8:40pm and the first free minutes yet tonight find me writing, listening to Spirit’s eponymous 1968 debut with the house wide open.

I’ve just finished reading to Keaton before Sharaun puts her down (which she’s currently doing), we’re starting to get back into The Hobbit after too long a break where she’d tired of it.  Surprisingly she remembered exactly where we were and what had been going on and so picking up where we’d left off worked well (the company just escaped the warg and goblin firefight).  Tonight, instead of lamenting each “chore” speeding me from my homecoming to my late-night meeting, I decided to purposely engage in these clock-moving tasks without care.  I played with Cohen, fed him a bottle and held him while Sharaun made some homemade caramel in the kitchen.  Keaton and I climbed trees with Gandalf and Bilbo and Thorin.  And, even though it’s 9pm and I’m really just now getting “time off” (a whole hour before my 10pm meeting), I feel better about not counting the minutes.

This weekend I pulled down all the Halloween props and, with Keaton’s help, got most things setup and running.  I still haven’t run the air to the pneumatic props nor have I setup the motion detectors or prop timers or anything like that.  But I’m happy to report the standard yearly prop maintenance wasn’t too bad this year.  Things look to be holding together OK, and where they’re not I’ve been lucky with repairs, spare parts, and replacements.  In a fit of creativity I decided to build a new prop for the cemetery.  In the span of a few hours, and with some help from a buddy, I’d built a little  mausoleum in which we placed the animatronic witch Sharaun found on clearance at Ross last year.  The little structure keeps her out of the elements, protects her electric internals, and gives me something to anchor her to to stave off theft.  You can see a snapshot of the unfinished creation accompanying this post.

It’s been a productive few days.

we’d smoke anything

Smoke 'em if ya got 'em.Well internet, I thought I’d drop in after the week absence Mexico so lovingly provided us.

Yes, we’re back… and yes, I’m back to work.  Confined once again in my tiny shoulder-height grey box, staring at my monitor, typing, and talking on the phone.  It’s a far cry from the routine we’d fallen so easily into last week on vacation.

For reference, that routine went exactly like this: Wake up at 8am, get Keaton and Sharaun up.  Change into swimsuits and lube up with the sunblock.  Meet our co-vacationing friends for breakfast at 9am.  Poolside by 10am at the latest.  Bloody Mary or Malibu and pineapple to start the day.  Swim; read; lounge.  More drinks.  Lunch around 1pm.  Swim; read; lounge, drinks.  Back to the hotel to shower and change around 6pm.  Meet for dinner at 7pm; switch to martinis.  In bed by 11pm to do it all again tomorrow.

Blissful; it was blissful.  But being back is OK too.  We got home at past midnight on Saturday (OK Sunday), and I spent Sunday putting up all the Halloween decorations.  Got everything up too, but things need the usual tweaking and yearly repairs.  Coffin guy needs a new head, time has disintegrated the plastic near entirely.  The ceiling dropper’s rope broke from friction  and strain again, so I have to replace that once more.  The ghost needs to be re-tied at better heights so her motion is more natural, and the witch’s dress needs a new pinning to keep it in place.  But, over the years I’ve streamlined the setup so much (with permanently installed hooks, platforms, and ties) that everything went up easily.  So easily, in fact, that I’m thinking of trying to finish off an old prop concept I started and never finished…

Today at work Buffalo Springfield’s “I Am A Child” shuffled up on the iPod. Any time I hear Buffalo Springfield, I get mega-nostalgic. For whatever reason, the part of the past when I bought their greatest hits record, back in middle school, is indelibly burned into my brain. I write a lot about how certain music melds with memory for me, forever linking a song or album or sound to some event – and Buffalo Springfield is one of the strongest of those associations. I have the clearest memories of sitting in my room back in Florida listening to that album over and over. One memory in particular is actually strange enough to share.

Before I was exposed to marijuana, I was already fascinated with the concept of smoking something to “get high.” After all, practically every 60s musical and cultural icon I idolized as a teen glamorized the experience… how could I be expected to not want to try it? At one point, I can remember hearing, somehow, that cloves could get you high. This led to Kyle and I rolling up and smoking cloves, yes… plain old dried clove, whole and un-ground from the spice rack, and nearly coughing to death as we tried in vain to catch a buzz. Ditto with the recipe for “banandine” we got from the Anarchist Cookbook. Try as we might, we couldn’t seem to figure it out.  But really… try we did.  I mean, we’d pretty much smoke anything.

I remember one afternoon, while listening to the Buffalo Springfield album that spurred this whole ramble, actually smoking and inhaling some spent firecrackers I had in my room. Over the years I’ve wondered where I would even get such an idea… I used to be obsessed with fireworks (well, fire and fireworks in general, really).  I used to ride my bike around the neighborhood early on the morning of July 5th, collecting the burned shells of the previous nights fountains and bottle rockets and roman candles.  Not only did I love the labels and packaging, but I loved the burned-out smell of the things.  Maybe that’s what made me decide to try and “smoke” one.  Buffalo Springfield in the background, bedroom window open, and I’m sitting there “smoking” a used ladyfinger.


halloween ’08 “walk-up”

Good evening beautiful denizens of the interwebs.

Hope your Wednesday was OK; mine was.  Some friends invited us over for another debate-watching party tonight, so with no time to get things done after work I snuck out about thirty minutes early at lunchtime and got some finishing work done on the Halloween display.  I setup the sound and did final placement and tacking on cables and motion detectors and whatnot.

I’m really happy with the way things turned out.  I’m using the prop activation timer as it’s supposed to be used instead of just as an afterthought as in 2006, and the rest of the work is just icing at this point.  Halloween could be tomorrow and I’d be OK (providing I carved a pumpkin or two with Keaton before nightfall).

And, since I’ve had at least one person ask me to see a video of the whole house “walk-up” as it’ll look to trick-or-treaters, here’s something I put together quickly tonight.  The only drawback to this video is that I don’t yet have the light hooked up to the ceiling dropper – so I had Sharaun hiding out shining a flashlight on it at the right time to simulate.  Unfortunately, the flashlight just isn’t bright enough and the effect doesn’t come through very well in the video.  Owell, maybe I’ll reshoot it once I hook up the real light (which will be a bit more orange and a lot more bright than what you see here).  So, check it out, and, come get some candy… if you’re not too skeered!

Anyway, with that last light and a couple handmade glowing Jack-o-lanterns it’ll look a lot better… I added it to the Halloween gallery too, y’know, for posterity’s sake.  Let’s move along now.

One of my best buddies has a daughter whose spending a year studying abroad in Sweden.  Before she left, I helped her setup a blog here on the servers so she could keep the masses updated with her foreign goings-on and post pictures and do general bloggy stuff.  She’s been gone now for a few months, and I’ve enjoyed reading her blog a lot in those times – it’s kind of like I’m getting to experience the whole culturally-displaced thing through her (even though she doesn’t write nearly enough).  Her last entry, however, really made me stop and think.  I’m gonna link it now without much setup or commentary and just let you take it in for yourself.  Read it by clicking here… heavy stuff for someone I still think of as the eight year old I first met so many years ago.

For real though, I’m straight-up doing a year abroad vicariously through her… since I was too chicken to ever do anything like that when I was younger.

OK folks, it’s coming up on 10pm and I need to not be at the computer for a bit.


the sheets and pillow are calling

Hey there Tuesday people.

I’m off again today, taking the corporate sawmill shuttle across the state a ways to work over there for a couple days.  More of the “meet and greet” business, with a little effort thrown in to justify the whole thing.  So, an evening in a hotel and two days away from the fam… could be worse I suppose.

I’m just dreading the 4:45am rise-and-shine… which means I better get to typing here – I got music and Halloween for you today, not much to write home about.

Lately, I’ve been on this soul music tear – acquiring (through absolutely unquestionably legal channels) tons and tons of vintage 60s and 70s soul records to try and flesh out my collection. In the process, I’ve found some simply amazing stuff – the cream of which so far has got to be material by one O.V. Wright. Someone I’d never even heard of before, it’s hard to believe this guy isn’t held in the same esteem as classic performers like Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye. His voice is incredible, full of emotion, and his songwriting isn’t so serious that you can’t get a chuckle here and there. And the music, oh man the music. All the right horns and cymbal crashes in all the right places… this stuff makes you feel.

Anyway, it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Some seventy albums into my bender, I realized I’ve now got too much to appreciate before something new comes along – and I’d better come up for air and actually take in some of what I’ve grabbed. Soul is a relatively new area for me, so I’m excited to get educated. I know, you’re riveted right no.  I’ll continue to thrill you with the following, I’m sure…

I was thrilled today as I came up with a really neat concept to “soup up” the Halloween prop setup. Right now I’ve got live power (at 120V AC) running all around the place to power the props. I’ve long worried about this being unsafe, as a lot of my connections are simple wire-nut jobs and could conceivably be susceptible to shorts (and, less plausible but still a concern, human contact). Today I hit upon a way to move most of the dangerous high-voltage hookups under the safety of the front porch roof enclosure – and wire the props in the yard with low-voltage 12V power.

Additionally, I dreamed up a way to reduce the amount of clutter I have by triggering the coffin “popper” and ceiling “dropper” from the same motion sensor. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but to me it means a lot less wiring, a lot cleaner interface between the props, and some cool new features. For instance, both the dropper and the popper can have (timed) associated sounds and targeted lighting now, in addition to the always-on “ambient” soundtrack that was there last year.

What’s more, if everything goes right – in addition to springing down on you from its hiding place above with a blood-curdling scream and scary spotlighting, the ceiling dropper will now spray a burst of fog towards you as well. It’s probably hard to visualize, so I’ll just post a video when I get it working.

Ahem… I’m outta here.  With such an early start to tomorrow, the sheets and pillow are calling.

Before I go, I keep meaning to mention that Ben posted his pictures from our abbreviated John Muir Trail hike over at his site.  Check them out here.


I ain’t about hard

Hi!  What up?  Shut up.  I don’t care.  Nah, I’m just kidding… what’s going down?  Nothing?  Yeah… me neither.

It’s Monday though, and it was an uncharacteristically Fallish day for California.  Just when it should be one-hundred degrees plus it cools down and even gets chilly at night.  I loved it, although when I woke up and felt the lingering chill of night it made me feel like I’m behind on designing this year’s Halloween props.  Well, more accurately fixing all the props that broke two years ago… which was a couple of the major ones.  I guess the cooler weather makes my brain think Fall, and Fall means it’s time to get working on Halloween.

Each year I build one new prop, and I usually allow myself one “large” purchase along with it.  One year it was a massive fog machine, the kind clubs use.  One year I bought a nice drill to aide in construction, another year a jigsaw.  One year a twenty gallon air compressor.   This year, I’m not sure.  I know I need to rebuild the flying crank ghost, because she literally wound herself to death last year, and I need to make some adjustments to the ceiling dropper too (which, despite never getting a full teaser video, actually came out pretty well in the end).  So, I think I’m gonna start working on those soon.  The crank ghost rebuild could take time, depending on whether or not I choose to do an “industrial strength” one or go with the cheapie I built last time (which looked great, but ultimately only lasted four seasons).  I’m thinking this time I do it right with angle-iron and a heavier-duty motor.

Thinking about it, I don’t think the changes to this year’s props will actually demand that much time… maybe a couple weeks to get things right.  The most difficult part will be fixing the ceiling dropper’s triggering mechanism and audio synchronization issues.  If I figure I can do that with relative ease, then I may actually have enough time to engineer a totally new item.  And, I’ve had an idea in my head now for over a year that I’d love to make happen: A glowing half-corpse/ghost that travels in a large loop in the air around our yard, as if floating along.  I imagine a torso and head, with a ragged end at the midsection and outstretched arms, flying around the yard overhead.  I know, a lofty concept.  But, I’ve sketched it out several times and think it can be done with just one drive motor and two or three clever pulley stanchions.  We’ll see…

Anyway, enough about Halloween, eh?  I just get excited… it’s been my favorite holiday ever since I was a little kid and all.  Let’s move on.

Today at work was busy.  In fact, work’s been getting busier all the time lately – a change from the few months of relative “down” time I had.  My program is sputtering along at half-choke, throttling up towards 100% which should happen sometime in January.  Then it’s balls-out for a good two years again before the cycle begins anew.  Things at the sawmill go like that, where a project lasts about three years or so, and then resets.  I’ve been through five now, some in parallel, obviously, and I feel like I’m getting better every time around.  I guess I’ve made up my mind that I’m gonna stick around this job.  I like it enough, I’m good enough at it, and it pays well… so, why leave?  It all fits nicely into my “why change?” style.  Change is hard y’all, and I ain’t about hard (well, most of the time, anyway).

Before I go, I wanted to tip my bloggers hat to a longtime friend of mine who’s recently started writing online.  I read, with tears poised in puddles just inside my eyelids, glistening in little shivering lumps of surface tension, waiting for one small motion to send them streaming, the first two parts (one here, two here) of her multi-part entry, “I Killed My Parents.”  All the years I’ve known you, Sheila, and I’ve never asked you about your folks.  I’m not that guy, the one who asks, even if you set me up for the question… I’ll likely balk until you’re ready to tell me outright.  I’m glad I finally know the story, thanks for telling me (and everyone else).  Can’t wait to read the rest.  And, oh yeah, we love you.

So, that a sappy enough ending for ya?  Hope so, ’cause I’m outta stuff to write.  I think it’s a respectable entry, no?  Yeah, let’s call it a wrap.

Oh hey wait, look, Megan used Keaton as the subject of a Photoshop tutorial.  That’s an interesting kind of exposure, eh?  And, maybe it’ll get you “we want new pictures!” hounds off my back for a few hours.  (I swear they’re coming, for reals… soon even.)

Goodnight friends.  Until tomorrow.

halloween 2006: ceiling dropper

Note: This entry is part of my Halloween Projects category. You can see all of my posts documenting my projects by clicking the “Halloween Projects category” link above. You’ll also find images and movies of the projects and their construction in my Halloween Gallery, which can be accessed by links in these posts or directly here.

This year, when the UPS man delivered my PicoBoo. As I opened the package and started feeling my way around the small device, I suddenly realized that this thing has much more potential that activating my wolf prop, which can essentially be a “static loop” prop and require no activation. So, my mind started racing – thinking about a new prop… something complex enough to be worthy of PicoBoo-timed activation and sound, yet something simple enough to not break the Halloween bank. The idea came to me while I was sitting at my desk at work, I call it the Ceiling Dropper. Here’s the gist:


In the entryway to my house, right before the door itself, I have two columns which attach to the roof. Immediately outside the door, the ceiling itself is recessed, but that recess is hidden when viewing the facade of the house while walking up. My idea involved “springing” something down from this recess as unsuspecting visitors approach the house. Imagine the mechanism as an upside-down version of last year’s coffin popper: a simple hinged torso which “pops” down from a hidden ceiling recess as a trick-or-treater approaches. Of course, the actual dropping would be accompanied by lights and sound for maximum scare effect. The whole drop-down/retract action will be accomplished with air power and a simple pulley, and the entire thing will be triggerable as desired (motion, pressure mat, or manual).

Trick-or-treater approaches the house, unaware a skeleton is about to swing down from the roof and attack them. The torso is attached to a hinged piece of PVC and suspended by a wire that’s attached to a reverse-action pneumatic cylinder (meaning air pulls the thing shut). The cylinder is kept powered (aired) and the prop is normally retracted and hidden in the recess. When activated, the solenoid will cut air and the cylinder will drop open (gravity and spring), snapping the prop into scare position. At the same time, the PicoBoo will activate the scare sound and targeted lighting.

Post-drop concept. Our trick-or-treater, having barely just recovered from the motion-triggered Coffin Popper, is now assaulted by our skeleton from above. Note the sheer terror on the innocent child’s face – this is what Halloween is all about.

The cylinder is attached to a bit of 2×4, which is in turn attached to the stucco/wood in the recess, and the wire is threaded through an eye hook and attached via a drilled hole into the hinged PVC swingarm. The hinge action is a simple PVC “smaller through bigger” hinge. I did a lot of measuring to decide what stroke length I needed for the cylinder, but the bore size needn’t be huge as we’ll only be lifting about ~15lbs. I wanted to leave a “safe” 7ft of ground clearance when the prop was fully deployed, so I wouldn’t have to worry about tall folks getting whacked in the noggin. This left me with about ~32in of prop length – which serendipitously worked out perfect for a typical adult torso.

For a “proof of concept” teaser, check out the teaser video here.

Implementation & Actuals

Coming soon, stay tuned.

Finished Effect

Coming soon, stay tuned.

weekdays are torture

Sunday night and it’s back to work tomorrow (“boooo!” jeers the crowd). This weekend turned out to be an exercise in laziness, both purposeful and unplanned. Wanted to mow the lawn: didn’t happen. Wanted to go to Wal Mart and invest in some of those “energy saving” lightbulbs: didn’t happen. Wanted to say home and do nothing both Friday and Saturday night: did indeed happen. Overall though, I’m happy with it. Found some time Sunday to work on this year’s “late breaking” Halloween prop with Ben, even managed to take some quick footage and assemble it into this year’s first “teaser” video. I’ve added it to the Halloween Teasers gallery, so go check it out. Found even more time after doing the teaser to upload some new images to Keaton’s Gallery, so go check those out too. And then, read this:

Downloaded the new iTunes and let it update my iPod to firmware 1.2. Had some issues with the actual update process, as iTunes just stalled out on “updating iPod” indefinitely. I let it go for half an hour thinking it really might be taking that long, but soon noticed the iPod’s screen was showing the “do no disconnect” message. I unplugged the whole mess and Ctl+Alt+Del’d the iTunes process. Went through this twice before the iPod actually got updated, and iTunes never did stop showing the “updating the iPod” message… I just had to hard-reset the iPod and kill the iTunes task again. Then iTunes took approximately 300hrs to analyze all my MP3s for “gapless playback.” I hope gapless playback is rad enough to warrant that. Stupid Apple software.

Friday night I stayed at home alone while Sharaun went to some pyramid-scheme party. While the party isn’t the point of what I’m writing here, I think I’ll go ahead and mention how it seems to me like these kind of things are really on the rise. Maybe it’s just that Sharaun’s now at the prefect age to be invited to them as a target buying-audience, but it seems like there are pyramid-scheme parties for just about everything these days: makeup, children’s toys, housewares, baskets, food, candles, etc. Oh, and I know the term “pyramid scheme” isn’t PC anymore and that I should call them multi-level marketing… give me a break. (Note to my friends who are gettin’ their multi-level on, I still love you… no pyramid could keep us apart.)

Anyway, where were we? Oh yes, I was home alone… and I took the quiet time after I fed Keaton and put her down as a chance to catch up on some of the week’s news I’d missed (work being fairly consuming of late, hence the spotty blogging last week as well). The major outlets were primarily consumed with the sex-toy highschool MySpace killer, but the indie guys were almost completely focused on the Military Commissions Act. Oh sure, I’d heard a lot about the “torture bill” over the course of the week, but the more I read the more inflamed I became. I decided I should probably read the thing for myself before I got too hot and bothered by potentially biased summaries of the legislation. So, I headed over to Thomas and grabbed a PDF of the final passed version of the text.

A lot of folks are up in arms over this legislation, and doubtless we’ll see some legal challenge brought against it in the courts as early as this week – I’m sure there were several groups working over the weekend to get their motions in order. Now, I’ll say right out that I don’t have much in the way of new or insightful information to offer about the bill, but you can go to any number of places to get some brainage on it if you’re inclined – here’s a good start. Anyway, I downloaded the thing and fired up my trusty laserjet printer (which made me realize, I hardly ever print anything these days) and printed off the entire thing. I stapled it together, and plopped the thing in the bathroom for some dumptime reading.

I’ll fill ya in once I’ve got the whole thing sorted, OK? Goodnight.