The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

August 24, 2014

The Billionaire and the Blimp – A Short Story

Filed under: Short Stories — Brian Lutz @ 12:34 am

(Note:  This is a short story (more of a joke really) that I wrote about a year ago on Shmups Forum, one of the boards I read which is devoted to the topic of 2-dimensional shoot-em-up type games.  If it makes absolutely no sense (for most people who read , context is provided at the end, but don’t read it until after you’ve finished the story.)

 

There was once an eccentric Brazilian tycoon who traveled the world in a luxurious airship. No expense was spared on this craft; Every space was luxuriously appointed with the best that money could buy. He had fifty servants aboard who catered to his every whim as he flew around the globe attending to his business. Nonetheless, he never seemed content with what he had, and he was constantly remodeling and adding new things to his airship. Oftentimes, even his servants wouldn’t know just he had been up to until they showed up to make preparations for another journey.

One day, the tycoon was preparing to depart for an economic summit in America. Unfortunately, his personal chef got stuck in a traffic jam on the way to the airport, and was very late in arriving, so much so that he barely had time to board before the airship was set to take off. Fortunately, there were several hours before it would be time to prepare his master’s evening meal, so instead of heading for the galley, he took the time to get settled into his quarters and take a nap as the airship began its northward flight over the Amazon rain forest.

They were well underway by the time the chef was ready to begin cooking. He made his way toward the galley, but before he could get there, he was surprised to find his master waiting for him there.

“Ah, I was wondering when you would get here. Come now, I have a surprise for you.”

They both proceeded toward the galley, and when the chef opened the door, he saw that it had been completely remodeled since the last time he was there. There was gleaming stainless steel everywhere. Any appliance you could think of was available. There were convection ovens, fryers, griddles, Sous-vide machines, kettles, mixers, blenders… You name it, it was in this kitchen. The chef didn’t even want to know just how much his master had spent on all this shiny new equipment.

After the chef had taken several minutes to take it all in, the tycoon finally asked, “Well, what do you think?” The chef just stood there staring, unable to come up with a reply.

Sensing the shock on the face of the chef, the tycoon replied, “Well, I see you’re a little surprised by the changes, so I will leave you to it. If you wouldn’t mind, I think I would like to have some fish and chips this evening. I believe you will find that the fryer has already been pre-heated for your convenience. Please let me know when dinner will be ready.”

The chef continued to just stand there, staring at the newly remodeled kitchen. He never expected to see a kitchen this luxuriously appointed on land, much less on an airship. The tycoon, seeing that his chef had been staring transfixed at the new galley, finally tapped him on the shoulder and asked, “What’s the matter, is there something wrong with all this?”

It took some time before the chef was able to respond. Finally, he turned around, looked at his master, and replied:

“I never thought I’d be frying over a jungle.”

 

(If you have no idea what I’m talking about, take a look at this bit of butchered English from a video game released a number of years ago.)

August 7, 2014

I Have Absolutely No Idea How Much Phone I Really Need.

Filed under: Technology — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:59 am

It has now been a little bit more than two years since I bought my current smartphone, an HTC Evo 4G LTE. There’s nothing particularly unusual about that (I’m led to understand that the HTC One X and its variants were pretty popular back in their day, even if they were thoroughly overshadowed by the Samsung Galaxy S3) but in my case, it’s the “More than two years” part that’s rather unusual in this case.  With my last couple of phones, by the time my two-year upgrade rolled around I was pretty much ready to jump onto the Next Big Thing as soon as I could.  In both cases, the new phone was a clear upgrade from the old one, and represented a pretty significant leap in technology.  Fast forward a couple of years, and at this point, for various reasons I find myself in far less of a hurry to upgrade than I normally would be.

That isn’t to say that I couldn’t use an upgrade about now.  My current phone, in spite of the fact that it’s held up surprisingly well given what I’ve put it through, is definitely starting to show its age about now.  Battery life is still surprisingly decent most of the time as long as I don’t do something to aggravate the thing, and for the most part everything works the way it should, but for some time now it’s had a habit of rebooting itself at inopportune times (less now than it used to once I figured out that I was pushing down on the power button if I tried to tie a shoe with it in my pocket) and lately it’s taken to quarreling with the local WiFi in my apartment, to the point that it quickly drains its battery banging its proverbial head on the proverbial wall if it can’t connect.  But the most obvious issue that has cropped up recently is the fact that somehow, my phone has gotten bent.  I have no idea how it happened, but at some point the top portion of my phone managed to actually develop a slight kink in it, as you can see above.  Interestingly enough, it doesn’t seem to impact functionality at all (nor does the display appear to be affected in any way,) and for the most part I don’t even notice it unless I actually take the cover off and look at it.  Nonetheless, even if it’s not actually doing anything it just makes the thing look weird.

Of course, if you’ve been keeping up with the latest trends in smartphones, you’ll know that curved displays are one of the things that shockingly large quantities of R&D money has been poured into, and as a result of this a couple of smartphones with these curved displays have shown up on the market (the Samsung Galaxy Curve and the LG G Flex.)  In spite of the fancy new display technology, both of these phones seem to be decidedly middle-of-the-pack on specs, and the reviews on both seem to be pretty lukewarm.  Of course, given the fact that large quantities of R&D money has presumably been spent on the displays, someone had to make them, right?  I actually got to spend some time messing with an LG G Flex at work the other day (one of my responsibilities at work is to run interoperability tests against our head unit with a number of different models of smartphones roughly once per quarter) and in spite of the unusually large screen and the allegedly fancy curved display, I couldn’t shake the feeling that in spite of the bells and whistles there just wasn’t much to distinguish it from any of the other nine Android phones I have tested to date in the current interoperability pass.

Which brings up the question:  Just what distinguishes one phone from another these days?  Basically, what it boils down to is that you have roughly three or four flavors of phone OS out there depending on who you ask (While I was writing that it took me a minute to remember that Blackberry somehow still exists, which says something about just how far and how quickly they’ve fallen off the radar lately.)  In terms of most mainstream users you’ve got iPhone flavor, Android flavor and Windows Phone flavor.  The iPhone side isn’t all that difficult to figure out since you have just one manufacturer and a handful of models to worry about.  On the Windows Phone side your choices won’t be all that much more complicated (over there you pretty much have Nokia and a few miscellaneous devices from the likes of HTC and Samsung, and not much else.)  Then you get to Android, and things get a lot more complicated in a hurry.  On the current round of interoperability testing I’m working on at work (which is unusually large because it accounts for two quarters worth of devices) there are only four iPhone models (basically the four most recent ones, barring whatever Apple happens to announce in early September) but there’s also twenty different Android handsets from eight different manufacturers.  Granted, Samsung accounts for eight of those by itself (and there aren’t any HTC models on this particular round of testing,) but that’s a lot of testing on a lot of different handsets that seem largely identical, at least on the surface.  Most of the ones we’re testing run some variant of either Android Jellybean or Android KitKat, and even with the various customizations that most handset manufacturers seem all-too-willing to paste all over the stock Android, in the end the only way I ever seem to notice any of that is when the custom UI does something that breaks my standard workflow.

Anyone remember when people thought the iPhone 5 was going to be too big? Me neither.

So far, out of the handsets I’ve tested during this pass, the only one that has really stood out (at least for reasons other than bugs filed during the tests) would be this one, the Sony Xperia Z Ultra.  Yes, apparently you’re supposed to carry one of these things around and use it as your phone.  And while it is possible in theory (in a pinch, I’ve found I can actually cram an iPad Mini into a pocket of my jeans, not that I’d recommend it) but you’re going to look awfully silly doing it.  I suspect the idea is that you hire some guy to follow you around carrying your phone.  in spite of the apparently impressive size of the screen, when it all boils down there really isn’t all that much to distinguish this from a lot of the other phones on the market.  Which seems to be the problem that just about everyone has these days.  Sure, you get different cases and a few scattered gimmicks here and there, but by and large when you start using a lot of different Android devices it becomes clear pretty quickly that there really isn’t a whole lot to distinguish any one of them from another.

Which, ironically enough, makes it harder than ever to shop for a phone.  If you read the two posts I linked above, you can see some of the thought process that went into my last couple of phone purchases, but in each instance the choice was pretty straightforward, and the devices that I replaced my then-current one with were pretty significant upgrades over the previous one.  But now when I look at the choices I’d have available, it’s not really all that clear that I’d really be gaining all that much by replacing my current phone.  Sure the new one would be new, shiny and presumably not bent, but it seems that it would be an incremental upgrade at best.  And aside from a couple of rumors about some of the Nexus devices we might get later this year, there isn’t really anything that sounds interesting on the horizon.  I suppose I’ll eventually figure out something, but to be perfectly honest I’m not in a big hurry.  I suppose if I really wanted a change I could go for an iPhone, but I’ve just never really been all that interested in using an iPhone.  I have one at work I use as a test device on a regular basis, and I don’t really have anything against them (which might shock some people who have been reading my stuff for long enough) but they really don’t fir into my workflow as well as Android phones do.  Which is basically a fancy way of saying that I prefer the other brand.  It’s really just another Coke/Pepsi situation these days, only the cans cost several hundred bucks and you usually only drink one every couple of years.

I suppose in the end, the problem with having used smartphones before using smartphones was cool is that at some point you get bored of the things.  And it’s up to the manufacturers to try to figure out how to convince you that you aren’t bored of the things.

July 30, 2014

Trying to Make Someting Of Myself

Filed under: Art, Random Stuff — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:32 am

This past weekend saw the arrival of the annual Art Fairs in  Downtown Bellevue.  Although there are a lot of things I like about living in Downtown Bellevue, this particular weekend is one of the times I really enjoy living here, as it’s always interesting to go wander around the three different art fairs and see all the cool stuff people are making that I can’t afford.  To be honest, I’m not really sure why they need to have three separate art fairs put on by three separate groups when it seems like it would be easier to just have one big one, but that’s beside the point.  Either way, it doesn’t take much looking to see that there are people with (usually) a lot more more creativity than myself who have managed to come up with some really interesting stuff.  And in a lot of cases, it is things that are well beyond my skill level.  For example, I seriously doubt you’ll see me making fabric-like sheets of woven glass anytime soon, and I think the last time I tried to paint anything was somewhere around fourth grade.  On the other hand, as I wander around the various booths and see the various things people have made, every once in a while, something jumps out at me when I’m browsing around.  Not necessarily because it’s an expertly crafted piece of art (with a price tag that I can’t afford, no less), but because it’s something that, if I put my mind to it, I could most likely make myself.

 

To illustrate this point, let me show off a couple of somewhat recent acquisitions in what passes for my art collection these days.  The box you see above was purchased from a craftsman on the island of Dominica during the Caribbean cruise I went on with a friend last December.  If I recall correctly, I paid about $50 for it.  On one hand, you have to be somewhat wary when purchasing souvenirs when cruising because there’s a good chance that 75% of the stuff you see in the various flea markets on the islands pretty clearly comes from China (if you’re lucky the sellers will at least have the courtesy to take the “Made in China” stickers off before they sell the stuff to you,) but in this particular case it was clear that this one was hand crafted, as the person selling it was busy working on another piece when I paid a visit to his stand near the cruise dock in Rouseau.  As far as Caribbean islands go, Dominica isn’t exactly the most touristy place you’ll find (I’m pretty sure that particular competition is neck-and-neck between St. Thomas, St. Maarten and Aruba)  but in a way that makes it a more interesting place to shop for things like this, because you’re a lot less likely to be overwhelmed by shockingly large quantities of overpriced jewelry stores and Prada bags, fake or otherwise, and more likely to find someone making a modest yet honest living turning out surprisingly beautiful pieces like this one.  In particular, the detail of the bird carved onto the top of the piece shows someone who knows his way around a scroll saw.  The fit and finish of this piece is also very well done, and indicates that a fair bit of effort must have gone into making it.  If someone was selling something like this at one of the Bellevue Art Fairs, I suspect the price would be far higher than the $50 I paid for it.

And yet, with a bit of effort, I think I could try to make something quite similar on my own.  Granted, I have a lot more tools at my disposal than would be available to a craftsman living on a tiny island on the Windward side of the West Indies, but I suspect that even with all that I’d have a hard time matching the quality, and given the most likely approach I would take to this (using a laser cutter, something I have a bit of experience with) my own version would get far more expensive in a hurry, and would also come with the added drawbacks of leaving scorch marks from where the laser makes its cuts.  I would probably also need to work at a smaller scale, as the laser cutters I have worked with tend to not handle thicker pieces all that well, and even if I do laser cut all the pieces I’d still need a router to do all the edges anyway.  Even if I doubt I’d be able to match the original piece nearly as well as I’d like here, I would still like to try this one out, if for no other reason than to see if I can actually come close to matching this one.

This piece, on the other hand, was purchased at the Bellevue Art Museum Fair last year, from an artist by the name of Christine Hausserman.  Although I don’t necessarily want to disclose how much I paid for this particular piece, I will say that it cost considerably more than the wooden box discussed above.  And yet this was one of the rare pieces at the art fair that stood out and came with a not completely shocking price tag.  When it comes down to it, this is ultimately just sheet metal and Dichroic glass (confession time:  I might be something of a sucker for Dichroic glass) and yet the end result is something I enjoy being able to look at whenever I want.  This too seems like something I could make myself if I was sufficiently motivated to do so, but I get the sneaking suspicion that the management in my apartment building might have some issues if I started messing with a plasma cutter in my apartment (that plus the fact that setting the place on fire seems to be a good way to lose your deposit.)

That seems to be the big limiting factor in all this:  Lack of proper tools.   Sure, there are places I could probably go out and find a lot of this stuff if I needed it for some reason (that’s what hackerspaces like Metrix Create:Space in Seattle are good for) but ultimately I’d love to have some of this stuff to mess with on my own.  To be honest, I’m nowhere near as mechanically inclined as either my Dad or my two brothers, but even so when I get to the point where I buy a house of my own I’d love to build some sort of a workshop so I have somewhere to mess with this stuff.  If I’m ever going to make something of myself, doesn’t that mean that at some point I actually have to make something?

July 17, 2014

At Least I’m Going Somewhere

Filed under: Cars — Brian Lutz @ 1:17 am

Is it just me, or does it seem sometimes like owning a car can be more of a hassle than it’s worth?  Of course, being able to move around freely whenever and wherever I want (traffic notwithstanding) is nice and all, but the things have a pesky tendency to generate shockingly large quantities of various expenses when you least expect it.  My current car is a 2007 VW Rabbit/Golf (for some reason they decided to bring back the Rabbit name for a couple of model years before switching back to the customary Golf name) that was purchased new right around the time I started this Blog (I think either the second or third post I made here was about buying the car.)  For the most part, it’s actually been pretty reliable, and I haven’t really had any major mechanical problems with it in the 7+ years and roughly 73,000 miles I’ve had it for.   And yet, even without any major repairs to deal with, the thing still has a way of throwing shockingly large expenses at you on a regular basis.

Granted, I am driving a German car, an actual Wolfsburg-built car, not one of the notorious “Actually made in Mexico” ones that made a shockingly large number of people swear off Volkswagens forever back in the MkIV era.  Even though it’s not a particularly fancy or expensive car (by German standards at least) it still comes with some of the infamous German parts and maintenance costs.  The short version is that every 20,000 miles or so the scheduled maintenance is somewhere in the range of $500-600 (at least based on the prices at the dealer, your mileage may vary) and even the lesser services run you somewhere between $75-100.  And that’s assuming nothing goes wrong.  If something breaks or needs replacing (currently my car is due for a water pump replacement, which isn’t an overly expensive part but is a rather involved installation) then things can get even more expensive in a hurry.  Fortunately, I haven’t had to deal with any of the really big repairs… yet.  Oh, and did I mention that I’m just about due for a new set of tires?

Of course, it’s not just the maintenance and repairs that will get you.  There’s also insurance, which will put a nice little dent in your wallet every six months or so.  And that’s assuming that you never have to actually use it for anything.  Unfortunately, “stuff” has a tendency to be unavoidable at times, especially when you have a car that spends a lot of time in narrow parking garages.  A couple of days ago I managed to accidentally scrape one of the concrete posts I park next to while trying to pull out of my space, resulting in this lovely little gouge on the right rear quarter panel.  The good news is that insurance will cover it, the bad news is that based on my past experience with auto body shops they’ll figure out some way to make this a $1,500 repair job, even though I’d only be on the hook for a $500 deductible plus whatever rate increase they decide to throw at me for the next three or four years.  Either way, it means that I’ll be without my car for a few days, and just in time for the nice little trafficpocalypse that WSDOT has planned for I-90 next week when they reduce the whole thing down to a single lane for a whole week right in the path of every possible bus I might take to work.  And working from home isn’t really an option for me either, since 95% of my job requires having access to the very specialized hardware I test on.  The ironic part is that even though the stuff I’m working on is intended for use in cars, unless it’s actually installed in said car it isn’t exactly the most portable thing in the world (you should see the ridiculous lengths we have to go to if for some reason we need to test the non-navigation model under driving conditions.)  So basically, it’s going to be a serious pain to get to work for the next week or so.

And it’s not just getting to work that’s the issue either.  I think that for the most part I’ll probably be able to make it through the weekend without too much trouble (I’ll be with my friends for most of it, and there’s a good chance someone else will be doing the driving) but it does mean that I will most likely need to walk to church on Sunday.  Fortunately I’m close enough that it’s an option to do so, and if I can get past that I can probably hold out until I get my car back, whenever that happens to be.  One of the advantages of living in the Downtown area is that there’s quite a bit within walking distance, and a lot of other things aren’t too much further away.  Even so, you don’t realize how much you actually use your car until you have to go without it for a few days.  Either way, I don’t recommend scraping concrete posts with your car.  It seems to be a bad habit to get into.

July 4, 2014

Random Thoughts: Summertime, and the Living is Surprinsingly Complicated

Filed under: Random Stuff — Brian Lutz @ 1:08 am

Well, tomorrow’s the Fourth of July, and as usual I’ve pretty much gone overboard on the fireworks.  There’s been plenty going on around here lately, both in and out of work, but I figure I better try to get in a post here while I still have all my fingers handy (not that I’m planning on losing any of them, but I’m just making sure.) So here’s a few random thoughts from the last few weeks:

  • After nine months of slogging through whatever crummy weather nature decided to throw at us, Summer has finally arrived here.  And it seems that everyone is determined to cram as much summertime stuff as they possibly can into it, which means that there’s no possible way you can do it all.  This means that you have to pick and choose how you spend your days, especially on the weekends.  This past weekend, for example, was spent mostly dealing with various fireworks-related tasks (including picking up most of the stuff for the Fourth of July,) although me and my friends did also find time to make a stop at the Nisqually wildlife refuge near Olympia along the way.  In the meantime, there were about six or seven other things I could have done if not for the fact that there was just no time to do any of them.  July is looking pretty booked as well,  I’ve been meaning to have some friends over to my place for dinner one evening, but so far there doesn’t seem to be a convenient day to do it until at least the end of the month, if not later than that.  And August is probably going to get filled uppretty quickly too, although the one thing that didn’t make the schedule for me this year is PAX, since I happened to miss out on the roughly 45-minute window where tickets were available since I was in a meeting at work at the time.  At this point I may try to go for one day if I can find a pass that’s at least semi-reasonable, but I’m not sure I’m interested in more than that anymore.  Then again, that’s another story, presumably for another post I’ll never get around to writing.
  • Last week, one of my co-workers was leaving the company to pursue a different project for a different company.  He is one of the guys on the team who has been around for quite a while, so naturally there were a number of various going-away events and get-togethers on the way out.  I attended one of these after-work gatherings one day last week, which took place at one of the trendy bar-and-grill type places you seem to have a ton of around around here these days.  I suspect that I probably don’t need to describe the place in too much detail, because you can probably imagine it.  Some vaguely fancy looking place in a trendy neighborhood with sky-high rents, half a zillion different types of beer (which is presumably great if you actually drink beer, kind of pointless otherwise), and in spite of the word “grill” featured prominently in the name, half the menu is sushi and the number of menu items for which a grill would actually be required could be counted on one hand.  The lights are dim, and the music is loud, but you can’t really hear it anyway because the ceilings seem to be designed to funnel every single conversation in the restaurant straight to your ears all at once except your own.  And somehow, all of this is supposed to somehow be conducive to socializing.  Who’s bright idea was this anyway?  Yes, I can see the point of creating a certain kind of ambiance to improve the overall experience, but between the dim lighting, loud background noise and mediocre food (I guess they figure that by the time you’re done with the Wall ‘O Beer(TM) you’ll be too drunk to really notice) I’m just not sure exactly how this type of place is supposed to be a good place for socializing.  And yet any time I go to a place like that it seems to be packed nonetheless.  Maybe the fact that I might be the only customer in the whole entire place who isn’t drinking, but I’ve just never seen the appeal of these types of places.

  • Currently stuck in my head right now: the music from the first level of Ikaruga, a once-obscure shoot-em-up that’s gradually become far less obscure over the years, which I’ve made a few poor attempts to play that generally failed miserably.  As I’ve been in the process of getting everything figured out for the Fourth of July this year, I’ve been doing a lot of research and watching a lot of YouTube videos to figure out what to get.  At the same time I’ve been seeing all sorts of elaborate pyromusical productions, and it’s occurred to me that it would be fun to do one of those someday.  Obviously I have a lot to learn before I can get to the point of being able to do stuff like that, but one of the things I’ve been thinking about a fair bit is songs that would be good to synchronize a fireworks show to.  This seems like one of the prime candidates, assuming I ever manage to get the stuff to do something like that (which involves things like electronic fire systems, software to design the shows, not to mention the large quantity of fireworks you’d need for that type of thing.  I’d definitely like to try it someday, but something tells me I’m going to need a little more space than I’ve got.

  • My fireworks tomorrow night won’t look anything like this, but I was fortunate enough to attend a pyromusical performance put on by the people who run Sky Wizard Pyro up in Monroe (which is also where I got a good chunk of my stuff for tomorrow.)  In addition to running one of the best-stocked fireworks tents in the area, these guys are pros, and put on a number of the professional shows in the area as well.  This was the pre-4th of July show they put on last Saturday, using all products that are (theoretically) available to the consumer.  In particular, the mine and comet effects were amazing to see in person, although some of the effect was lost when someone apparently unplugged the speakers halfway through and the music cut out (it was fixed for the video.)  I don’t even want to know how much they spent on this stuff (even at wholesale prices that stuff has to be freakin’ expensive) but that is easily as impressive as any show I’ve seen using professional display shells.  Now I just need to figure out how to do some of that stuff…

Regardless of how you’re spending your Fourth of July, keep it safe and (at least somewhat) sane.

 

June 18, 2014

A Tale of Smoke and Accordions: A short story

Filed under: Short Stories — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 11:02 pm

Image credit: Flickr user Bernat Casero, Creative Commons

 

Based (very loosely) on a true story.  This is another one of me and my friends’  random conversations over dinner a few nights ago taken to yet another ridiculous and absurd conclusion.  There will be a quiz later.

It was on a gloomy Friday evening that me and a couple of friends found ourselves in front of the old Italian restaurant.  Neon beer signs glowed in the windows on one side of the building, and the decor of the place seemed to suggest that Julius Caesar himself probably ate here at some point, and they hadn’t bothered to do much remodeling since then.  Still, you never know when you might find a hidden gem in a dive like this, and I figured it was worth a shot.

As we approached the front door, the faint sound of accordion music began to emanate from the inside of the restaurant.  Instantly I recognized the tune as one of the standard cliché songs  you hear any time someone on TV needs something to sound Italian.  As I opened the front door, a pair of singers could be heard from some back corner of the room.  A quick look around confirmed that the place might have looked reasonably fancy at some point, but the decor inside looked almost as shopworn as the exterior, and yet the place was surprisingly busy.  Nobody was at the front counter, so as I waited I grabbed a menu and took a look.  It quickly became clear that the only thing luxurious in this place was the prices on the menu.  But before I could look up, a waiter in a dinner jacket and bowtie appeared in front of me.

“Can I help you?”

“Yes, a table for 3 please.”

“Would you like smoking, or non-smoking?”

“Non-smoking, of course.”

“And would you like accordion or non-accordion?”

The place wasn’t exactly all that huge, but I figured it’s tough to carry on a conversation with an accordion blasting in your ears, so slightly less accordion might be a good thing.

“Non-accordion please?”

“Ok then, you’d like the non-smoking, non-accordion section.  You will have to wait a bit, but if you’d like I could get you a table in the smoking accordion section.”

“No, we’ll… Wait, what?”

“The smoking accordion section.  It’s one of the loveliest corners in our fine restaurant.”

“That may  be, but why is it a smoking accordion section?  Did someone accidentally light their accordion on fire?”

“Of course not, that would be absurd.  You see, many years ago there was a great master accordion craftsman in the Italian village of Castelfidardo by the name of Giovanni Carini who crafted some of the finest accordions this world has ever seen, but he so enjoyed smoking his pipe that he could not bear to be without it.  One day in 1879, he got a brilliant idea to build an accordion with a pipe built in, so he could play his accordion and smoke his pipe at the same time.  “

“OK, so…”

“Soon he carried his accordion everywhere he went.  Everywhere he went, people praised his fine smoking accordion, and soon everyone wanted one.  He always wanted to make people happy, so he made sure each of his children, and each of his grandchildren got a smoking accordion of their own.  One of our accordion players has one of these fine instruments, which sounds a bit different from a regular one.  And yet, some people prefer the sound of the normal accordion, so we offer different sections with each one.”

“But didn’t I say I wanted the non-accordion section?”

“Ah, you see, we don’t have much room here, so you may have to think of our non-accordion section as more of a less accordion section.”  This was starting to get just a little bit confusing.

“Well, OK…  The non-smoking accordion section, I guess.”

“And would you prefer the smoking accordion smoking section, or the smoking accordion non-smoking section?

“Didn’t I say I didn’t want to be in the smoking section?”

“So you’ll want the non-smoking accordion smoking non-smoking accordion non-accordion non-smoking section then?  Very well.”

“Wait a minute here, what’s all this about smoking accordion smoking?

“You see, our accordion player isn’t the only one here with a smoking accordion.  Many of Mister Carini’s grandchildren immigrated to this area over a hundred years ago, each bringing their prized smoking accordions along.  They have now been passed down through generations, and the great-great grandchildren who own the prized smoking accordions are now some of our most loyal customers.  As with Mister Carini himself, they too travel everywhere with their smoking accordions.  But not all of them smoke their smoking accordions, so we need to have a smoking accordion smoking section and a smoking accordion non-smoking section.”

“Ah, I see,” I said, even though it was pretty clearly a lie.  “But what if I don’t want to be near any smoking accordions, smoking or otherwise?”

“Oh, then you’ll be wanting the non-smoking accordion smoking accordion non-smoking smoking section then?”

“Wait, I…”

“Or was it the non-smoking accordion smoking accordion non-smoking non-smoking section?  I’m sorry sir, I seem to have forgotten what you wanted.”

By now I might have been getting just a little bit impatient.  “What if I don’t want any freakin’ accordions anywhere near me?”

“That depends, sir.  are you looking for the non-smoking accordion non-smoking accordion smoking smoking section or the non-smoking accordion non-smoking accordion smoking non-smoking section?  There shouldn’t be too many accordions in either of those I should think.”

“Well, I’ll…”

“Actually, now that I think of it, I think we might have had to put a smoking accordion smoker in the non-smoking accordion non-smoking accordion smoking non-smoking section tonight.  I’d have to find out if he’s smoking his smoking accordion in order to figure out if it’s the non-smoking accordion non-smoking accordion smoking smoking section or the non-smoking accordion non-smoking accordion smoking non-smoking section right now.

“Wait…”

“Or I just had a lovely little table open up, but it’s in the smoking accordion section next to some smoking accordion non-smokers…”

“Oh, you mean the smoking accordion non-smoking accordion smoking non-smoking section?”

“Actually, I believe it’s in the smoking accordion non-smoking accordion smoking smoking section.  Unless the smoking accordion has switched places with the non-smoking accordion, in which case it would now be the non-smoking accordion non-smoking accordion smoking non-smoking section… Or was that the non-smoking accordion non-smoking accordion smoking smoking section?  You’ll have to bear with me sir, I occasionally have trouble keeping track of these things.”

“Gee, I wonder why.”

“Either that, or it appears I also have a table in the non-smoking accordion smoking accordion smoking non-smoking section…  But the smoking accordion smokers don’t smoke their accordions much there.”

“Actually, I was hoping for a section without any smoking accordion, without any non-smoking accordion, without any smoking accordion smoking and without any smoking accordion non-smoking.”

“Did you mean the non-smoking accordion non-non-smoking accordion non smoking accordion smoking non-smoking accordion non-smoking smoking section or the non-smoking accordion non-non-smoking accordion non smoking accordion smoking non-smoking accordion non-smoking non-smoking section?”

“Um…  Whichever one of those has the most non-smoking in it, I guess.”

“Unfortunately, we’re all booked up in that section, but if you’d like, I think the smoking accordion player should be off by 9, and the smoking accordion non-non-smoking accordion non-smoking accordion smoking non-smoking accordion non-smoking  smoking section should be a non-smoking accordion non-non-smoking accordion non-smoking accordion smoking non-smoking accordion non-smoking  non-smoking section, assuming there aren’t any non-smoking accordion smoking smokers in that area by then.  Would that work?”

“Um…  On second thought, do you happen to do take-out?”

 

 

June 6, 2014

Seven Years of the Sledgehammer

Filed under: Site Stuff — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 11:02 pm

As of today, this Blog has now reached the ripe old age of seven years.  As this is the Blog’s anniversary, I have made a habit of using this as one of the two annual statistical “checkpoints” each year where I publish some of the stats of the Blog.  I do this partially to keep track of the ebb and flow of the Blog as time goes on (and to be perfectly honest, there’s been more ebb than flow lately) and partially to give some idea of where this Blog is.  I haven’t really been keeping too much track of my stats lately (at least not as much as I used to back when I was writing more often than I do now) but sometime within the past month my Blog received its 300,000th visitor.  Given the fact that the Sledgehammer Version 1.0 (which I continue to deny ever existed in the first place, lest someone try to actually go read it) managed about 15,000 visitors total in roughly two years of existence, that’s pretty good.  Of course, there are Blogs that get that many hits in a day, but I’m not trying to be one of those.  I’ve never been all that good at writing a journal, so I use this Blog to kind of keep track of what I’ve done, and hopefully leave some sort of record to whatever future offspring I might happen to have.  I find that I write better when I have an audience though, which is what keeps me going.

As always, thanks for visiting, and I look forward to hopefully creating some interesting stuff in the future.

  • Total Posts(all time, including this one):  644
  • Total Posts (So far in 2013): 16
  • Total Comments (all time):  927
  • Total  Page Views (all time): 302,344
  • Total Page Views (So far in 2013): 16,041
  • Total Page Views in 2013: 32,446
  • Total Page Views in 2012: 42,260
  • Total Page Views in 2011: 42, 742
  • Total Page Views in 2010:  52,228
  • Total Page Views in 2009:  60, 939
  • Total Page Views in 2008: 50, 219
  • Average Visitors Per Day (So far in 2014): 103
  • Total Blog Subscribers: 110

Top posts in the past 365 days:

Post Title Total Views
Sampling the Whitman’s Sampler: A Guide to America’s Favorite Box of Enigmatic Chocolates 7,421
Retail Wasteland – A Tour of the Totem Lake Mall 3,024
Wandering Off the Beaten Path at Princess Cays 1,727
Ya Wanna’ Buy a Watch? A Visit to St. Maarten 1,167
Malls of the Seattle Area: A Tour of the Factoria Mall 1,073
A Tour of Crossroads Bellevue – Part 1: The Mall 922
A Concise Guide to Surviving Disneyland: Dubious Advice From a (Somewhat) Seasoned Disneyland Veteran 870
A Not-So-Standard Chevron Station (Updated) 798
The Beginning and the End of the Old Bellevue Safeway 749
The Redmond Costco Moves Forward (Updated 9/9/09) 642
Classical Gas – Abandoned Route 66 Gas Stations 609

Total Homepage views (Last 365 Days): 3,602

Top posts (all time):

 

Post Title Total Views
Retail Wasteland – A Tour of the Totem Lake Mall 32,424
Sampling the Whitman’s Sampler: A Guide to America’s Favorite Box of Enigmatic Chocolates 29,335
Malls of the Seattle Area: A Tour of the Factoria Mall 12,647
Classical Gas – Abandoned Route 66 Gas Stations 12,002
A Tour of Crossroads Bellevue – Part 1: The Mall 8,889
The Redmond Costco Moves Forward (Updated 9/9/09) 8,298
My Very Nearly Award-Winning Chili Recipe, and Other Deep Dark Secrets 6,426
Malls of the Seattle Area: A Tour of The Everett Mall 5,595
A Brief Tour of the Bellevue Galleria, Bungie’s Future Home 5,023
The Beginning and the End of the Old Bellevue Safeway 4,288

Total Homepage Views (All time):  61,129

June 4, 2014

The Evolution of a Pyro

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:53 am

A small sampling…

As of the time when I am writing this post, the Fourth of July is now just a month away.  And for anyone who knows me, I do a lot more thinking about the Fourth of July than just about anyone I know.  Granted, that isn’t setting the bar particularly high.  Most people, I suspect, are content to just find a public fireworks display somewhere and call it good, or if they’re feeling ambitious enough they might make a trip out to Boom City or Muckleshoot and try to buy a few things to light off on the Fourth without losing their proverbial shirts.  The fact that most of the major cities around here (including basically all of the Eastside and Seattle) just ban fireworks altogether, which means that the most powerful things you’re going to see on the shelves are party poppers.  I, on the other hand, have already spent a number of evenings over the past few weeks watching fireworks videos (focusing mostly on the new items in the catalogs this year even though it doesn’t look like anyone’s actually going to have most of them, making spreadsheets, and generally overthinking the heck out of the whole thing.

Naturally, this type of thing isn’t all that typical for most people .  Somehow, I doubt there are too many normal well-adjusted people out there who just wake up one morning and start thinking “You know, it seems like a good day to go set something on fire.”  Then again, there seems to be a certain primal fascination with fire and its many forms somewhere within the human brain that inspires people to spend suspiciously large quantities of money on fireworks.  It might also inspire people to occasionally want to set fire to buildings that don’t belong to them, but that’s a matter between those people and their psychiatrists.  In retrospect, the fact that my father (and my uncle who lived nearby at the time) would frequently use the Fourth of July as an occasion to mess around with fireworks when I was growing up is probably where a lot of it came from.  In theory, the permissible fireworks in the town I grew up in were supposed to be limited to the “Safe and sane” variety, but the close proximity to various Indian reservations provided plenty of opportunity for people to get their hands on the good stuff, which meant mostly bottle rockets and firecrackers (the big multi-shot cakes and reloadable mortars that fill most of the shelves of the fireworks stands these days were rare back in those days.)  We did try to light those off somewhat discreetly since we technically weren’t supposed to have those (although I suspect the police had bigger miscreants to worry about anyway) but fireworks aren’t exactly an easy thing to hide when you’re setting the things off. Admittedly, I may not have had the best role models back in those days when it came to fireworks safety, and it is entirely possible that I may have made occasional use of various fireworks in manners inconsistent with their labeling back in those days.  Granted, I never did anything too ridiculous back then, but then again, I suspect it was a bit of a miracle that me and my brothers came out of that period with all of our fingers.

Eventually the family moved up here to the Seattle area, and to a city where fireworks were banned outright.  For a couple of years we were lucky enough to have a view of a professional fireworks display off the back deck of our parents’ house, but eventually they moved that display elsewhere.  Occasionally we might find a few small items and light them off in the driveway while keeping an eye out for the police just in case, but for the most part I spent a few years just not paying much attention to the Fourth of  July.  Then back in 2008, my aunt and uncle and their family moved from Federal Way to Bonney Lake and started having our family Fourth of July celebrations down there.  The first year or two of this was intended to be a fairly low-key affair, but as darkness fell on the first Fourth of July we spent down there, we quickly realized that people take their fireworks pretty seriously down there.  Once darkness fell, there were three solid hours of people lighting off the big stuff all around us, dwarfing the couple of small variety packs we had.  I’d have to say that it was something of a revelation, and the next year’s Fourth of July saw our fireworks stash increase considerably as people started making trips out to Boom City and the stands at the Muckleshoot reservation to pick up stuff for the party.  At the same time, the neighbors across the street started getting pretty serious about the whole thing, and started bringing out some of the big stuff.  Naturally, we’re trying to keep up with the Joneses (well, I was anyway, not sure about the others) and the stuff starts getting bigger.  Over the next few years, it goes something like this:

2008:  “Ooh, I can shoot off fireworks!”

2009: “Ooh, I can shoot off lots of fireworks!”

2010: “Ooh, I can shoot off big fireworks!”

2011: “Ooh, I can shoot off lots of big fireworks!”

2012: “On second thought Maybe that was too many fireworks…” (this was right about the point that quantity started to outpace quality, and we found ourselves with so many little items to light off that by the time we were done we were lighting Excalibur shells 8 at a time just to burn them off.)

2013: “Maybe I should do some research before randomly buying a bunch of stuff…”

Which is where I found myself last year.  That was the point where instead of just heading up to Boom City and getting whatever looked good on the shelves of the fireworks stand, I started doing some research beforehand.  This quickly turned into spreadsheets full of info on which cakes looked best, which ones went with each other, and  what I could actually afford.  It was also around this time that I started finding the pyro community on the Internet, and started learning where I could get stuff without paying the oftentimes ridiculous prices you’ll find at the reservation stands (which become even more ridiculous when you start learning what that stuff costs wholesale.)  In the end, I managed to get quite a bit more stuff than I usually do (and even managed to throw in a few of the big 500g cakes for the first time) and just about managed to light off around half the stuff the neighbors had.

This year, having learned some lessons from last year, I’m looking to start learning a few new things.  First of all, I’d like to learn to fuse stuff together better (I tried to do a finale board last year consisting of 4 200-gram cakes, a 300-shot Saturn missile and a big 500-gram, but the fusing was pretty terrible) and try to get the timing down better on that one.  Second, I’m trying to actually coordinate things better, and continue with last year’s focus on making a show out of it rather than just lighting off a bunch of random stuff.  Beyond that, there’s still plenty of places I could go with this.  I could start getting into electronic firing, and from there (assuming I wanted to invest in the equipment to do it) I could get into doing scripted shows.  I could get an ATF type 54 license in order to be licensed to work with 1.3g display fireworks, although there are a lot of added regulations to deal with at that point (which is perfectly understandable, given the dangers involved when you start dealing with stuff that basically amounts to large semi-controlled explosions.)  I don’t know if I’ll ever go in any of those directions, but the options are definitely there.

Assuming I don’t lose any fingers in the process, of course.

May 20, 2014

Random Thoughts: You’ll Get More Mileage From a Cheap Pair of Sneakers

Filed under: Random Stuff — Brian Lutz @ 1:36 am

Random sunset, apropos of nothing.

 

Given the fact that I’m not a neuroscientist (nor do I play one on TV,) I tend not to have a whole lot of insight into the workings of the human brain.  Aside from whatever I might have learned from wandering into a random linkbait article on Buzzfeed or some news article I ran across while bored, the vast majority of the insight I might have into the function of the human brain comes from dealing with the one in my own head.  Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on the situation) I’ve had more than enough time to familiarize myself with it and figure out some of its quirks.  Which is nice and everything, but the problem is that I can’t ever seem to get the thing to go away for some reason.  I’ve been informed by various sources that this would turn out to be a Very Bad Thing if it ever happened, but there are definitely times when I would not complain all that much if given the opportunity to take leave of my senses for a while…  Just as long as I could observe the whole process from a safe distance.  Which generally tends not to be the case.  For better or for worse, I’m kind of stuck with the brain I’ve got, even if we tend to have our disagreements at times.

For example, I’ve noticed lately that my brain has a rather annoying habit of taking random bits of whatever conversation is currently happening, digging up some old song lyric that I haven’t heard in months, and then promptly getting that song stuck in my head for the next week and a half.  During a hallway conversation at work, me and a couple of co-workers were discussing various methods of ensuring uniform inputs while running some voice recognition tests we planned to do.  Rather than rely on the person doing the speaking to be consistent while speaking into the microphone, the discussion turned to using pre-recorded voice samples, which would then be played back to make the voice recognition requests.  As we discussed this, the need for a new set of speakers for playback came up in the conversation.  I was sort of half-engaged in this particular discussion, since it happened right when I was trying to walk out the door to leave for the day (something else that happens all too often, but that’s a topic for another post,) which left my brain plenty of time to correlate that with the lyrics to a song I hadn’t heard in years, which in this case happened to be “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” by Billy Joel.  I suspect that for most people, their brains might happen to latch onto  some little bit of a song lyric stored in the long-term memory, let it roll around for a few minutes in short-term memory, then file it away again for some other time.  My brain, on the other hand, seems to want to bring up every single note of the whole entire song and make me listen to it in my head for hours, if not days.  By the time I finally made it out the door after the above conversation, I was singing the song in the car on the way home.

This type of thing isn’t a particularly uncommon occurrence for me.  And it’s just one of the many tricks my brain seems to enjoy playing on my conscious at inopportune times.  Another particularly annoying habit I’ve noticed is that my brain doesn’t like passing up information.  Even if it’s something small and inconsequential, for some unknown reason I have to know what exactly it says, especially if it’s going to be something I’ll pass by on multiple occasions.  Of course, once I have actually read it and know what it says, then it doesn’t matter anymore, and I can go back to ignoring it just like everything else.  If there’s one thing I can’t get enough of for some odd reason, it’s information.  Whether it’s spending three hours reading Lord of the Rings wiki pages trying to figure out what the heck I just watched (me and my friends have been in the process of gradually going through the extended versions of the Lord of the Rings movies over the course of several nights recently) or having to turn around and go back to figure out what a sign says that has absolutely no bearing on anything I do whatsoever, my brain seems to crave information.  It doesn’t seem to care what kind of information it’s getting, just make sure to keep the stuff coming.

Then again, this isn’t always necessarily a bad thing.  One of the former managers I’ve worked with in the course of my career has told me that he thinks such tendencies can actually work to someone’s advantage when it comes to testing software.  After all, it’s a lot easier to spot when something looks wrong when it jumps out at you like that, at which point you probably remember how you got there to try and retrace your steps.  There’s also that little bit of extra motivation that comes from knowing there’s something not working right and just knowing there has to be some way to reproduce the problem.  And although there are times when you’ll see weird things that just don’t ever seem to happen more than once (and it’s entirely possible that you might end up chasing after them anyway.)

It’s somewhat odd to think of the brain and the mind to be two separate (and often opposing) entities, but in many ways that theory seems to explain a lot.  After all, it seems like I spend a lot more time fighting with my brain sometimes than I do cooperating with it.  And there are definitely times when it seems to have a mind of its own, for better or for worse.  Then again, it’s the only brain I’ve got, so until I can figure out where I can come up with a replacement, I guess I’ll just have to deal with it, arguments and all.

May 7, 2014

Fun With Insomnia: A Series of Unfortunate Decisions

Filed under: Bad Ideas, Fun With Insomnia — Brian Lutz @ 2:21 am

One of these days I should really learn to stop eating at my computer.

Back when I added Fun With Insomnia to the category list on my Blog, I figured I’d be using it quite a bit.  After all, I tend to have problems sleeping at times, and I got the idea that spending that time writing rambling half-coherent drivel instead of lying awake in bed being annoyed by the fact that I can’t sleep might make a somewhat more productive use of my time.  Then again, by now I’ve pretty much figured out that I can write rambling half-coherent drivel pretty much any time I want to, so there isn’t really a whole lot of point in restricting myself to certain times of the night to do it.  Of course, I try not to make that fact too obvious here, so I tend to toss most of that stuff into other categories and hope that nobody notices.

Ironically, I wrote most of that first paragraph a few hours ago, then stopped because I was having trouble staying awake.  The net result of this was a roughly 1 1/2 hour nap, from which I woke up nice and groggy right around 9:30pm.  Given the fact thart I was pretty much half-awake at this point, I figured I’d be making it an early (by my standards anyway) bedtime, and made the usual preparations.  It was about 11 or so by the time I was ready to go to bed.  and roughly 11:30 by the time I actually turned the lights off.  Naturally, this is right about the time that the sleep inertia from the nice little evening nap happened to wear off, and I found myself wide awake in bed.  This is usually right around the point where you remember why those after-work naps tend to be a bad idea.  Typically it takes about an hour or so of tossing and turning before I start to realize that sleep doesn’t seem to be on the agenda, at least not anytime soon.  It is also right around this time that I start coming up with some of my “best” bad ideas.

Tonight, it was right around 12:30 that I started pondering completely absurd things, and started to wonder just how quickly I could be eating eggs if I jumped out of bed that very instant.  One thing led to another, and roughly fifteen minutes later I found myself at the second-nearest Denny’s (there’s actually one just a couple of blocks from my apartment, but I don’t go there all that often because it’s kind of a dump)  ordering something else because I had completely forgotten my original aim by that point.  Oh, and since I was already in the process of doing any one of a number of stupid things, I tried to write this Blog post while eating, which probably explains why I’ll be reading it sometime tomorrow morning and wondering what the heck I was thinking.  In theory, the Surface Pro I picked up a couple of months ago when they had the things really cheap (I don’t think I ever mentioned that I got one of these) would be perfect for this type of situation, but I’m quickly learning that the $129 type cover I bought with it seems to be better suited for decorative purposes than for use as an actual keyboard.  I could probably get better at this with practice, but quite frankly, it’s kind of a pain to use.

Anyway, based on my admittedly very small sample size of largely irrelevant data, I figured out that under ideal conditions someone could probably be eating eggs at an all-night diner within roughly 15 minutes of jumping out of bed, although this does assume roughly five minutes of dressing oneself in a socially acceptable fashion, no significant traffic between their current location and said diner, and fails to take into account the traffic lights that might be encountered along the way.  Specific optimizations could be made to streamline the whole process, but who in their right mind would call ahead to Denny’s to place an order?  Then again, there are plenty of other ways that eggs could be consumed within the comforts of one’s home.  I suspect that if someone has a quantity of eggs in their fridge and isn’t completely repulsed by the prospect of eating them raw, they could significantly reduce that number, down to almost zero.  Then again, as efficient as that may sound, don’t expect me to try any experiments on that anytime soon.  I could probably continue to overanalyze this to death for at least another thousand words or so, but I should really be in bed by now, so I’ll refrain from doing so (either that, or I’ll save it for another post.)

In retrospect, it occurs to me that by the time someone finds themselves at Denny’s ordering a three-course second dinner sometime after Midnight, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to trace this occurrence to one or more bad decisions, usually made in rapid succession.  One of these days I should figure out that those nice little naps after work, although they seem like a good idea at the time, have an annoying tendency to end badly.  Then again, I’m not really up past my bedtime, just everyone else’s.

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