Thursday, December 30, 2010

I'm Kinected

I was blessed with a Kinect for the Xbox 360 this Christmas. There's probably some irony in the fact that when I was 10, my parents would have never given me anything like this. Yet, now that I'm 32, they went out of their way to find me the hottest video game system of the season. (I think my mother has much more time on her hands these days.)

Setting up the Kinect was incredibly easy. You simply plug it into the Xbox 360, it prompts you for the disc that came with it, and you’re done. The Xbox at my house hadn’t been connected to the Internet (or even turned on much) for the better part of a year, so it did about 30 minutes of updating once it was back online. Again, aside from the wait, no problems.

The Kinect must be between 2’ and 6’ off the ground, directly under or above the television. I had some trouble with this because I went to great pains to wall-mount my TV. I decided my best bet was to re-purpose an old music cart I’d built for my portable 8-track recording studio. I loaded the Xbox, Kinect and all the cables onto the cart. It rolls right under the TV. Then when I’m finished, it rolls back into the corner. I think I’m also going to add a couple brackets for Rock Band guitars on the edges for total video game organization.

Kinect Cart

So far I’ve played Kinect Adventures and Kinect Sports. I have to say, the infrared sensor works at least as well as the Wii. Occasionally it loses you, but not often, and usually it’s because you leave the playing area to grab a drink.

Unlike the Wii, there are no buttons to push. I can tell this was a noticeable challenge to the game designers. The most obvious replacement for button-pushing is jumping. At least in these two games I’ve tried, you do A LOT of jumping.

Kinect Adventures was fun for about an hour, but it only has four games that you basically repeat over and over. There’s only so many times I can put my hands and feet over the holes that fish are making in a glass tank before I’m not amused anymore.

Kinect Sports is also somewhat limited, but it does a good job at integrating competition between two players. While Ping Pong and Beach Volleyball might not be too taxing, try a couple rounds of Track & Field. I guarantee you’ll break a sweat.

Aside from high-knee running in place during the Track & Field, I never felt physically taxed while playing the game. However, I woke up sore the next day. While my body is used to low-impact, repetitious motions, it’s not used to the sprinting, jumping and fast arm-swinging involved in Kinect games. Whether or not playing those games for an hour every day would actually make someone lose weight, well, that’s hard to say, but every little bit helps.


I wish I was one of those smart guys who had already hacked the Kinect to fly their quadrotor remote control helicopter or navigate their computer like Tom Cruise in Minority Report. Instead, I give you this video of my family jumping up and down in front of the television.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Perfecting the portrait

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One of my big projects for 2011 is to shoot new headshots of our executives for tendering proposals. I have a journalism degree. My background is shooting news out on the street, not in an Olan Mills studio. I wasn't too excited about the project, and my original plan was to contract it to some photographer with lights and a backdrop who works at Sears or does class photos or something. That was until I found out it was something like 300 employees that needed these photos done. Budget no longer allowed me the luxury of contracting it out. Instead I spent just under $400 to put together a mobile studio that I could set up in the office to churn out these headshots.

Keeping in mind that I also wanted to utilize this equipment for video, here's what I got:
The Super Cool-lite 4 One-Head Fluorescent Kit
An 8' Light Stand
A Backdrop Alley STDKT-10BW Studio Stand with 10' x 10' black and white muslin backdrops

The light kit comes with both a softbox and a dish with a diffuser. So far I've only used it with the softbox, but it seems to work well. It can be used with just two or all four lights. While it's adequate, in retrospect I think I would have asked for a little bit more money to get a six-light kit.

I also realized there's another important item you'll need to buy to make this work -- a steamer. These backdrops are all folded up and creased like crazy. Ironing will fade and discolor your backdrops. You need a good handheld steamer to knock all the wrinkles out whenever you set up.

When the equipment showed up last week I took it home to sort it out and make sure it all worked. However, that gave me a chance to get a little creative while I was playing around with it.

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When using just one light, I found that the best results were to have it high shining down on the subject. This creates flattering shadows as if one was standing in the sun. While putting the light low or off to the sides can create a dramatic look or film noir effect, you also run into a problem with shadows from eyeglasses falling across the cheeks, glare on the lenses of glasses, and the shadows of peoples' own noses falling across their cheeks.

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When shooting outside or in a crowd, I usually use the lowest f-stop possible for minimum depth of field. With my Leica X1, that's f2.8. This highlights your subject and blurs the background. However, when shooting against a backdrop, there is essentially no background. I decided to stop down the X1 to f9.0 to see if I could get sort of a hyperfocal effect that brought out all the detail in the subjects. The only downside is that to get the proper exposure I had to drop my shutter speed to 1/2 a second. I was really impressed with the detail I was able to get with the X1, but it kills a little bit of the spontaneity in a shoot when you have to tell people to freeze. Otherwise everything gets a little blurry like this.

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However, I also tested the light with the camera at f2.8 and the shutter speed ramped up to 1/250. It wasn't too bad.

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All of these were taken with the X1 in B&W High Contrast mode. I think they look great, but the 35mm lens required my subjects to be much closer to the camera than felt natural. I noticed they both had a tendency to keep backing away. I'll be doing the headshots with my Nikon in color with a softer setting and around a 90mm focal length.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

So you want to karaoke?

My brother recently turned 28, and he had one request from me. He didn't ask for presents or car parts -- all he wanted was to have karaoke at his party.

Extreme Karaoke

While I love my brother, I wasn't about to spend several hundred dollars to rent or buy a karaoke machine, so like any self-reliant nerd, I turned to the Internet.

I already owned a PA system. I guess that's the upside to having spent a previous decade of my life pretending to be a rock star. However, all you need is a portable computer and a stereo or good set of speakers to pull off a karaoke hack. For the other rockers out there, it's really easy to plug the computer into a stereo and repurpose your guitar amp with a microphone. However, the more microphones you can offer people, the better participation you get, so even a cheap four-slider mixer from Radio Shack can quadruple the fun.

Friends in low places

Of course, you have to have microphones and mic cables to match, so if you're on a serious budget maybe one mic is enough. You can also repurpose USB mics or headsets from Xbox to work through the computer if that's all you've got.

When trying to find software to run the karaoke, I had three requirements in mind.
1. It had to have a search function.
2. It would allow me to use dual monitors, so I could queue songs on one screen and have the lyrics maximized on the other screen.
3. It had to be stable.

I tested five different programs on my Windows 7 machine: Kjams Lite, Kjams Pro, Karafun, Walleoke, and Karaoke5.

Right away, Walleoke failed the stability test. It was off the list.

Kjams Lite/Pro shows promise. It is designed to mirror iTunes, so it has a familiar layout. Searching songs is easy and the lyrics show up in a separate window that can be put on a second screen. It would be perfect for the home karaoke enthusiast ... IF it was stable. Both the Lite and Pro versions crashed like crazy. They also had many features in the menus that just hadn't been written yet. Allegedly the Mac version works great, so if you're on an Apple, try it out. Unfortunately, it's just not up to par yet on PC.

Karafun was solid. It didn't allow two screens, but it keeps the program management small and maximizes the lyrics area. It was also the first program I tested that didn't crash every other click. However, it had no search function. That would be fine if guests were only scrolling through 10 or 15 songs, but I had compiled a library of over 5,000 karaoke hits for the event. You can't scroll through 5,000 songs.

Karaoke5 was impressively advanced. It had much better sounding MIDI instruments for the horrid MIDI versions of songs that show up in so many karaoke libraries. It also had full tone and speed control, so when the singer is killing you softly, you can take the song down a couple steps for them. Karaoke5 also allows playlists, queuing, announces the next singer, compiles and prints off your song database -- all sorts of functions that the professional karaoke DJ would need. However, to access the feature which allows the use of a second screen for the lyrics, you have to register and buy the full version. I was actually interested in doing this except that the programmer is Italian and not so good wit da English, no? Trying to buy the full version of Karaoke5 is a nightmare that starts with a paypal link and ends with very unclear instructions that have something to do with a dedicated USB drive that must always be plugged into the computer where you're using Karaoke5. Plus, it's about $200.

After a week of searching for the perfect Karaoke program, I finally gave up and went with the free version of Karaoke5. Despite all the features, it was still light enough to run on my netbook, which can't support a second monitor anyway. We simply clicked back and forth between the search box and the lyrics box all night and nobody seemed to mind.

So what about songs? All of these karaoke programs use two main file types, .kar or .mp3 paired with a .cdg file, which contains the lyrics. Using Vuze, I was able to find more than 5,000 songs available via bit torrent. I know, the legality is questionable, but it was for a one-night stand. I’m not taking this karaoke show on the road. Nor will I ever even listen to all those karaoke files again. I wanted the hard drive space back. They’re now free as a bird, or dust in the wind, or something like that.

When downloading or purchasing music, I highly recommend going the .mp3 and .cdg route. That gives you real music. Most, if not all, of the .kar files are terrible-sounding MIDI tracks. However, sometimes that can add to the cheesiness of the party, especially if you have an 80s theme going. Of course, if your friends are inebriated enough, they won’t really care.

KaraFun also makes an editor that allows you to strip the vocal track from an MP3 and create a lyrics file for it. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy to use, and as you probably guessed, the results are pretty mediocre. You still hear the vocal track, it’s just kind of quiet. However, if you really need that perfect Usher song to initiate some love in the club, that’s the easiest way to make it happen.

Hope this helps. Happy singing!

The power of Gawker

I've been doing a little testing to see just how much influence Gizmodo and the other Gawker Media sites really have. The answer is A LOT! At this point if a Gawker site links you in an article it's like a DDOS attack from the traffic generated.

Just linking a photo in the comments of an article on Gizmodo.com, I was able to jump my flickr click-throughs from 325 the previous day to more than 3,500 in less than 24 hours.

Some days are better than others

I've repeated this experiment several times to verify, and I also linked a YouTube video. That video jumped from 20 views to 450 by the end of the day.



I tried this same experiment with fark.com. It generated a measly 20 click-throughs. In comparison, Facebook and the Leica Forum generate somewhere between 5 and 10 clicks per day.

Interesting stuff. Now to figure out how to generate 10,000 per day.

The perfect Christmas gift

This was one of the prizes for the company bake-off held last week. I actually sat across the room for ten minutes trying to calculate in my head whether a 5 volt USB port could possibly ever generate enough heat to toast bread.

USB Toaster

I know, it was way too exciting to be real. It's actually a fake product gift box sold by www.theonion.com.

You've got to love the slogan, "Perfect software means perfect toast ... every time."

However, this giant OREO cookie cake was very real!

Giant Cookie Cake

Another 15 minutes?

I seem to be gaining a bit of notoriety as of late. I wish it was for my book, Building Business Communications on a Budget, which I published for the Kindle platform over Thanksgiving. However, nobody seems to think a window into my marketing genius would be a very good holiday gift. Oh well, maybe it will pick up in 2011.

However, I did get linked on the Leica Rumors blog yesterday for my prototype Leica X1 macro converter. Must have been a slow news day, but still kind of fun. Check it out at http://leicarumors.com/2010/12/16/leica-links-6.aspx/ .

I've also had more than 700 views of my Leica X1 adapter and hood on flickr.
Leica X1 with adapter tube and lens hood

As sad as I was to do it, I actually sold them both this week to pay for continued research. I actually purchased both 135mm and 90mm Leica Wetzlar lenses from eBay in hopes of creating a true Leica macro converter.

My Leica X1 adapters and a 135mm M lens

While I LOVE the way these lenses just screw apart, so that I can disassemble and experiment without damaging them, I didn't realize M lenses were so incredibly narrow in diameter. Unfortunately, I get terrible vignetting, so I'm going to have to find a new home for these lenses and go back to using larger diameter Nikkor lenses.

vignetting problem

I'm still waiting for the square lens hoods to arrive from China. I'm dying to see how they'll look on my adapters.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Celebration

My sister was kind enough to invite me to the Christmas Celebration Show that is produced by First Baptist Church Houston every year. Last year my brother-in-law played both a wise man and an elf, but this year he was just a spectator like us.

I have trouble sitting through a one-hour church service, so the two-and-a-half-hour show got a bit tedious for me. It might also have been that I had 30-some-odd people headed to my house for a party and was a bit pre-occupied with that. However, my impatience aside, the technical and production aspects of the show were amazing. There was a flying Santa, flying angels, and a real live pachyderm in the show.

First Baptist Church Houston Christmas Celebration

So this elephant walked into a church ...

If you're into sitting through long musicals and Broadway-style shows, I highly recommend you grab tickets for next year's event.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Conquering the Mega Mel Burger

It's been one of those weeks where nothing I actually PLANNED to get done, actually got done. By Tuesday morning everything had snowballed into a hectic cluster of overwhelming deadlines. I found myself still at the office 9 p.m. Wednesday. Then, I did remember it was my brother's birthday Thursday morning and sent him a message on Facebook, but by the time I arrived home that evening I was completely confused as to why his friends were at the house wanting to go out to eat.

It was a foot-in-mouth moment when he suggested Mel's Country Cafe, and I said, I'll pass. All I was thinking was that I was tired and about to miss another workout. Then he said, "Should I open my birthday cards here at the house then?" I felt dumb.

I had no idea what Mel's Country Cafe was or where it was located. I just knew he'd been there a couple weekends ago with the Cobra Club. When we got there, I found out why he requested that particular eatery -- he wanted to conquer the Mega Mel.

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Here are the contents of a Mega Mel:
1.5 pounds of fresh ground beef
1 pound of bacon
.25 pound of America cheese
LOTS and LOTS of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and pickles

Here are the rules if you want your name on the wall of fame:
1. If you leave anything in your plate, you will be disqualified.
2. If anyone takes anything off your plate, you will be disqualified.
3. You must be able to walk and talk after eating the Mega Mel Burger.
4. If you get sick at any time, you will be disqualified.
5. You have two hours to eat the Mega Mel Burger.
6. You will be stopped from eating if at anytime the staff feels you are going to get sick.
7. The most important thing is to remember that the Mega Mel Burger is a fun event at Mel's Country Cafe, so please have fun with it.

Needless to say, he didn't finish.

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But he did have fun, and he has enough leftovers to eat the rest of the weekend.

As for me, I finished putting out all the fires and fulfilling everyone's requests late this afternoon. I wish I could have paginated the December newsletter somewhere in between town hall meeting slides, answering help calls, and digging up proposal photos, but it's not like I don't get to come to work next week.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Leica X1 adapter tubes and lens hoods

I finally finished the last bit of painting on my Leica X1 adapter tube prototype last night. All in all, it didn't come out too bad.

Leica X1 with adapter tube and lens hood

However, because I was using a handheld cut-off wheel instead of a fixed saw, I ended up lightly nicking each of the three tubes at least once in the raised grip-like area around the end. I know, I know, I should be using the right tool for the job, but I don't own a pipe saw, nor do I have the capital to invest in one just for this project.

Leica X1 adapter tube

The paint came out ok, but it took a few attempts. While I was rather proud of the color-matching I did with the silver paint, I found that I had to wait at least 24 hours before I could mask over it to paint the black sections or the tape would rip the silver right off. Then the slightly recessed area towards the rear between the sections I painted black and silver never seems to want to come out all black or all silver. It kind of goes back and forth in color down in the crack, which drives me nuts.

From five feet away, these things look great. Unfortunately, due to the various nicks and imperfect paint edges, I don't feel like I can manufacture and charge people for them. People that use Leica cameras want a perfect finish, and I think I'd just have unhappy customers returning them. Even if I gave up on the two-tone paint job, they'd still have nicks in the metal. Hopefully I can sell the three I've made at cost for $50 each to recoup those funds for other projects. Of course, I'm keeping the original for my own use.

Despite the fact that I can't keep the paint from bleeding in the cracks, these things work great. I was able to screw on a Quantaray circular polarizer, a 52-49mm step-down ring, and a Leica vented lens hood with no vignetting. I think I could add at least one more filter to the stack, but I was out of things to screw on to it.

Leica X1 adapter tube and lens hood

Now that the shortened adapter is done, I'm turning my attention back to lens converters. I have an old 135mm Leica Wetzlar Hektor on its way via eBay. I hope to use the elements to test some ideas for creating a wide-angle converter and teleconverter, but even if they don't pan out, I can at least create a Leica-quality macro converter.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The pants crisis

I got a rude awakening last Friday. The time had come for the annual office Holiday Party, and I'd made arrangements to stay at the hotel to avoid and drinking and driving, my camera batteries were charged, all was good -- until I tried to put on my tuxedo.

In the days of old, I'd throw on the monkey suit at least four or five times a year to grace the movers and shakers of northwest Houston with my presence and editorial coverage of their social and charity events. However, in recent years, the tuxedo has only come out of the closet once a year for holiday parties. I should have paid more attention to how snugly the pants were fitting back in October when I wore it to the Society for Underwater Technology Subsea Gala. I should have continued the workout regime I abandoned in August. I should have eaten less pie at Thanksgiving.

My pants wouldn't button.

This wouldn't have been such an emergency except that I hadn't brought anything except jeans and the tuxedo to the hotel, and there wasn't time before the party to drive back across Houston to grab a suit. I briefly wondered if the front desk kept a stock of safety pins on hand for instances of this nature.

I had a Chuck-style intersect flash and channeled every Special K commercial I'd ever seen. I sucked my underestimated girth in as far as it would go, fell backwards onto the bed kicking my legs up into the air and stretched the waistline to its breaking point.

That gave me just enough slack to hook the metal loop. I prayed it would hold as I tried to find zen regarding how tightly my waist would be squeezed for the entirety of the evening.

I survived and so did my pants.

My vest and shirt collar were also a bit too tight. After ten years of fitting in that suit without a thought, it was time to face the music that I'm getting fat. Upon my return home Saturday I downed the last chicken pot pie and the three ice cream sandwiches in the freezer in a reflective binge, symbolically saying goodbye to the carefree eating habits I've enjoyed for the past decade.

I haven't eaten much since then. I know I can't starve myself forever. The dizziness and lack of focus makes it hard to work. I've got to start a low-calorie balanced meal plan. I know how to do this. I've had the cooking classes as well as the kinesiology classes, and I even own the Bowflex cook book. It just all goes back to being lazy and unmotivated. I'm thinking I may just pre-cook chicken and rice for a week at a time.

So yeah, I'm on a workout kick. My goal is to be able to fit comfortably back into those tuxedo pants by New Years. Failing to do so in unacceptable. I refuse to be one of those people who just keeps buying larger and larger pants every year until they're suddenly having to buy two seats on an airplane and asking for seatbelt extenders when they travel.

The weekend before Thanksgiving my brother and I got a chance to take the boat out for the first time in a couple weeks. I have no actual data to back it up, but it FELT like it was sailing better with the changes made to the rigging.

We anchored near an old platform and did some fishing.

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We didn't catch anything. Later that night we tried again at the marina, but still failed to catch anything noteworthy. There's obviously a trick to ocean fishing that I have yet to discover.

The diesel started puffing white smoke again, so I pulled the heat exchanger for a second time. I discovered a seam between the coolant reservoir and the exhaust ports that I'd missed with the JB Weld first time around. Hopefully I have it sealed up for good now.

As everything swings into full holiday mode, I picked up a few decorations for the house. However, as I'm trying to build my photography portfolio and Nikki is working on her modeling portfolio, we decided to take a few photos before putting the lights up.

Saint Nikki 01

You can see the entire set at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/21557832@N00/sets/72157625539084694/

Monday, November 29, 2010

Boosting Business Communications on a Budget

Boosting Business Communications on a Budget

My Thanksgiving break was somewhat productive. I not only put together some news writing curriculum for a class I'm going to start teaching at work, but I also finished my first book, which is available on Amazon.com for only $2.99.

You can buy it here or you can visit KUHF.org and if you click through to Amazon.com from the KUHF page, a portion of the sales will go to Houston Public Radio.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The quiz for those who know everything

There are only nine questions.

This is a quiz for people who know everything!

These are not trick questions. They are straight questions with straight answers.

1. Name the one sport in which neither the spectators nor the participants know the score or the leader until the contest ends.

2. What famous North American landmark is constantly moving backward?

3.. Of all vegetables, only two can live to produce on their own for several growing seasons. All other vegetables must be replanted every year. What are the only two perennial vegetables?

4. What fruit has its seeds on the outside?

5. In many liquor stores, you can buy pear brandy, with a real pear inside the bottle. The pear is whole and ripe, and the bottle is genuine; it hasn't been cut in any way. How did the pear get inside the bottle?

6. Only three words in standard English begin with the letters ' dw' and they are all common words. Name two of them.

7. There are 14 punctuation marks in English grammar.
Can you name at least half of them?

8. Name the only vegetable or fruit that is never sold frozen, canned, processed, cooked, or in any other form except fresh.

9. Name 6 or more things that you can wear on your feet beginning with the letter 'S.'





















Answers To Quiz:


1... The one sport in which neither the spectators nor the participants know the score or the leader until the contest ends: Boxing.

2. North American landmark constantly moving backward: Niagara Falls .
(The rim is worn down about two and a half feet each year because of the millions of gallons of water that rush over it every minute.)

3. Only two vegetables that can live to produce on their own for several growing seasons: Asparagus and rhubarb.

4. The fruit with its seeds on the outside: Strawberry.

5. How did the pear get inside the brandy bottle? It grew inside the bottle.
The bottles are placed over pear buds when they are small, and are wired in place on the tree. The bottle is left in place for the entire growing season. When the pears are ripe, they are snipped off at the stems.

6. Three English words beginning with dw: Dwarf, dwell and dwindle...

7. Fourteen punctuation marks in English grammar: Period, comma, colon, semicolon, dash, hyphen, apostrophe,question mark, exclamation point, quotation mark, brackets, parenthesis, braces, and ellipses.

8. The only vegetable or fruit never sold frozen, canned, processed, cooked, or in any other form but fresh: Lettuce.

9. Six or more things you can wear on your feet beginning with 'S': Shoes, socks, sandals, sneakers, slippers, skis, skates, snowshoes, stockings, stilts.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Another weekend sails on by

It was a dreary weekend in Houston. The rain started late Friday night and left a chill in the air for the first time this season. The upside to the chill was that it made spending a rainy night in the boat bearable as it would have been a sweltering sauna during the summer. It also gave me a chance to check for leaks, and it looks like we're down to just the leaky control panel, which drains straight into the bilge, so that's a plus.

I did learn the lesson that storing guitar strings on a humid boat doesn't work too well. The strings come in little moisture absorbing envelopes. Of course, when the air in the boat has too much moisture, you end up with sopping wet envelopes. The strings still seemed ok. They hadn't rusted yet, but I'll make sure to put the next ones in a ziploc.

Friday night we spent the evening catching up with one of our Marina del Sol friends and discovering that Captain Morgan's Lime Bite Rum tastes like Pledge. Honestly, we should have wiped down all the woodwork while we were drinking to see if it would shine the teak. Of course, after half a bottle, it started going down much easier.

Saturday I felt a bit like this poor guy.

Googley Eyes

However, making breakfast in the galley for the first time got me feeling better.

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I had used one of the alcohol burners on the old Origo stove to test the percolator a couple months ago, but this was my first attempt at cooking. The boat didn't catch on fire, so I'd say it was a success. However, it seems that despite both burners being freshly filled with alcohol and being open all the way, the left one was a bit hotter than the right one. In fact, once the pancakes were done, I had to switch the coffee pot over to the left burner to get it to percolate. Go figure.

I'm not actually sure how much alcohol to pour into the Origo burners before use or how long the alcohol stays in the burners before evaporating off when not in use. Guess I should investigate that, so I can figure out how much stove fuel I need to carry when in transit.

Lack of alcohol burner knowledge and proficiency aside, my pancakes were still good enough to get this hungover mess out of bed.

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The rain was really putting a damper on my motivation by mid-morning Saturday. The only goal I'd set for myself was to finish re-rigging the main sail. Originally, I had kind of guessed at how everything went together, so I had the reefing line run as the outhaul, and the outhaul connected to the topping lift. In between rain showers I got it all sorted and called it a day.

Of course, by the time we got back to Spring, it was a sunny 75 degrees. That doesn't necessarily mean it was sunny or warm in Kemah, but I was wishing I'd waited just a little longer before giving up because I haven't been out on the bay in over a month. However, the weather reports for next weekend are looking promising.

I didn't get much done the rest of the weekend. After over a week of debate, I finally decided to uninstall Norton 360 instead of renewing my subscription for another year. I now have AVG Free running on all three of my machines. Maybe that's risky, but Norton was too heavy to run on my old XP machine and my netbook anyway. I was also getting tired of the bloated pop-ups on my desktop that began displaying constantly a week before the subscription expired. A huge, intrusive pop-up telling me that my bank account info is probably being stolen right at that very moment because I haven't paid $70 is not the way to get me to pay $70. It just annoys me.

I counted the install of antivirus software as my productivity for Sunday and spent the rest of the weekend vegging out and watching movies. Get Him to the Greek was much funnier than I had ever expected it to be.

I also finally sent my entry to the Leica Explorer blogger contest. Will Leica arm me with their new V-Lux 2 and send me somewhere in the world to blog my adventures? Well, I certainly think they should.

For anyone else who is interested in the challenge, there's just a few days left to enter at www.leica-explorer.com.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The migration continues

Since I finally stopped being a cheapass and bought a Flickr pro account, I'm continuing the migration of my photo archives. I really wanted to love Picaso since it was free, but you'd think that it would be better integrated with blogger.com. Flickr just has a better setup.

Anyway, I got about half my old Cabo photos moved last week. There should be more later this week or weekend when I have time to finish editing them. Due to the heartache surrounding that trip, I never really went through them until now.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/21557832@N00/sets/72157625180002553/

I also got my Finland trip uploaded last night. I was more focused on the documentary we were shooting versus taking photos that trip, but I still snapped a few.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/21557832@N00/sets/72157625226183421/

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

I built a macro converter

If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm an obsessive tinkerer. I can't resist taking things apart, especially if said device is not working correctly. Sometimes I make them better. Sometimes in my attempts to repair or improve them, I deliver the coup de gras. C'est la vie.

However, I did have a small success with the camera. I managed to build a macro lens. I MIGHT have been attempting to build a teleconverter, but let's not obsess over "intended outcome" versus "succesful outcome."

I love the Leica X1 camera. The size-to-image-quality ratio is absolutely phenomenal. I'd never carry my DSLR through the streets of Austin all night, but the X1 is so light and unobtrusive, it's no problem. I only have three complaints:

1. No optical viewfinder - The screen is barely visible in bright sunlight, so while I have still been able to frame the shots, it just isn't as great as it would be with a real viewfinder. I have tried it with the add-on viewfinder, but you have to rely entirely on the auto-focus and hope that it's in focus.

2. The thumb wheel manual focus - It's so awkward, and there's no "feel" to it. With a barrel focus, you know where the focus is at by feel/position.

3. Total lack of lens adapters - The f2.8 36mm prime lens is amazing. The sharpness and focus, especially in low light, is stunning. However, 36mm is a bit limiting. Who wants to spend $2000 on a camera and still have to have a second camera to shoot birds or dolphins while they're out sailing. Lack of telephoto isn't the only problem. Try taking a photo at 36mm inside a small boat. It's just not wide-angle enough. Then there's the fact that even set to macro focus, you still can't be closer than 18 inches to the subject.

I can't do anything about the manual focus and building an electronic viewfinder would require a large HDMI converter and a separate battery pack, so that would just be a Frankensteinian monstrosity. With all that in mind, I decided to focus on adapting lenses to the camera.

Ideally a .5x wide angle converter, a 3x teleconverter, and a macro converter would create the perfect kit to accompany the X1. All of that is already available for the Panasonic-based Leica D-Lux series, yet the much more expensive, German-made X1 gets none of the love.

However, to give Leica credit, they have announced a digiscoping adapter for the X1 that will allow it to mount to their spotting scopes and microscopes. That's a start, but frankly, neither of those things are very useful to the common photographer.

I had a Nikon zoom lens sitting around the house, which no longer focused quite right. Nikon wanted $200 just to look at it, so I had ended up replacing it instead of repairing it last year. My first thought was, could I remove the aperture mechanism in this lens to create a teleconverter. The answer was, no. The rear element of the lens was way too small to work as a teleconverter. The result was major vignetting. I then decided to see what would happen if I removed the front element and added that to the X1.

To enable this, I used a Nikon UR-E8 lens tube, which has the appropriate 50mm threading to fit the X1. Unfortunately, the other end of the tube is reverse threaded. To overcome this problem I epoxied a 49 - 52mm adapter onto it. The result was the ability to add 52mm filters, hoods, etc.

To attach the front element of my Nikkor lens, I epoxied a 52-49mm adapter ring onto it. The 49mm just happened to fit tightly around a raised area on the inside of the plastic lens casing, which gave the epoxy a good grip. Using other lenses, you'd have to test fit what size works best.

Here's the result. A Leica X1 that can now focus at about 6 inches from the subject, creating beautiful macro shots.


Leica X1 Macro Converter

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dog eye

Green Peppers 1

Update: I did finally have success building a teleconverter.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Boat update

My parents were in town last month for my nephew's second birthday. I proudly invited the entire family out for a day of sailing. None of them had seen the boat since we purchased it last summer when it was a half-sunk, mold-covered pile of rot. I was quite excited to show them the progress and how well the new motor ran.

I had spent the previous day connecting the oil pressure sensor and rewiring the alternator, which hadn't been charging. I thought the alternator had gone bad and bought another one, but it was just wired wrong. Chalk that up as another expensive mistake, but hey, now we have a spare alternator.

For some reason, I just can't seem to get more than two of our four gauges working at a time. Before my day of tinkering I had volt and temperature readings. After my day of tinkering I had volt and oil pressure readings, but my temperature gauge is no longer responding. Of course, the fuel gauge has remained inactive and will continue to remain useless until I get around to switching the float in the tank, which isn't currently a high priority. I'm not thrilled the temp sensor isn't working, but the tradeoff is a charging alternator, so it's worth it, and as I found out Sunday with my family aboard, the dummy light still works.

To make a long story short, after loading the family aboard and casting off, we had scarcely left the channel out of the marina when I noticed a significant lack of power. It was then that the warning light started blazing and smoke began rising from the companionway. There was nothing to do but kill the motor and go below to investigate.

In all my activity Saturday I had knocked a coolant hose loose. That had resulted in coolant being sprayed all over the engine compartment. Simple fix -- except that I'd left all my tools in the trunk of my car back on shore.

I found a bottle opener in the drawer and used it to tighten the hose clamp. Problem solved except that we now had to wait until the engine was cool enough to open the heat exchanger to add more water.

I climbed back on deck and announced that we were hoisting the mainsail to enjoy some sailing on Clear Lake. Being pointed downwind presented a little trouble as the sail kept blowing under the stays, but I eventually got it up, and we slowly made our way back and forth across the lake for the next hour.

When my pregnant sister decided she'd finally had enough sailing, I went below and put four bottle of water in the tank, crossed my fingers and fired up the diesel. Thankfully, it ran like clockwork all the way back.

I went out to do some more work Friday, but I still haven't been able to remedy the mast light problem. My new theory is that the bulbs are getting wet in the rain and shorting out. I don't know. Unfortunately, it means climbing the mast again, which just isn't fun although it may be easier in this cooler weather.

October just flew by.

It seems like I blinked and life has skipped a month. I've been so busy for the past few weeks that I can hardly keep up with everything, but I just tell myself to take a deep breath, pick one task, and then focus on it until it's finished.

I spent a week in Paris for a branding and communications conference last month. Always fun to visit, but always nice to come home to a place where people aren't stopping traffic and rioting over an increase in the retirement age. I guess that here in the U.S. we've just acknowledged that we'll never be able to retire, so we don't even bother putting on a show about social security reform anymore.

I got one day to wander the city.
wandering photographer

I went by the Paris Leica Store. That was a bit of a letdown. While I did enjoy looking at the case full of classic cameras for sale, the store was smaller than my office. I guess I expected something more like an Apple store. Maybe I'm just not used to the smaller size of European things like cars and stores and whatnot.

Anyway, a few shots from that trip (although I think a couple shots from my 2007 trip got added to the set): http://www.flickr.com/photos/21557832@N00/sets/72157625165813754/

After Paris was a weekend in Austin for Halloween. That was a fun trip with lots of good people watching.

Nikki and I went as sailors.
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Here's the set full of wonderful weirdness:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/21557832@N00/sets/72157625289545190/

Then, this weekend was Nikki's birthday. Despite the fact that I think they're marginally useless devices, I couldn't resist getting her an iPad.

Monday, October 25, 2010

In the wake of my destruction

Everything is broken. How does this happen? The last time things were this bad was just after my ex-wife had moved out. The transmission on my car started making a loud grinding sound and quit. The washing machine filled up with water and stopped. The computer went to blue screen and stayed there. Even the neck decided to pop out of the body of my guitar as I was lugubriously strumming it, mourning my misfortune.

Life got better ... eventually. Yet somehow, five years later, we're back to that place. I tried to take my parents out on the boat Sunday morning, it blew antifreeze everywhere and overheated. I was driving my dad back to my sister's house, and the car blew oil everywhere and died. The extremely expensive camera stopped turning off. The TV no longer has sound 50 percent of the time. The computer, three-times replaced since the blue screens of 2005 now has to have the memory and SATA cables unplugged and reseated every three or four hours to continue functioning. The cost of trying to fix or replace all of these things that have suddenly died at once is just overwhelming.

How does my life get to these points? I do hours of research before making a purchase to ensure that I'm getting a quality product that's not going to up-and-die in six months. Yet, it seems that if there is a defect in the lot, I'm guaranteed it.

Is it sheer coincidence that all these product lives all happen to expire at the same time? Is there some sort of negative energy caused by me or my home that destroys things? Am I subconsciously sabotaging everything I own to punish myself because I don't think I deserve to live a happy life?

I wish I knew the answer. The debt is mounting. I've got to shed expenses and simplify my life again to stay afloat. Does that mean the car has to go? Probably. Does that mean the boat has to go? Most likely. I may even have to abandon my beloved iPhone and go back to a non-data plan.

Five years later I'm back to a world of sitting at home alone with the dog. How many times will history repeat itself? How will I break free of this cycle?

They say, the things you own end up owning you. So is owning nothing the only way to happiness?

And more importantly, when you own nothing, what the hell do you do with all your free time?!!!

Monday, October 04, 2010

Crisis averted

After a couple months of playing, I finally "just said no" to everything and everyone Saturday to get some real work done on the boat. It was a productive day. I got all of the trim back up on the port and starboard bulkheads, I got at least two more coats of varnish on everything, and I got the refurbished folding table put back up.

New bulkhead and table

This marks the end of major construction and renovation in the cabin. It is once again a clean, functional space instead of a cramped, dirty area full of tools and clutter. I can now return to annoying, time-consuming tasks like tracking wiring through crawl spaces to see why my mast lights still don't work.

Speaking of wiring, I narrowly diverted a major accident Saturday afternoon when I pulled up an access panel and found the bilge was full of water up to the floor level!

Flooded bilge

Apparently the wiring I had run from the battery to the bilge pump corroded out. I'm not sure why this happened as I used shrinky-dink connecters on all the splices, but the resistance on the wire was only allowing 4.5 volts of current to make its way to the pump -- not enough to activate it.

After bailing 9 buckets of water out of the bilge, I did what I should have done from the beginning and took the time to track all the loose wires in the bilge until I found the one that led to the bilge pump switch in the fuse panel. It was still good for 11.5 volts of current, so I hooked up the pump in the factory configuration. Why the previous owners had chopped up the wiring in the first place, we'll never know, but it's all working now.

I did notice that despite having sponged the bilge dry Saturday, it was full enough to kick the pump on Sunday after taking a trip out to the bay and back. I guess my stuffing box is leaking a bit, but I'm hoping it's not enough to worry about at the moment.

Of course, it wasn't all work all weekend. As I mentioned, we went out Sunday morning to enjoy the cool weather and to snap a few photos for Nikki's modeling portfolio.

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If I really wanted to obsess over the interior I could repaint the countertop, repaint a couple walls, put in a backsplash, etc. However, I think for now I'm going to focus on getting cushions back on the couches in the salon and enjoying the boat.

Since the galley is now finished ...

Finished galley

I plan to celebrate next weekend by cooking a big breakfast on the boat Saturday morning. Then maybe we'll have some friends out Saturday night.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Welcome aboard the Seatard

Well, we still haven't officially named the boat, but for a week now it's been referred to as the Seatard, and I'm worried it's going to stick. I Googled Seatard, and it actually came up in UrbanDictionary.com as being slang for a manatee. Of course, I then had to jokingly Photoshop together a Seatard logo with a dopey-looking manatee as the S. Everyone loved it. I think we may be stuck with Seatard.

Personally, I was hoping for Sea Horse as that was kind of what the boat was telling me after this past couple months on the water. It's slow, it likes to buck, and it makes my ass hurt after sitting on it for more than an hour. But how can something as mundane as the Sea Horse compare to Seatard?

The past couple weeks the Seatard has been living up to its moniker. Two weekends ago we had anchored out to swim and we found the motor wouldn't restart. I thought it was out of diesel as several trips had been taken without topping up the tank. We ended up sailing all the way back through the Kemah channel, Clear Lake and into our marina. Unfortunately, the wind didn't really pick up until we hit the marina, and although I dropped the sails as we were making the turn into our slip, I couldn't get us slowed down enough to avoid hitting the pier. Luckily, there was no damage to the boat or the pier, but I ended up going overboard in my attempt to make it onto the dock with a line. My flip flops floated up after the incident, but my prescription sunglasses were lost to Neptune.

After putting a couple gallons of diesel in the tank, we thought all was well, and the boat motored out to the bay with no problems this weekend, but when I attempted to add another five gallons, the tank overflowed. Therefore, we had not been out of gas the weekend before.

We were sailing with a friend to Redfish Island, the longest trip we've made to date. Although we had about a quarter mile head start on him, he passed us with his 34' Ketch and was quickly disappearing into the horizon. I thought maybe I could motor-sail for a bit to catch up, but the motor started sputtering. I shut it back off.

My friend thought perhaps the diesel was sucking air, so while anchored at Redfish I tightened the hose clamps on all the fuel hoses. Hopefully that was the issue. After sitting at Redfish an extra two hours while we let a thunderstorm pass through, there was absolutely no wind. The motor ran well all the way back to the marina.

Hopefully that solves the motor issues, but it was also pointed out to me that my mainsail was rigged completely wrong. I have an entire list of things to remedy in my rigging this weekend. Supposedly fixing my reef points and outhaul should speed up the boat a bit.

Then there's the dampness. My opening portholes are installed at an angle where the bottom sill collects water, which eventually get so high that it leaks in through the hinges at the top of the opening port. This leaves the floor of the head damp and slippery all the time. It also keeps the inside of the boat smelly and moldy. It looks like vents are on the must-purchase list.

The last somewhat sad realization regarding the Seatard is that because it's such a light boat, it bucks around like crazy in the surf. I have yet to experience seasickness but everyone else seems to be suffering miserably after about half an hour, especially Nikki who becomes reduced to a green heap in the cockpit. I either need to find a remedy that works better than ginger snaps and dramamine or I'm going to have to find new friends if I ever want to make it all the way down to Galveston.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Swimming against the tide

It was a good holiday weekend. I entertained on the boat Friday and Saturday. Then Sunday we went sailing and had to take out skills to the next level when we ran out of diesel in the middle of the bay. I sailed all the way back in through the channel and Clear Lake in the middle of heavy boat traffic. Unfortunately, docking under sail was a bit of a problem, but there were no fatalities, and the boat is ok. I'll tell the whole story later, but I'm back in training this week and trying to squeeze in both my regular work duties as well as my class homework before and after class. I'm thinking it would have been smart just to set up a cot in my office instead of going home every night.

I just have to get through the presentations and testing tomorrow to finish this course. Hopefully, my normal updates should return next week.

Friday, September 03, 2010

The weekend is almost here. It's got me in a much better mood because despite the rain, I'm scooping up the dog after work and heading for the boat. I also need to get some dogfood because she ran out Wednesday. All she's had to eat the past two days were bowls full of dog treats. I'm sure she didn't mind, but that can't be healthy.

Perhaps it's finally the weekend I'll watch movies in the boat in the rain. Hopefully not. Hopefully we'll be sailing, but it doesn't matter as long as I'm on the boat.

I'm trying to decide if I'm going to attempt to cook on the boat. As I still have some sanding to do, probably not. Hopefully soon, though.

I made it out to Fountainhead for open mic last night for the first time in months and months. It wasn't too bad. The band locked in pretty well on the classic rock. Then I attempted a couple originals. They pretty much murdered the chord changes. Nobody in the crowd seemed to care too much. It made it a rough morning, though. There's a reason I never stay out on weeknights anymore.

I've managed to completely piss off two different Internet forums this week. Some yuptard in the Leica X1 forum started yet another thread asking if the accessory handgrip was necessary. The handgrip does NOTHING. It has no functionality at all. It's just a $125 piece of plastic to screw on the camera to create a lip on the edge of the body. I posted that -- although perhaps not so politely. All the other poseurs jumped on me about how everyone has different hands and maybe his hands needed the grip, blah, blah, blah. I wrote back that they were all assuming I had hands when in reality I operated the Leica X1 with hooks after a photography accident involving great whites. Then I went off about how they should all stop typing pages full of bullshit about how to accessorize their cameras and go shoot some damn photos. I don't think I'm welcome back there.

Then I wandered over to Cryptomundo.com where they were examining some new "bigfoot" footage someone spied in the background of a fishing video. I immediately recognized the "bigfoot" as a fisherman in khaki clothes and a baseball cap walking up the shore to a friend standing on a beached boat.
UpperMcKenzie_144
UpperMcKenzie_139

Half the forum said, ohhhhh, you're right. The other half chased me out for destroying their bigfoot footage. I'm not sure I'm welcome back there, either.

On the upside, I will now have less distractions at work.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Still this?

Somebody at work was asking about Lebowski Fest, so I was searching for some photos of the the one I attended in Austin in 2006. Then as I was having a pleasant trip down memory lane, I came across her.

It's been at least three years, yet it's still a kick in the chest. Within 30 seconds I was on the verge of tears in my office. I don't know if I was more depressed over her or over the fact that those emotions are still in me.

I've been trying to shake it off all afternoon. The woman is married and gone. I shouldn't be thinking about her EVER. I deleted the damn photo, so at least that one won't get me again.

I spent the rest of the afternoon seeking humor. Humor will have to do until I can seek a drink.

Damn, I miss her.

On with my life.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Fatty fatty moo moo

I feel like a royal fatass. Last week during training, we had breakfast, brunch, lunch, and an afternoon snack catered in to class every day. I also had two dinners out accompanied with way too much alcohol. Then I ate terrible all weekend, gorging myself with burgers and pizza rolls. Monday was supposed to be my return to civility and moderation, but after a Healthy Choice meal for lunch, I was starving when I made it to the grocery store Monday night. This resulted in me eating an entire pizza for dinner as well as half a bag of fun-size Kit Kats. However, I did struggle through 20 minutes on the elliptical afterward -- the first 20 minutes of exercise in about three weeks.

Tuesday didn't go any better. I was running late and forgot my lunch. I attempted to hit a pizza buffet in an effort to devour yet another entire pizza or two, but when I got there, the entire shopping center had been razed since my last visit. Yes, it was completely gone. There was nothing but a grated field at the site where I had gluttonized so many times before. That SHOULD have been a sign that perhaps I should find something healthy for lunch. I promptly ignored that sign and downed a double Quarter Pounder, fries and two apple pies. Then dinner was at Taste of Texas with filet mignon, shrimp and creme brulee.

So yes, I feel fat today. I had my Healthy Choice for lunch and spent the afternoon feeling as if I was starving. I will officially hate myself if I do not work out tonight.

In the meantime, my boat rage has subsided. Ben and I decided to invest $150 in a 6500 BTU window unit air conditioner. It should actually cool the entire boat instead of just the v-berth and won't further jeopardize the electrical system. My brain has been working overtime on ways to build clever enclosures for it. However, for now we're just going to set it in the companionway. The clever enclosure can be a winter project. I'm going to pick up the AC unit tomorrow and head down Friday night to install the tachometer, troubleshoot the electrical and HOPEFULLY finish my woodwork. I can have a relaxing weekend of productivity.

Along with the boat work, one of my friends from high school I haven't seen in at least 15 years may come sail with us. That should be fun.

On the downside of the week, Apple is driving me crazy. My iPhone got updated to iOS 4.0.2 on Sunday, which un-jailbroke it. That means I lost tethering ability, so I can't connect the Netbook at the boat anymore. Eventually the hackers will catch up and update their software, but today Apple announced the iOS 4.1 update, so that's going to put the hackers even further behind. However, it doesn't matter too much except for posting blogs as now there are Hulu and Netflix Apps on the iPhone, so we can watch movies directly off our phones instead of having to use the computer. Not that I've EVER watched a movie while on the boat, but I keep imagining some rainy scenario when I'd be stuck inside during a storm with nothing to do. It hasn't actually happened yet.

Another irritating thing Apple has decided was a good idea is to release a new version of iTunes that features built-in social networking. Does anyone really need yet another social network? At this point I'm still updating Facebook, barely remember to tweet, totally forgot about Google Buzz and need to get around to deleting my myspace account. For the record, I think iTunes Ping is STUPID!

One other interesting thing happened today. A co-worker showed up in my office. He was having trouble with his Porsche and turned to searching online for help. Apparently my YouTube videos helped him out and when he finally put two and two together that I was the person making the videos, he came up to thank me. That made me feel pretty good.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Two steps forward, ten steps back

From BlogPhotos

It was not a productive weekend. I had planned to spend the entire time finishing out the interior of the boat to have it cleaned up and cleaned out by labor day. The hope was to invite a few friends out on the water.

I made the mistake of going shot for shot with a Scott Thursday night after finished our four days of train the trainer classes. I don't drink that much to start with. I definitely don't drink like the Scottish. What's worse is that the class decided on sushi as the celebration dinner. Little bits of fish and rice a substantial meal does not make. My choices Thursday night ruined my Friday.

My new hope was to get to the boat early Saturday before it got hot to get started. We didn't make it to Clear Lake until 11:30. By the time I'd made a run to Home Depot, West Marine and Chic-Fil-A, it was 1:30. Then before I could even start the carpentry I spent two hours trying to sort out the reports from Ben and Allison that the toilet had quit flushing the previous weekend. I found a completely clogged vent and vent hose that need to be replaced. Two more things to put on the repair list.

Once I finally gave up on trying to unclog that smelly disaster, I did manage to get the trim in the V-berth sanded, the V-berth cleaned and the cushions put back in. However, that's as far as progress went because our marina neighbor Matt invited us to go out with him on his Allied Seawind for the evening. That was a welcome change from the frustration of the day. However, I felt guilty the entire time that I playing instead of working. I resolved that I would DEFINITELY get the staining done Sunday morning.

Well, we got back to the marina about 9 p.m., then went for a pizza. When we got back at 10 p.m., the air-conditioner was dumping condensation all over the v-berth, so I went up to adjust it. It didn't want to be adjusted. The fan, which hadn't wanted to start running in the first place, started squealing incessantly. At least it was squealing until the loud pop, which put an abrupt end to the life of the air-conditiong unit as well as the starboard AC power circuit, which I was unable to revive.

At this point it was around midnight, and my option was attempt to disassemble and repair the air-conditioner in the dark, then risk the port side AC circuit or suffer the heat or heave the air-conditioner into the ocean like the Incredible Hulk and go home. I decided neither was a good idea as I'd already lost a screw from one of the light fixtures earlier, so I just moved the air-conditioner out of the hatch, opened up all the ports and the companionway and hoped the breeze would cool the sauna that the boat was quickly becoming.

We might have been able to suffer through the night -- until it started raining. At that point, I packed it up and drove home to Spring.

I spent all day laying around the house watching the last season of Entourage, trying not to think about how frustrated I am with the boat.

Instead of finishing up the interior and being able to clean all the crap out of it and finally have space for people to visit and sit and enjoy the boat, that's all permanently on hold. See, the boat is now 120-degrees inside and it smells like poo. Now I've got to either take a week to repair that air-conditioner again or spend $200 on a new unit and the time to figure out and construct a method to mount it. Ahhh, but I can't even run really run the air-conditioner, new or old, until I troubleshoot the electrical system and figure out why the breaker won't kick it back on.

Once that's done, I can finally get to the smelly poo hose and vent that is so corroded that I will literally have to chisel and file out of the fiberglass to replace.

Then, maybe I'll finally be back on track to start working on the interior again.

I'm mad at myself for not being committed to the project and spending the time I should have on it this weekend, but I'm also mad at the boat for continuing to fall to pieces around me. I want the stupid mast light and anchor light to start working again without having to climb the mast another six times.

In the meantime, I've got to do my reading for my next class.

From BlogPhotos

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Almost finished

It's been a long, intensive three days. I've been innoculated with the theories if transformational leadership, inundated with our company's HSE culture, and interrogated by panels of colleagues after giving presentations. One day left. I'm reviewing the videos of the presentations I gave yesterday for self-critique, then it's back to class.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

So many cousins

From BlogPhotos

My cousin Amy had a beautiful wedding yesterday. It was very classy, and the groom seems like a great guy with a really good sense of humor. They actually conspired with the DJ to set up the groomsman. Upon entry to the reception, they had to compete in an impromptu dance off. It was quite entertaining.

The hardest part of taking a date to a function with this side of the family is trying to explain my relationship to everyone. The bride's grandmother is my grandfather's sister, so her parents and all the aunts and uncles are all my dad's cousins. So the cousins have kids. Then the cousin's kids have kids. It's just confusing as to who is a second or third or fourth or however that works, so we just end up saying everyone is a cousin.

I felt terrible because I didn't remember my cousins Clark or Jessica. The thing is, I hadn't seen Clark since he was about five, so the fact that's he's now a grown man threw me for a loop in trying to figure out who he was. However, after the slideshow at the reception showing everyone as kids I finally put it all together.

You don't see people in so long, and they just stay the same age in your head. For a split second I thought cousin Lori's elementary-age kids were cousin Tommy and cousin Scott, who are now also grown men. I just remembered them the way I saw them last and Lori's kids look a lot like they did when we were all kids.

Half the attendees at the reception told my date that they used to babysit me. Thankfully the stories weren't any more detailed than that.

Also, history repeated itself in our family. Thirty years ago, I was the ring bearer in cousin Christie's wedding. I cried and didn't make it down the aisle. Last night, Lori's son Kelby was the ring bearer at Amy's wedding. The flower girl managed to drag him almost all the way down the aisle before he collapsed into tears and escaped into a pew. I guess the men in our family just have a natural instict to be wary of that altar.

My Uncle Jack and Aunt Mary Ann, the grandparents of the bride won the anniversary dance for the longest marriage. They were at 57 years.

From BlogPhotos

It was good to see everyone. These were the people that were constantly around me during the early years of my life, yet I hadn't seen many of them in 15 or 20 years. I need to do a better job at staying in touch with family.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

I'm so over I-45

Seriously, last week driving from Spring to Kemah took 3 hours. Why? Because there were three different accidents on a Saturday morning at 11 a.m. -- including one that was so bad it had the entire freeway shut down.

A week later, there's an accident at 9 a.m. It takes me an hour and a half to get down there. Then there's accident going north on my way home, so it took two hours to get back to Spring.

This is ridiculous. What are you people doing to have accidents on a one-way road with very long entrance and exits ramps?

I seriously can't deal with two-hour-plus drives to get to the boat. I can't deal with that much stop-and-go traffic on my weekends. It transforms me from a nice, considerate person who would do anything to help others into a person that is wishing death on an entire metropolitan population.

I'm praying this trend changes and it's just been two quirky weekends of more accidents than usual because if it doesn't, I'm rethinking the boat situation.

In lighter news, I got the old Kubota sold this morning to a really nice guy from craigslist. I showed him how I set up the motor in our boat, and then I took him for a spin past the boardwalk and back before heading back to Spring to get ready for my cousin's wedding. He's building his boat from scratch, so we ended up talking engineering and systems for a couple hours.

Now off to the wedding. This is cousin number three of the summer.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

One small victory

The brake wear light on my dashboard is FINALLY off. The kicker to this story? The sensors just weren't pushing into the plugs far enough. I only had to take the wheels off the car three times to figure this out. However, these things did not want to go in. I knew the sensors themselves were all good because I'd tested them multiple times with a multimeter, but I finally had to use silicone lubricant and some serious elbow grease to get them seated all the way into their housings. However, it is done. Now aside from the fact that I need wash all the dirty handprints off the car, I can take it off my neverending list of things needing immediate maintenance.

I've been spending the rest of my evening reading about Carl Jung for my upcoming class.

From BlogPhotos

They told me it was "a little reading." It's actually a lot of reading but in a little book. Technically, it wasn't a lie.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

3200 RPMs

Hey, it finally came.

From Blogger Pictures

The long-awaited tachometer is here. I can finally put the control panel on the boat back together.

I also have a buyer lined up for the Kubota -- although he's trying to hide his entire boat project from his wife, which is never good -- but all sales are final.

I came home to find Ben watching Karate Kid on Netflix tonight. He swears that Mr. Miyagi lined up all those cars, built the fence and deck, and scuffed up the paint on his house JUST to train Daniel.

I said, that's preposterous. He would have had to build the deck and fence within a week. Ben contests that the deck and fence were freshly built and unfinished. I say, just because they were unfinished does not mean they were freshly built.

The debate raged all evening. Neither of us were able to firmly prove or disprove the other's theory based upon anything in the movie. However, we were able to agree that YOU'RE THE BEST AROUND, NOTHING'S EVER GONNA BRING YOU DOWN!

I got a book in the mail about the philosophy of Carl Jung that I have to read before my training class starts next week. Guess I'll get started on it.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A wasted day

I hate being sick. I don't have time for it.

After three sleepless night, the return of the crusty eyes, and having the glands in my throat swell up to the size of pecans, I decided it just wasn't worth trying to drag myself into the office this morning. I promised myself I'd call the doctor's office when they opened, see the doc, then go in to work at noon. Nope.

Usually when I'm home, I have trouble making myself rest instead of working on all my nagging projects. Not today. I slept all day. I never even made it to the doctor's office, which is bad, because my glands are still raging. I think it's just the massive amounts of drainage that's causing the inflammation, but who knows? My only other guess would be mononucleosis, but there's nothing you can do about that. I'm probably the only person on earth who has been blessed with three separate incidences of mono. Having it a fourth time would just be ridiculous.

Last night, being overly-tired, I had become an element of destruction. I tried to straighten out a wire thing in the garage and ended up breaking it off. Then, the volume button on my phone still wasn't functioning correctly after being in my sweaty pocket all weekend, so I decided it was a good idea to spray electronic cleaner into it. The screen of my phone became a crazy multi-colored random pattern. Thankfully, electronic cleaner evaporates away pretty quickly, so a couple hours later, the phone was working again -- though still without a functioning volume button.

I'm irritated with myself for missing work, but I have to remind myself that it was always still be there tomorrow. I'm about to start some intensive training to teach our company's safety classes. It's a bit of a change from my normal routine, so I'm kind of excited about it. I was hoping to be able to teach the class to all my communications colleagues in Paris in October, but unfortunately, I won't get to do that.

One productive thing did happen today. A guy from craiglist showed up this evening and bought my old TV stand. I think it cost $99 when I bought it in college. After 12 years, I sold it for $20. That's not too bad. One more strike against the clutter. However, I'm thinking garage sale may be the next step. I need to sort through the attic, decide if I really want to keep those old albums on cassette or not, and just do it.

I'm going back to bed. I've got to get into the office early tomorrow to pick up the slack I dropped today.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The projects keep moving forward ... slowly

The one and only reason I have the chance to play with the toys I play with is because I do all the work myself. However, that doesn't mean the work goes fast. For the past two months I keep saying it will be just one more weekend to finish the woodwork on the boat. It's still not done, but I did actually make some progress this weekend.

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I got the trim stained on the inside of the companionway.

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As well as the trim along the cabinets and pantry.

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And the windows.

I still haven't done the trim for the bulkheads, but any progress is good progress.

Meanwhile, Ben has begun a new phase on the Cobra project -- in the form of a Paxton-supercharged 460-horsepower 32-valve DOHC 4.6 liter V8.

From BlogPhotos

The question is, how long until he starts it? It took him three years to get the Cobra driveable. I have a hard time believing he's going to hack it back up now. I guess we'll see.

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So projects aside, we still had time for some fun this weekend and went sailing Saturday night.

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From BlogPhotos
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Back to work in the morning.