the "season one" volume, and that was followed by 7 issues of season two before the book was cancelled. Issues 1-6 make a pretty good story by themselves.

PS: I just noticed that the author of this book is Steve Gerber, who created Howard the Duck and more importantly, the TV character Thundarr the Barbarian. Mr. Gerber had a lot of nice credits in his career, and it turns out he died very recently, February 10.

Review of _JSA Classified: Honor Among Thieves_

I picked this book up because of its cover -- it had some nice dark shadowy pictures of members of the Justice Society -- and because the JSA seems quirky and I thought I'd learn more about it. But most of it isn't about the JSA, but their opponents. The first couple of pages hooked me and landed me fast: a story from the villain's point of view.

I don't know these characters very knowledge of the wider DC universe past the big names like Superman and Batman is pretty limited. What was interesting about this one, though, was that the authors carried off a solid story with some rather silly characters. What unfolds is a story that you might get if you took a crazy supervillain scenario and looked behind it. Why do they put on their silly getups? Why do they attack the superheroes, when they know they're likely to lose?

Well, the story doesn't go too far into the last, but it provides strong motivations for the characters, and makes the formation of something called the Injustice Society seem to make sense, at least for the duration of the tale.

"The woman -- is she with us?"
"Ava? Nah, villain groupie. Imports expensive chocolates."

By the end of it, I'm heavily rooting for the villains. The main character, Icicle, has a strong voice and displays honor and passion; what more could you want? Further, he plans out his escapades carefully, so there's the fun of a caper plot. And given that they're all villains, there's an edge-of-your-seat, who-might-turn-on-who-next quality to the story.

The characters are a motley bunch with wildly different a lot of super teams. But they clearly have a lot of history together; they struggle to survive; they support each other. I recommend it.

Oh, there's a completely separate story at the end of this volume. It's pretty good, but I was all caught up in the villains by this point, and in no mood for irrelevant JSA stuff. :)

2007. Written by Jan Van Meter and Peter J. Tomasi.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Making a city box...I don't actually know anything about working with MDF

This is the side piece for a "city box" I'm making.
The home shows seem to use a lot of medium density fiberboard (MDF) in their projects, especially the home makeover shows and the ones like Trading Spaces with severe budgets. I had gotten a small piece just to have around, because I do like to try out new materials for crafts. I finally started a project with it: I'm making an open-topped box that's shaped like a city skyline.

This is a beginning to a larger project I've been doodling for a long time: a godzilla/dinosaur shaped bookshelf. The box is supposed to be a companion piece, a toybox: the buildings that the big monster stomps on.

The box is pretty simple: a 3'x1' skyline outline, a couple of endpieces, a bottom, and a dowel handle.

My wife thinks I'm insane: for some reason, she doesn't particularly want a Godzilla scene in our house. But I'm getting a kick out of making a piece of furniture that looks like something else. But right now I'm learning that it's not so easy to cut straight lines on my small tablesaw when the board you're using is a great deal longer than the table. I got some woodworking tips from my friend Bill Woodburn last night, though, so I think if the weather improves I'll drag out the table saw again and clean up the edges.

Bill's tip was to hot-glue or clamp a 1x2 board to the underside of the workpiece at the right distance to serve as a guide against the edge of the tablesaw, to let you cut a straight line. That should work great.

I was all set to screw the MDF pieces together with drywall screws, but Bill was saying that screws don't hold well in the MDF, that glue works much better. So I'll probably do something with glue instead.

One thing about the skyline box: it's an easy shape to cut using power tools. I cut the vertical cuts on the table saw, and did the horizontal ones with a jigsaw.

The wonder of making ceviche

Sometimes it seems like I approach cooking the way I do juggling. I get interested in recipes when there's something of a party trick or magic trick to them. For example, I got interested in making Paneer because the idea of making cheese from milk, for dinner, on the spot, fascinated me.

Ceviche is a little like that. Ceviche is basically a salsa dish made from fish. Gee, that sounds gross to me, even now, and I love ceviche. I finally got around to making some because of the way I've scarfed it down every time I've encountered it. But then fish tacos sounded gross to me at first too. Okay, apparently I have a certain problem with fish in the abstract.

But not at all in the flesh. So, what's magic or tricky about ceviche? Well, there are two things. One is that you cook the fish without ever heating it. And two, that some recipes allow you to do that in 30 minutes or even less (here's a recipe that calls for only 15 minutes of marination)...which puts me in mind of having a party, chopping the ingredients while talking to friends, and then having an appetizer ready before you know it.

Well, I haven't tried the second option yet. For my first outing, I chose the easiest ceviche recipe I could quickly locate, and I picked the one I did mainly because it called for tilapia, a fish that is relatively inexpensive and easy to procure in landlocked Texas.

The Peruvian ceviche recipe I used from was quite simple. It was a lot like a salsa recipe, if you substituted fish for the tomatoes. The main difference is that you use a lot of lime juice.

And that's the ceviche secret: you marinate the fish in citric acid, and the acid actually cooks the fish. It's not about raw fish: it's fish cooked cold. Cooking with heat, after all, isn't about heat as an end....heat is used because it causes proteins to uncoil, and proteins don't return to the same state afterward, so the texture of the food is changed. It just so happens that you can do the same thing with acid.

The other part of this that's neat is you could be out on a boat, catch a fish, and prepare a nice dish from it without running a stove or a fire (here's a chef's story about doing exactly that).

I'm a whiner, but also a cheerleader

If I wanted, I could make every single entry of this blog a whine about the trials and tribulations of writing. Specifically, at the moment, I'd whine about how goshdarn long it's taking me to finish my current story.

See how I did that?

But whining won't help much. And anyway I no longer feel like whining, because I'm happily screaming throught the downhill part of the emotional roller coaster of a writing session.

I wish you could be here to hear what I sound like when I'm working on a story. It's gotta be pretty comical. I sit down and I'm all cranky and not getting much done. And I keep plugging away at it and then I come up with just ONE GOOD IDEA and I'm completely happy with myself. Right now I'm convinced I'm a genius because I was stuck on something and I just started typing ideas into the this point I'm more or less carrying on a dialogue with myself in the file where I'm writing...and I decide to list 5 ways to solve this little plot point...and the first five suck, they are awful...and I keep going; some of my items aren't really relevant ideas at all; and long about number 10, I have an idea that really works.

I know that's awfully vague. But I'm reluctant to get into the details and it's not germaine anyway. Oh, but the point: the point is that I actually CHEER MYSELF ON, OUT LOUD, while I do this. "Go Aaron, you can do it. You da man!"

Right now there's no one here to hear me, but that's usually NOT the case. :)