Saturday, February 28, 2009

Teacher talent show

I missed the Friday portion of JuggleFest this year because it conflicted with our elementary school's Teacher Talent Show.

It was an easy choice. The teachers put a lot of effort into the show and it's a hoot. It's unique among talent shows that I've seen, in that there's almost no attempt to show any sort of talent.

I mean that in the best possible way: what the teachers try to do is do some funny skits and entertain their school, and they do it grandly.

Nonetheless, some talent slips out. The art teacher crafted a wonderful bird's head costume. One of the teachers from the Vietnamese program played the theme from Beauty and the Beast on a keyboard; it was sappy and magnificent.

But it's the ones who look uncomfortable up there in silly costumes, and who do it anyway, that get me every time.

Friday, February 27, 2009

You may loose a finger

At the office, this sign on an accordian door/sliding partition. When I loose a finger, I just go to the lost and found. 

Erasing the Map

I rather enjoyed this very short story over on the Futurismic web site, "Erasing the Map." You know how Total Recall (the movie) is sort of about memory alteration but isn't, well, deep? This one is.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

More of my Tau army state-of-the-art

Here are some more shots of my current Tau army figures. The Smurf-like spotted mushroom on the squad leader's base is what I do with leftover greenstuff putty, typically. And everyone knows that alien landscapes feature mushrooms.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Advice from James Michener

When I was in college at the University of Texas, I took a creative writing course for undergrads. My professor was involved in setting up a special lecture with novelist James Michener for her graduate students, and arranged for us to be included. She was pretty excited about it. The main thing I knew was that Michener was a famous novelist and journalist.

At the time, I had my future career all planned out: I would be a journalist until the income from my fabulously well-received novels allowed me to focus on them entirely. Since I had the impression that Michener had done this, I looked forward to what he had to say.

He did indeed address exactly this topic, but his words made my career plan flash before my eyes. His advice to young writers was to avoid mixing journalism and other writing; he said the daily drive to publish saps energy for other pursuits.

There was a meet and greet session afterward, where we starry-eyed undergrads mingled with the grad students and professors who had turned out to hear the great man speak. Most of us ended up in small groups talking to each other. As a sober undergrad, I was subtle in my efforts to express my reaction to Michener's words. I believe the way I put it at the time was that Michener had 'crushed my dreams.'

A professor whom I did not know told me not to worry about what Michener had said. "If it bothers you," he said, "remember that it's just one man's opinion."

Nearly all of what Michener said that day has long since fled my brain, though I've since come to believe he had a point about the stresses of journalism and how it could interfere with fiction writing.

But it's those kind words of perspective from a not-so-famous professor that I will never forget.

Cat scratch furor

Our cat Zissou knocked over a whole tray of Warhammer figures  and I didn't discover them right away. When I did, I found that several of them had lost limbs and such. 

I did repairs immediately, and most of the new joints now have metal pins and so will be stronger than before. And this provided an opportunity to take some shots of these figures with my phone camera, which is proving to be pretty good at this...if I steady it on a surface.

If you click the images for the larger versions, the detail is good enough that you can see brush strokes. Thank heavens for thumbnailing. My paint jobs aren't ready for microscopic detail. But I'm happy with them for the 2-foot rule. They'll do fine on a tabletop in the midst of a game.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Quick recycled cards

I do a lot of cards this way: take an old calendar, paste plain paper on the opposite side of the image, fold, and then use a paper cutter to cut the image down to size with clean edges. It's quick enough to actually use...I'm not likely to spend all day on a craft just for one card. 

Monday, February 23, 2009

This Alien Has Many Eyes

That's what Lily, 3, told me when she drew this picture for me. I could not gainsay her.

This alien looks a lot like some of the aliens Chloe used to draw, and that Ethan drew before her. A body-enclosing line, and some feature -- eyes, here. Ethan, especially, used to add lots of eyes and arms and legs and/or tentacles, and the number of them was important to him. "Six legs, daddy!" he'd say. Awesome.

It's my birthday, and I'm taking off work today and doing a thing up at the elementary school where I spend the day there being School Dad, sort of. It's fun. 

Sunday, February 22, 2009

JuggleFest photos

...on my Amazing Aaron juggling blog

Christmas present opening at my parents' place

These shots are from January 2, 2009.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

More Christmas shots...Connie, Ethan

Here's Tanya's Aunt Connie, and a shot of Ethan showing real Christmas spirit via his Game Boy.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Chloe makes a sheep

Chloe made this sheep from poly clay in record time, guided by photos in a book called I Can't Believe I'm Sculpting Clay Figures by Becky Meverden. I mean, she picked up the book, I looked away, and then she had this sheep. She said she didn't really use the instructions, just looked at the photos. Unfortunately this is the only photo I took that actually came out, it doesn't quite do justice to the 3d reality of the original.

But that's polymer clay for can put together a pleasing color creature in a few minutes, and then bake it solid in 20 more. Total instant gratification.

Christmas eve pics...Shot glass checkers

I really think the whole shot glass thing was lost on the kids.

The other picture is Tanya with Oscar Escobar.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

"War with the Newts" by Karel Capek

To me, the writer Karel Capek was always famous for being the originator of the term robot (although Wikipedia says he actually credited his brother with coming up with the term. Great, now I've been lying to people.). 

I never read the play, R.U.R, where he used that term. I have read something else by him, though, and I recommend it. It's a hard to find work called War with the Newts...but you can download the whole text now, so the lack of hardcopies shouldn't be an issue. I think there are several places where you can find it online, but here's one of them.

In this story, humans find and exploit a species of newt that is big enough and smart enough to be a useful servant. Then the newts get a little uppity and things go downhill. It's a great read that I heartily recommend, and it has aged pretty well, probably because it's a satire.

Unga Tyson and Chloe

Here's a shot from Christmas: 12/22/08. If you have to have a brother-in-law, I say, you could do worse than Tyson. For example, he was not made out of body parts taken from a graveyard and reanimated in a soulless laboratory. I think he comes from Dupont, actually. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Jugglefest is this weekend

Jugglefest 2009, the big annual Austin juggling event, is here Friday through Sunday, on the UT campus. More info here.

Dragon Dance, Chinese Market

A large Chinese market now exists near North Lamar and I-35. We go there pretty often, the supermarket is fun, and the restaurants too. Naturally they wanted a dragon dance, and Chloe's Summitt Elementary group was happy to oblige. The high school dragon dancers were there too of course. For this event, out came the long dragon, which I hadn't seen before.

Also pictured here: Ethan with ear plugs. Lots and lots of fireworks at this event. All the dancers had masks and earplugs. I spent a lot of time covering Lily's ears. 

Time and space and Chuck E Cheeses

In December I took three-year-old Lily to a birthday party at Ye Olde Chuck E Cheeses. I didn't know the other parents there -- I haven't gotten to know many of Lily's friend's parents yet. But the experience was odd for another reason: although I'm quite sure I'm older than some of the parents there, they treated me as if I was younger than them. Some of them were clearly dealing with their first kids, too, with the sort of anxiety that first-time parents get. (Listen to me, all "experienced parent" snobby. Hah!)

Given that I'll be 40 any day now, and am dealing with my first burgeoning feelings of getting old (it's like puberty, but without the exciting parts), this was kind of amusing. I'd just count my blessings -- maybe I just lucked out and look younger than I am. But I feel like I give off an immature vibe. Cue jokes.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The only school fight I ever won

Back in 9th grade, I was in a new school just down the street. They'd shuffled some demographics, looked in a scrying pool and decided to turn the high school three blocks away into a junior high...just in time for my last year before high school, in a district where 7th through 9th grades were junior high and high school started with 10th. 

The chance to walk to school was too good to pass up. I suppose it was darn convenient for my parents, too. As a parent who now makes his 9 year old bike to school daily, rain or sleet, I can see it.

The school was big and crowded and full of strangers, one of whom didn't like me much. 

I remember this kid only as being mean, dark-haired and stocky. I was afraid of him and I knew he was going to attack me at some point. He'd called me names or something before. I can't remember why I even knew the kid. I know I never knew his name. 

Since I was afraid of him, I knew exactly when our paths intersected in the halls and I kept a close watch on him. I must've gotten an intense look on my face when I watched him, because one day we crossed paths, he took a look at my face and said, "Where's the beef?"

This was in the middle of that phrase's currency in the Wendy's commericals of the 80s.

But I didn't hear what he said. I only heard him saying something aggressive. I punched him in the stomach and kept moving. 

In the scrum of the halls, no one seemed to notice. I couldn't believe I'd gotten away with it. Then I played back what he'd said, and realized he hadn't actually done anything to me at all. 

He might have threatened me again, or he might have completely backed down after that, I can't remember. I know he was never a real problem after that. But the more I think about it now, the more I think that the whole encounter was probably mostly in my head. 

But I totally won that fight. 

Dragon dance at high school, part 2

You can actually see Chloe in a few of these. And it was Lanier High School, not Anderson.

I feel pure

Sunday before last, I cleaned out just half the garage. I feel so much better. It took about three hours, and the main thing I accomplished was to create walking space and benchtop space.

And the key thing, the thing that made me get it done, was dividing it in half. I just decided to limit my work to one side of the garage, and it worked. After that I was itching to do it. And I can't wait to yank everything out of the other side and clean that up too.

Soyuz spacecraft diagrams

Courtesy of Metafilter, a New York times infographic on the Soyuz spacecraft. This is a series of images that make a minor use of animation, kind of like a good slideshow. An excellent primer on the craft.

Monday, February 16, 2009

This is what I used to doodle in high school

See, I never learned to draw skulls or scorpions. Just curiously cute snakes. 

But I gave them odd names. I called them "pandags." The fact that the name contained the word "panda" never occurred to me. 

These aren't from high school, though. I drew these last week. 

Dragon Dance at high school

These photos are from the first dragon dance event that I went to, held at one of our local high schools. I think it was Anderson. Here they are getting set up for the show.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Broken bolete

Oh, man, I predicted this was going to happen. I broke the Mushroom Man figurine that I received in the mail recently. 

We have these hard tile floors that have caused a sharp decline in our glassware population, and when I picked up the figure and realized it was a resin casting, I predicted that it would get knocked onto the floor by one of our kids and break. The only difference between my prediction and reality is that it was me that broke it. I shoulda put it upstairs where there's carpet.

I could fix it, but it's hard to get an appetite for fixing broken decorative figurines. 

Declaration of war

I try to post all the love notes Chloe writes. This is a particularly good one. I think this one was aimed at her brother: "I Would Like to Declare War wich means a battle (Not To the Death)"

Nations should be this clear. 

I may have fallen off the caffeine wagon a little bit

...and am being dragged along behind it.

I've been trying to cut down on my caffiene intake, at least after work, in hopes of getting to sleep at more regular hours. In practice, I honor this idea in the breach more often than not.

When the kids are bouncing around at 7:15 pm and I'm trying to get them to make lunches, take baths and gotobedforchrissakes, it's just not hard to justify a cup of coffee to calm my nerves. I do it for the children.

That smooth, smooth cup of coffee, if it prevents someone from getting a beating, begins to seem like a virtue.

Hmm. I'm actually going to sleep at decent hours lately. Maybe I should just focus on the sleep thing directly. I'm not sure about the quality of the sleep, though, and that points to things like caffeine.

Friday, February 13, 2009

And this is what I look like when I bike in the cold

I wouldn't want to run into me in a dark alley.

I'm trying to post more photos now that I have a decent phone camera. However, I didn't magically become a better photographer, and the thing doesn't have much of a flash.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Against the lecture

I read this essay by a bio professor that talks about the history and futility of the lecture system in teaching, and it was a real eye opener. It proposes that we stop trying to deliver information in volume during class time, suggesting that maybe books are a good way to distribute that.

Circle of life

Here's a couple of photos I finally got round to uploading; Chloe and I on our latest bike ride, and a dead deer we saw. The questions this sort of thing inspires are always fun with Chloe. Luckily she wasn't interested in dissecting it or anything.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Back in the snowflake again

I'm reviewing the ideas presented in the Snowflake Method for organizing a novel, by Randy Ingermanson. I thought Ingermanson had a lot of good practical advice in that article. The key things I thought he got right were:
  • an iterative process with layers that lets you manage the large and small structure of a novel; iterative meaning you feed back and correct each layer as you develop the next
  • he emphasizes that you should use what works from his ideas. He doesn't think he has all the right answers.
Ingermanson's web site is a bit marketingy and salesy and maybe oversells him. I'd never heard of his writing before encountering the Snowflake concept through NaNoWriMo. He calls himself an award-winning writer, but the awards he cites are for Christian writing, which is a niche that doesn't give him any particular juice for me.

Still, I've gotten a lot of use out of these ideas already. But I've been writing short stories, and I've never done all the detail involved witha full Snowflake. Now I'm working on a novel and I plan to go all the way, baby. And all the way, with the Snowflake method, is a long way: you end up with pages and pages of notes.

I generate pages and pages of notes anyway, though. They just aren't usually as organized as the Snowflake method would have them.

Here's the Snowflake in the smallest nutshell I can distill it down to:

Write progressively more detailed descriptions of your story, like this:
  • One sentence.
  • One paragraph summary.
  • Goals and one-paragraph storylines for each major character.
  • Expand the one paragraph summary to a page.
  • One page per major character.
  • Expand the page summary to four pages.
  • Detailed character charts per character.
  • List of every scene needed to make this plot work.
  • Description for every scene, totalling about a page per chapter.
  • Start your first draft...but halfway through, update your design docs.
The updating thing is more important than anything else. Later steps will provide ideas that will change earlier steps. You should use those, and you should go back and make everything consistent; that's how you can make a complex novel work. And man, is it ever work.

Image made using the Make-a-Flake flash tool. I wanted a snowflake image and it occurred to me that there must be some art tool out there for making snowflake pictures, and it was only a Google away. The zeitgeist is a wonderful thing.

Dragon dance 2009: Girl with puppet

I'm going to start posting a bunch of photos from this year's Dragon Dance events. The short version: my daughter Chloe has been participating in Dragon Dance this year through the Vietnamese program that got added to her elementary school. A number of the non-Vietnamese kids joined the activity. Since Tet, the Vietnamese new year, just happened, we have just been to a vast number of events for it, because that's when Dragon Dancers are in demand.
The first photo shows a little girl who had a great lion marionette in the style of the lion costumes that they use for the dances.

The others are from a dance performed at the Wells Branch Community Library.