Monday, November 30, 2009

Halloween 2009: Doctor StrangeGlove

Here we see the Doctor brandishing the Mark II StrangeGlove, which features a Polymer Projector, Hydroxide Sprayer, and Scarlet Ray (silly string, squirt gun, and light). Goggles are of course required for any self-respecting mad scientist, but Dr. StrangeGlove is debonair in foregoing a lab coat for a snazzy vest.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Halloween 2009...whole family shots

Lily = Cinderella; Chloe = Saquaro; Ethan = Dangerous German in Black; Aaron = Doctor Strangeglove.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Halloween 2009...Chloe's Saguaro Costume

I finally dug up the camera and found some pictures to upload. Enjoy.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Make me mighty

Ha! This page allows you to enter your name, and then creates a mighty alter ego for you, proclaimed in heraldic splendor. Here's one I did. Do your own!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

_New Avengers_ vol 2 by Brian Michael Bendis

The short form: the Avengers start to track down the criminals who escaped in Breakout. The Avengers try to make a hero out of the mystery character The Sentry, described by Reed Richards as the most powerful hero on earth.


There's lots of good stuff in this volume. I liked the scenes of a teenage girl confronted by a supercriminal who has shown up to collect his supercriminal widget, which her father bought for his collection. She's trying not to get casually killed by this guy with the power to level her house, but keeps offending him by not ever having heard of him. He finds her sunning herself by the pool, and starts demanding his widget, and hinting that he's going to kidnap her.

The text gets suggestive, but Marvel doesn't want to go too far: "Please let me put some clothes on."

"I just did hard time, so that's a no."

Then the Avengers show up before the artist can do more shots of the girl in a skimpy bikini. It's okay, though, Spider-Woman is on the team, there will be plenty of cheesecake.

In general, this book cemented my opinion that this series will deliver Avengers-style-fun with Bendis' delightful dialogue.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Second generation punster

Ethan came out with this horrible wonderful pun last month:

"Leper-cons don't have money to give you...they're too busy conning money from you to pay their medical bills."

That's my boy.

Monday, November 16, 2009

500 words a day, for 60 days: getting started

A little while ago I set up a new writing goal. I decided to write 500 words a day for sixty days. I've done bigger goals before, but this one feels right for right now. 500 is enough to not be intimidating, and I usually end up with more when it's all said and done.

I have to keep changing these goals. I'm usually trying to write every day, but I need a metric of some kind to keep me honest.

As I write this, a couple of days in advance of its publication, I've done 21 days, and I'm very happy with my consistency. The good thing about a number goal is it's hard to game. The bad thing is when you need to do some editing and your work doesn't fit the wordcount umbrella.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Telling church ladies about dragons

Image from the Urban Dragon Hunters blog, about looking for dragonflies
One Sunday last month I brought my laptop to church. I feel a little weird carrying the tech into the church world, but I don't have anything to do while the kids are in Sunday school, and I wanted to get a little writing done.

I planted myself in the church office and got started. One of the older ladies who helps out in the office asked me what I was working on.

Since I'm using the Snowflake method, I actually had a ready capsule description of the story I was working on, called Dragon Hunter. But it's one of those things that sounds kind of hilarious when you say it out loud.

I wasn't able to be quite this succinct on the spur of the moment, but it goes something like this: "In a world where humans are ruled by dragons who forbid the use of guns, an agent of the dragons infiltrates a group of gun runners."

To her credit, she try to back away slowly or back down from her encouraging attitude. Let's face it, all of my stories are going to sound ridiculous when reduced to twenty words.

It still feels odd to talk about this sort of thing, even with movies like The Lord of the Rings hitting the mainstream. Maybe I just need to get over some residual outsider feelings about this stuff. This lady didn't make me feel weird: I made me feel weird.

But not too much. I'm still pretty psyched about my dragon story.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

_New Avengers_ vol 1 by Brian Michael Bendis

The short answer: It's a great read with a fun plot involving a massive breakout of supervillains from one of those super-prisons the government loves to build in comic books. And it's a rejuvenation of the Avengers with new faces, but with Captain America at the helm, guided by Brian Michael Bendis. What more do you need?

I've been trying not to follow the current Marvel or DC comics world continuities for a few years now. I've been trying not to be up to date, and to cherry pick good collections of finished series and read those.

There are good reasons to do that:
  • I don't want to be waiting for the next episode of something to come out. I don't want to be held up by cliffhangers.
  • I don't want to feel compelled to buy every comic out there for continuity.
But graphic novels are more and more available at the library, so I don't actually have to buy all of these issues. And it seems I'm missing out. Bendis, one of my favorite writers, has been writing tons of books in mainstream Marvel continuity and I didn't know that. He's had time to write eleven volumes of New Avengers books behind my back.

Really, what with the availability of good news on the internet and all, I should have been keeping tabs on everything Mr. Bendis has written for a while now. I've enjoyed his Powers books to no end. I liked Jinx and Goldfish too. Ultimate Spider-Man was a blast.

Yeah, back when I started readin' comics, we didn't have the internet. You had to find out about new books from ads in other comics, or by reading one of the industry books, or by talking to weird older guys who hung out at the comic store.

Does that mean I'm too old to hang out at the comic store now?

But I was slow to look for comic books based on their authors, and then slow to apply that to mainstream comics franchises like The Avengers. I mean, you read the Avengers because you want to read big superhero slugfests, right? It's one of those franchises that's been around forever, through many different writers.

Well, following specific authors in comics isn't new. I remember people getting excited about John Byrne back when I was a teen. It's just new to me.

In any case, I've got something else to be excited about. My local library has the New Avengers volumes 1 through 11 available, and I've already read 1 through 5. Mr. Prolific Bendis has gotten ahead of me; it's time to catch up.

Friday, November 13, 2009

"Bad Machinery" is more than good

It's great, actually. The Nov 12 episode has a teacher who has just bumped into one of his students in civilian life, at the farmer's market, while shopping with his wife. He's upset that she introduced herself:

"Why do you think I wear dad's old glasses and a dead man's suit to work? They can't know you're human. The kids got to think you're a mad old robot."

This kind of chagrin, people going ape over little things, is one of the things I like about the comic; the other is the way characters tease each other creatively.

_The Merchants' War_ and _The Revolution Business_ by Charles Stross

Um, still really liking this series by Mr. Stross. These are books four and five. They are exciting and he keeps upping the stakes.

One of the back cover quotes mentioned this being an homage to the Zelazny Amber books. I hadn't thought of that at all, though there are many obvious connections. I like that idea, actually, but I don't know that I would ever have made the connection. What is interesting here is that Stross has his world walkers actively think about how to profit from the crossing of worlds. And then he tears into them for the flaws in how they do it.


We start with two worlds...Earth and an alternate-earth. We add a third. Guess what? That's not all. By book five it's clear there may be an infinity of worlds.

Nukes are brought into the picture. Small ones that can be toted across worlds.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Shrinky dinks used to create medical diagnostic chips

This is a pretty great piece of work, making high tech cheaper: a scientist who was strapped for cash found a way to do make chips with microscopic fluid channels, using shrinky dinks instead of expensive equipment.

The combination of the ability to print from a computer onto plastic, and then to shrink the plastic with heat, allows the creation of molds to create the tiny channels.

_Thor: Vikings_ by Garth Ennis

Image from Amazon, and used to link there
A Thor comic by Garth Ennis? I had to have a look. Oooh, and it was under the MAX comics 'explicit content' label, too.

Well, it lived up to that name. One of the bloodiest comics I've ever read. You think New York has it bad in the usual comic book disaster? Galactus puts fear in your belly? Galactus might step on you, but he wouldn't decapitate a dozen people in front of you and then use your bones to make a chair.

I suppose I'll get tired of grim, gritty, bloody, foul-mouthed versions of the comic books I enjoyed in my youth, but not soon. Doctor Strange joined Thor in this adventure, and that was fun too.

The plot revolves around Vikings who are cursed to wander the earth in vague Flying Dutchman style, but they have a few interesting twists, and the story is worth a read.

If you can handle the flying heads and limbs.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Drench: don't play this game

Don't even start playing this flash game. How will you stop? I can't help you.

This is a super simple puzzle game where you try to fill the board with one color. It doesn't appear to do anything more than present you with a random set of colored squares, so the coding looks as simple as promised. But it's fun.

Every turn, you choose a color. That's all the choice you have to make. And there are only six colors to choose from.

I really like how Flash has made it possible for coders to deliver fun throwaway games to the rest of us for nothing at all.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Why Do My Kids Keep Singing "It's a Barbie World" When the Song is Sexually Suggestive?

I kept hearing my kids sing this annoying song about Barbie. They said it came from commercials, but some of the lyrics sounded ironic or critical of Barbiness.

A quick search of YouTube revealed a pop song by a Danish band named Aqua. The lyrics were sexually suggestive, and the song was more than a decade old, so it didn't seem likely my kids had encountered the song directly. But it was clearly the correct tune.

Good song, too, with a funny video. But not something I'd have chosen for the kids to listen to. Ken calls Barbie a bimbo, she says "You can brush my hair, undress me everywhere..."...not that my kids notice that.

Wikipedia revealed that Mattel had actually sued the band over the Barbie reference, for hurting Barbie's image. But the judge laughed them out of court, telling them to "chill."

A search of the internet at large on "mattel aqua commercial" then revealed this article about how Mattel, seven years later, licensed the song for commercials. They tweaked the lyrics some.

Meanwhile, Lily and I were rocking out, listening to Aqua, and the sexual content of the song was sailing innocently over her head. Loves her Barbies, that girl.

The song is a hit with 12-year-old boys, too, who seem to get the ironic content: "Life in plastic, it's fantastic!" Granted, I've got exactly one data point on this.

I'm not the only blogger to notice this of course; here's someone who blogged about this on October 20.

Monday, November 09, 2009

_The Hidden Family_ and _The Clan Corporate_ by Charles Stross

I'm still very much enjoying Mr. Stross's Merchant Princes books, which cover a family of traders from another dimension.

Things get tense and interesting in volumes 2 and 3, when a third dimension is introduced (so you've got Earth, Earth2, and Earth3, let's say), and when the most paranoid parts of our government find out about the worldwalkers.

One of the most interesting ideas here is that the Merchant Prince family, called the Clan, is from a feudal world, and visits our Earth. So although they have this ability to travel between two places, their social and economic thinking is pretty backward. And they really just grab portable high-tech goodies from Earth, mostly, and carry them home. However, there are important exceptions to this that are being hinted at.

These books are tense and fun and interesting and the strong main character Miriam is great. My library has all of the books, looks like, so I'm no longer kicking myself for getting started on the series...except for the fact that it looks like the series isn't all written yet. I keep trying NOT to start serieses that the AUTHOR hasn't finished writing yet. But I'm not perfect at it yet.


In book 3 we learn that someone is trying to find or genetically engineer additional worldwalkers, using Earth tech to track down the genes responsible for the worldwalking ability. This is interesting and puts the series definitely in the realm of scifi...I'd thought we might find out that the ability was magically based, but nope.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

_The Invincible Iron Man: Extremis_ by Warren Ellis

Art from Amazon and used to link there

This was mostly well done but suffered from a bit of power inflation. Art was good, story was good. Makes a nice self-contained story in one volume.


I presume it lays the groundwork for some other Iron Man story I read where Stark gets hold of nigh-telepathic control of the armor. That's the power inflation I mentioned. Maybe Stark's alcoholism will erode that power away at some point and bring him back to ground level.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

_Serenity: Those Left Behind_ by Joss Whedon

Art from Amazon and used to link there.

This graphic novel fills the gap between the end of the Firefly TV series and the Serenity movie. It wasn't that interesting. It felt like a rehash of a Firefly episode. I'm a huge Firefly fan and I give this a big "meh."

_How Loathesome_ by Ted Naifeh

Art from the Amazon page for the book, and used to link there.

This graphic novel was okay, but I think I would be a revelation if you're highly interested in gay/lesbian/transgender issues.

It focused on the clubbing scene more than I care about, but several of the stories are quite good. I liked how the art worked with it. If I had a little more interest in the subject matter, I think I'd love it. But the gender confusion stuff didn't fascinate me. We all feel like an outsider sometimes, but the main character's perpetual outsider pose didn't grab me as much as it should have.

I'll keep an eye out for other stuff by the same author and artist, though.

Friday, November 06, 2009

_Stormwatch: Post-Human Division_ by Christos Gage et al

Image taken from the Amazon page for the book, and used to link there

I got a copy of this trade at a Half Price Books recently. I'd been down on Stormwatch in general, but I found I enjoyed this story arc a lot. It focuses on attempts to create a superhuman response team staffed by ordinary Joes.

However, those Joes aren't so ordinary, of course. I was particularly interested in a woman who displayed face reading of _Lie to Me_ quality, and used it in interesting ways: in one scene she walks into a room with a combat team, flirts with one of the team members, and then explains how the relationships amongst the team were such that he was the one guy she needed to flirt with to destroy the whole unit's solidarity. Fun stuff.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The Strange Case of Mr. Salad strange

I enjoyed this steampunk short story from the website. They've been doing a steampunk month thing.

However, although I enjoyed the story, I'm having trouble putting my finger on why it feels like enough of a story. Very little seems to be resolved by it. Does it work? If so, why does it work?

Fun detail: part of the action of the story turns around a replication of the internet in print: newspapers which print essays and then print comments to go with them, as fast as possible. That's true steampunk, that: taking a modern idea and moving it back to an earlier technology. It's almost plausible, too.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Try to critique an ad, and you just get ads of that type on your page

Image from men's superhero costumes video ad from CostumeStore

Ok, so I felt pretty good about the sendup of 'sexy women's costumes' that I posted about a few days ago.

Then today I see that that posting about that just causes an ad for sexy women's costumes to appear on my blog. Setting up Google Ads is like selling out, automatically.

(Except for the part where I haven't actually seen any money yet from the ads. I haven't hit them minimum hit rate required to get me any money. I basically put the ads in place just in case I hit one of those overnight-fame-internet-memes.)

You can go ahead and click on these links. The 'sexy costumes' are nothing that's unsafe at all, and the video ad is pretty boring, although I'll concede that if you're thinking about buying the costume, the ad will show you the costume. It's like a video catalog, more than an advertisement.

I guess I should stop mentioning sexy women's costumes, huh? If I keep putting the words 'sexy women's costumes' on my blog, that can't be good for my hit rate, huh?

Okay, I could talk about men's costumes instead, right? The sexy women's costumes ad thing led me to a related video ad about men's superhero costumes. They are terrible. Horrible. The men's costumes have fake muscles and just look ridiculous. Bulky, ill fitting things.

I've come to terms with the fact that actual spandex costumes look bad on actual real people, or at least on me; that you'd better have a superhero physique if you want to wear a superhero costume. But adding fake padding for muscles is such a bad idea that I can't believe it got through the design process, and the fact that someone spent money to make a video in which people stand around looking uncomfortable in terrible costumes is mind boggling. If the company can't find anyone who looks good in the costumes, then what are the odds that a customer is going to look good in them?

Libraries and bar codes

The Wells Branch Community Library near me, which serves the Wells Branch municipal utility district, has a simple system for book checkout. They have PCs set up with self-service signs on them and a bar code gun hung nearby.

The Austin Public Library has a similar system, but instead of a gun you line up your book on a surface; I like the gun better.

The Wells Branch system has you scan your library card to start, then scan books, then scan a "done" code when you're done; the done code is on a little card. It's just brain-dead simple. The only interface you use is the gun.

The Austin Public Libary system is a fancy machine with a touch screen. It's slower and harder to use.

The Wells Branch library makes cards by printing bar code stickers, putting them on a business card, and laminating them. The whole library feels like some smart college students put it together on the cheap, and it works well anyway. I like it.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

New webcomic, Bad Machinery

Hey, this one is really good. British kids starting up at school. Neat simple art. Great writing. From the guy who wrote Scary Go Round.

The episodes have an odd and subtle style to them. The characters are great.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Pluggable sensors for Arduino

MakerShed is now offering a product that allows you to plug various sensors and a display into an Arduino, without soldering. This is a great idea, making the Arduino more like a cheap open-source Lego NXT.

The $50 price for the set isn't bad, either.

I've still got a nice Arduino-based game kit lying around. Haven't spent time on the hacking lately.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Video but no sound from DVDs on Windows Media Player

I got a shiny new laptop at work, but when I popped a DVD into it, it gave me video, but no sound. Coincidentally, I was having some problems with my DVD player on another laptop. The coincidence made me think the problem was hardware.

But when I got around to googling for 'no sound windows media dvd', I found a couple of forum topics indicating that Windows Media player isn't fully DVD-capable out of the box. My last machine had a more extensive AV software package bundled with it, too, and that led me to believe that full DVD capability was something that ought to work right off.

I found a free video player VLC here, and that took care of the problem right away. The player was only 20 Mb in size and installed without a fuss.