The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

October 27, 2008

The (Not So) Fine Art of Pumpkin Carving

Filed under: Art, Random Stuff — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 11:49 pm

It seems that Halloween is now just a few days away, and as a result, the appointed time of the annual gourd-mangling is at hand.  Although i generally consider Halloween to be one of the few strictly optional holidays on the calendar, it seems inevitable that the subject of pumpkin carving will come up at least once during the last week of October, and even though my attempts at such things usually seem to yield disastrous results, for some reason I keep trying, hoping that one of these things will turn out eventually.  I suppose that the temporary nature of the medium makes it easy to conveniently forget how last year’s wildly elaborate design eventually turned into “guy with a freakishly large hole in the middle of his head” and try again.  Usually this is a matter of getting way too elaborate with my intended designs, and not bothering to give much thought to the practicality of such a design.

Nonetheless, when this year’s pumpkin carving opportunity came up at a combined FHE with my singles ward and another one nearby, I had decided I was going to do something a bit less elaborate,  Given the fact that people were bringing in whole boxes full of razor-sharp knives for fine details and even power tools, i figured I might as well try to keep it simple, elegant (not so much actually) and somewhat disaster-proof.  During the lesson, I started messing with the uncarved pumpkin a bit, and noted that if I was very careful with it I could eventually manage to find a spot on which it would be able to balance at a vertical angle.  After figuring this part out, I ultimately decided to flatten out that spot somewhat to make it more stable at that angle, and carved the slightly skewed jack-o-lantern you see above.  After I took this photo,   I did a bit more (largely unnecessary) tinkering with the features and added a “THIS END UP” sign to it, but what you see here is basically the final result.  And yes, the lid does stay on as long as you don’t mess with it too much.

October 26, 2008

This Little Piggy Went to Market

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 12:19 am
NOT an actual photo.  Believe me, that is SOOOOO not ny color...

Note: NOT an actual photo. Believe me, that is SOOOOO not ny color...

 When I woke up this morning, I’m pretty sure that going and getting pampered wasn’t on my agenda, but thanks to a combination of peer pressure, a momentary lapse of reason and having accidentally left what few shreds of dignity i have remaining at home when I went out the door this morning, that’s pretty much what ended up happening today.  My parents are off on yet another of their frequent globetrotting adventures this week. and for some reason. they seem to have made a habit of going out and getting pedicures before they head off.  Having not done a lot of traveling lately.  This includes my Dad, and my brother (although I have no idea how they got rooked into the whole thing in the first place.)  Although I will not be joining them on this trip due to a combination of work schedule and having dropped a fairly decent chunk of change on the new computer, somehow I managed to get talked into heading over to the nail salon and joining them.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that there seems to be a  bit of a discrepancy between the range of personal grooming services offered toward men and women.  On the male side of the equation, you’ve got the traditional shave and a haircut (which, incidentally, will generally run you a lot more than two bits these days,) and maybe a few scattered other services here and there.  Women, on the other hand, have a plethora of salons and spas all over the place, offering all sorts of perms, coloring, facials, massages, exfoliating scrubs, waxing and all sorts of other fancy sounding stuff.  The same thing goes for grooming products.  Right now, a bottle of shampoo (I usually stick with Pert Plus,) a bar of soap, an electric razor and a couple of combs  is just about the extent of the grooming supplies that I keep in my apartment.  I think there might be a bottle or two of lotion in there somewhere as well, usually kept in a dark corner of the medicine cabinet until my hands start looking like one of those dry lake beds you see on the nature shows.  In contrast, Back when I was growing up in my parents’ house with two sisters, the bathroom often contained a bewildering array of shampoos, conditioners, scented lotions, hairbrushes and other grooming tools for purposes I had never been able to completely determine.  There are whole stores full of this stuff, some of which are big enough that you could get yourself lost for three days trying to find a new comb.  Generally, the mens products in one of these stores will take up about two shelves, maybe three.

On one hand, it’s nice being able to just wash my hair in the evening, comb it in the morning and head out the door, but as a guy (especially a single guy,) it seems rather easy for other things to get neglected.  Sure, going out and getting a haircut every once in a while (usually when my Mom tells me that I need a haircut)  isn’t a big deal, but  that’s pretty much the extent of what I’ll normally go out for.  Left to my own devices, I’m pretty sure that a pedicure is just about the last thing that I’d actually go out and have done.  For one thing, if you’re a guy and you walk into a nail salon and the first thing you see is 147 different colors of nail polish up on the wall, chances are you’re going to get the impression that you have accidentally wandered into a place where Y chromosomes dare not tread. 

Sure,  a guy or two might get dragged into the place every so often by a girlfriend or wife, but what self-respecting single guy is going to go into one of those places on their own?  Aside from biting the proverbial bullet and  getting the pedicure, the other options seem to be to either just put up with your crummy toenails and callused feet, or to try to take care of rhe stuff yourself.  This opens up yet another can of worms, as the contents of the foot care section at your friendly neighborhood mega-mart generally tend to come in two varieties:  Flowery and extra flowery.  You’d probably spend just as much time trying to come up with an excuse to try to pass off on the cashier as you would actually finding the stuff.  It turns out that an Internet search does reveal that there are places that specifically offer male manicures and pedicures on their list of services, but in general, the whole thing still seems rather skewed toward the female side.  I suspect most places would have no problem doing it (and probably get a fair number of men among their clients,) but you just don’t hear about it often. 

 Which brings me back to this.  I figured with my Dad and brother there I would only look somewhathorrendously out of place, so I might as well give it a shot.  If the whole thing didn’t work out, I figured I could just simply never show my face in there ever again and call it good.  I got there a bit later than the others, so I ended up waiting a bit.  Not being able to find any magazines in the place other than those of the variety that I probably wouldn’t be caught dead reading, I just decided to chill out and wait for a bit.  Eventually my turn arrived, and although I wasn’t really paying a whole lot of attention to the process, it wasn’t anything like I expected.  They had nice little soaking basins with bubble jets, massage chairs and the process involved a nice little foot and leg rub in addition to the usual grooming tasks.  They’ll even let you get away without getting your toenails painted if you don’t want (although since I don’t plan to wear Tevas anytime in the next six months or so, who would even notice if I did?)  It turned out that the whole process wasn’t bad at all and was even a relaxing experience, although I don’t expect to make a habit out of it.  I suppose that it could have turned out a whole lot worse…

Maybe if I ever need to come up with somewhere besides the movies to take a date I might give it a shot again.  Come to think of it, my fingernails ARE looking just a bit shabby these days…

October 23, 2008

Hello World…

Filed under: Random Stuff, Technology — Brian Lutz @ 11:46 pm

After spending a (mostly) productive evening of tinkering with hardware and moving parts around, I am now making the official first Blog post from my brand new computer, which is currently in the process of downloading about 350 megabytes of Vista updates.  Surprisingly enough, the whole process went a lot smoother than I was expecting it to.  Building a new computer is a process that involves a fair bit of tinkering, troubleshooting, and occasionally even bleeding (although with the cases available these days there seems to be a lot less jagged edges on which to maim yourself,) but somehow I managed to get my old system transferred into a new case with surprisingly few issues and get the new system put together and running without running into any major problems anywhere along the line. 

I’ll have more on the whole thing (including a number of photos of the install process) once I get more settled in on this machine.  Mostly it just looks like a nightmare of cables and excessive clutter, but what the heck?

October 22, 2008

The Autumn Leaves: A Study in Contrasts

Filed under: Nature — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 11:44 pm

I have to admit that out of four different seasons to choose from, I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t choose Autumn as my favorite time of the year.  In a sense, the whole thing just seems to be one slow descent into winter, complete with the slow decline of temperatures until they reach the customary low-to-mid forties that’ll be sticking around for much of the next few months, the return of the seemingly omnipresent overcast and rain, and eventually the obligatory November windstorms that have an annoying tendency to make a big mess out of things.  That said, the Autumn does have its advantages as well. If you can manage to look over the huge pile of Halloween and/or Christmas paraphernalia sitting in the stores you can just now start to see Thanksgiving off in the distance, and of course, there are the colors of the leaves on the trees. 

For some reason, we seem to think of the Fall as being something where the leaves go from green to some color of their choosing, then the leaves all fall off in a big pile on the ground.  When you live somewhere that has an abundance of trees in many different varieties, you soon find out that it doesn’t really work out that way.  I suppose if there was one appointed time where all of the trees simultaneously shed their leaves it would be a lot more noticeable (and various cultures would probably base some sort of elaborate observance on the designated Time of the Leaf-Dropping, be it festive, religious or superstitious.)  In reality, the whole process is a lot slower and more drawn-out than that.  There’s nothing particularly subtle about having all the leaves on your trees out in the yard turn bright orange and yellow, but when I went out for a short walk to take advantage of the surprisingly clear (and very nearly even warm) weather yesterday, I was surprised to see just how much green actually remains on some of the trees out there.  I have to admit that my knowledge of the various trees doesn’t extend much past the point of  the ones with the pointy needles being pine trees so I couldn’t tell you much info about the different types of trees here, but someone more familiar with the subject can feel free to contribute that info if they like.  After the jump, a few photos of some of the trees near my workplace, and the contrasts between different trees at this time of year.


October 20, 2008

It’s Just a Little Rain…

Filed under: Redmond — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 4:26 pm

This afternoon while I was at work hammering away at the twisty little maze of string arrays and parameters that I’ve somehow managed to turn into test automation for my current feature, when we started hearing the sound of rain on the roof of the building.  The building I work in is basically a big, nearly windowless concrete warehouse with a cube farm set up in it (if the research I’ve done is correct, I’m guessing that this is the building that housed Safeco’s printing facilities when it was built in the late Seventies, since it is quite a bit older than the rest of the old Safeco campus,) and if it gets to the point where you’re actually hearing the rain on the roof you know it’s got to be pouring outside.  Although you can’t see it too well on the obligatory BlurryCam shot, was in fact raining pretty hard out there.  There were even a few tiny hailstones scattered on the ground, although these were unlikely to have been big enough to cause any damage.

A check of the weather conditions by one of the co-workers I share a cube with showed a precipitation map that looked like this:

That rainstorm seems rather specific, doesn’t it?  Do you ever get that sneaking suspicion that someone’s got it in for you?  Me neither, but when you look at the weather map and see something that looks like this, you might start to wonder…  For comparison, here’s what the rest of the Puget Sound area looks like on the same map:


 I’m sure there’s some complex explanation for the whole thing involving convergence zones, ocean currents and a really really small low pressure zone or something like that (or, since I haven’t got a clue about meteorology I could just be making all that stuff up,) but it just seems a little odd to me that it’s raining the proverbial cats and dogs around here while virtually everyone else on this side of the Sound has nice (sort of) clear weather (Not sure what’s going on down in Enumclaw though.)  At least this time I’m not stuck outside or anything like that…  If that were the case, I might have to actually use up my monthly weather complaint post on this thing, but since I’m safely inside, I’ll just chalk it up to an odd little bit of weather.

October 15, 2008

A Leafy Green Dilemma

Filed under: Food — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 9:11 pm

One of the trickier parts of being a bachelor (whether I like it or not) is keeping up with food supplies.  Even though I have been living on my own for a number of years now, for some reason I haven’t quite been able to shake the mentality of cooking for a small army that seems to come from growing up in a family of seven.  This means when I get around to doing actual cooking, most of the time this results in enough leftovers to cover several additional meals.  This is great if I make something that turns out good, but when I start meddling with things that I cannot comprehend in the kitchen as I tend to do on occasion, it usually means that I find myself eating my mistakes for the better part of a week, assuming that I don’t just conveniently forget they exist until they get tossed out a few weeks later.  Either way, the problem far more often tends to be too much food rather than not enough.

As I mentioned in the post below, on Sunday our family had a get-together to celebrate the blessing of Jeff and Valerie’s new son Zachary.  As is usually the case, this occasion warranted a significant quantity of food, and the theme for this particular gathering was some sort of bizarre reenactment of Olive Garden’s vaguely famous never-ending pasta bowl special.  This meant that people brought in a number of pastas and salads to the party.  Since the whole thing required driving 40 miles down to Federal Way for a 9AM meeting  (something that I am definitely not used to after years of having church at 1PM,) I decided that salad was the way to go, and prepared a rather large quantity of it the evening before.   That would have worked out just fine, except for the fact that the salads were already pretty well covered by the time I got there, and mine never even made it out of the fridge down there.  As a result, this is what my fridge looks like right now:

What the heck am I supposed to do with all this salad?  At this rate, unless my kitchen gets raided by a horde of ravenous bunnies when I’m not looking  I’ll be eating this stuff for at least a week.  So far, my (admittedly halfhearted) efforts at consuming some of the stuff have barely put a dent in the pile.  I guess I should look on the bright side though.  If I manage to get through all this, maybe I can average it out and claim that I’ve got my five daily servings of veggies covered for the next month or so.  In the meantime, anyone got a favorite brand of croutons to recommend?

October 13, 2008

If it’s Dim Enough, You Won’t Even Know the Difference, Right?

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 1:16 am

Once again this Sunday, the family gathered down in Federal Way for a baby blessing, something that is getting to be something of a trend these days.  In this case, the blessing was for Jeff and Valerie’s new son Zachary, who will most likely be the last of the cousins, barring some unforseen circumstance.  From here on out, all the new babies in the family will most likely be from the younger generation of the family.  It’s a bit weird for my cousins to be the ones bringing new babies into the family now, but even weirder that in a few months both of my sisters will have children of their own.  Not that I’m contributing anything to this at this point, but as usual, that’s another post for another time.

After the Sacrament meeting down in Federal Way, the family got together for the obligatory after-blessing potluck session.  Since a number of people had obligations in their various wards, we didn’t start eating until about two hours after the Sacrament meeting.  In the meantime, there were some burned-out lightbulbs in the kitchen at Opa’s house, so some bulbs were found in the house to replace them:

From a distance, the packaging doesn’t look all that unusual, but up close something just didn’t seem right about it for some reason.  Sure enough, closer inspection revealed that the package contained generic Chinese products, complete with the obligatory halfhearted knockoff of a much more well-known brand and haphazard packaging of the products inside.  This particular package imitates a somewhat older version of GE light bulb packaging, but looks nothing like the current version that I’ve got (sitting empty, of course) on the shelf in my laundry room:


Let’s take a closer look at the two logos on these packages (apologies for the blurry photo on the knockoff, it came off my cameraphone.)  The one on the left is, of course, the old familiar General Electric logo, while the one on the right is, well…  I don’t know what it is.  As an attempt to change the old logo just enough to (maybe) get away with it, it sort of works, but the problem with knocking off a familiar logo like this is that it might work if people aren’t paying much attention and not looking too clearly at the box, but the minute someone actually looks at it, the eye gets immediately drawn to whatever is “missing” from the expected logo.  In this case, the blank where the bottom of the “E” is supposed to be is the part that raises the mental red flag, and the rest of it falls apart pretty quickly.

The box for those bulbs contained very little in the way of information, which leads me to believe it probably originated from some Chinese factory in a city whose name I’d mangle badly if I tried to pronounce it.  If I had to guess, I’d say the knockoffs probably came from one of the semi-ubiquitous dollar stores found around here, although the brand-name light bulbs are inexpensive enough that there isn’t much point in going with knockoffs anyway.  I suppose if you’re looking for a convenient way to burn down the house without all that pesky gasoline and matches stuff these will probably do in a pinch, but I’m guessing you’d be hard pressed to find the things anyway.  Especially while you’re fumbling around in the darkness.

October 11, 2008

All the Cool Kids Are Doing It…

Filed under: Family — Brian Lutz @ 11:29 am

I’m not quite sure exactly what I did to earn one of these things (aside from the part about genetics and things like that) but apparently they’re letting me join the machine too: 

I had trouble finding a spot on the tailgate where the windshield wipers wouldn’t get in the way of this, so I ended up putting it on the side window.  You can see other examples of this highly limited edition decal in action over at the VanderHoeven Family Blog and the Walsh Family Blog.  At some point, I need to finish up my alternate VanderHoeven Machine logo design (see a few posts down,) and get it into a more vinyl cutter friendly form, but for now, this one will work quite nicely.

October 9, 2008

Let Me Guess… Highway Robbery?

Filed under: Random Stuff — Brian Lutz @ 11:29 pm

Another handy tip for any people out there who might find themselves decorating a retail establishment for Halloween: 

Sure, that yellow crime scene tape seems to be all the rage on the assorted crime drama shows scattered throughout primetime television, but if for some reason you find it necessary to use the stuff as a decoration in your store, it is best to use the stuff sparingly.  Last time I checked, in instances where this stuff is used by actual policemen, I can’t recall ever seeing it wrapped around every available surface like some grim version of the traditional birthday streamers.

And while we’re on the subject, you might also want to give some thought to where exactly you’re putting the stuff, and what impression it may be leaving on your customers.  For example, let’s say that you decide to thoroughly wrap up the queues for the checkout in the stuff.  If you’re a customer standing in the checkout line with that shiny new HDTV, don’t you think that something like that might just be providing an excuse to sneak in some second thoughts before you pull out the credit card?  Besides, exactly what relevance does this have to Halloween anyway?  I suppose you could be trying to make it look like some psycho just wandered into the place and slashed a lot more than prices, but this seems like a rather halfhearted effort.  Next time, I’d recommend that you just stick with the jack-o-lanterns, plastic skeletons and unconvincing fake gravestones.  At least with those you already know you’re doomed…

October 8, 2008

It’s The Future of Computing… Eventually.

Filed under: Technology — Brian Lutz @ 1:12 am

Anyone out there who has ever read the stuff on my original website (note:  Do not take this as a suggestion to actually go read that stuff, I’m not sure why I even bother linking it here in the first place) would know that back when I was writing that, quite a few of the articles I wrote dealt with the trials and tribulations that came with trying to keep our family’s three desktop PCs running at the same time.  Growing up in a family of seven meant that oftentimes the best solution to make sure people didn’t fight over whose turn it was to use the computer was to have more than one. 

From the detritus of my old website comes this photo of the Den at my parents’ house, circa 1997 during one of the rare times that the place was clean and all of the computers were actually assembled.  This was back in the days when digital cameras were still prohibitively expensive for the average consumer, and not of much use to them anyway (I don’t think we had one until about 2-3 years after this was taken,) so this image comes from a scanned photograph.  If I recall, this was before we had a scanner in the house, so I had to take the thing down to Kinko’s, scan it there, and the black and white was the only way I could get the file to fit on a floppy to bring home, so that’s what I had to do.  Although there are diehard vintage computer collectors and enthusiasts out there on the Internet, I note that there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot in the way of nostalgia for the computers of the mid to late Nineties.  I can’t say that I blame them.  The early personal and home computers such as the Apple II, Commodore 64 and the early Macintoshes and IBM PCs have their fans,  but beyond about the 286 era or so, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of enthusiasm out there.  Sure, there were some great games that came out for the PC in the late DOS era (such as Epic’s pre-Unreal stuff and quite a few of Microprose’s games,) but when was the last time you heard someone longing for a return to the days of Windows95, IRQ conflicts and 14.4 modems?

At the time the most powerful system we had in the den was a Pentium 75 (that one may have been upgraded to a Pentium 133 by then, I can’t be sure) that was rather expensively equipped with a full 32MB of RAM and one of the original 3DFX Voodoo cards that I somehow managed to sneak into the system without my Dad noticing until it needed a driver on a system rebuild some time later.  Although this was still a bit removed from the high end for its time, the system was still blazing fast, and when it was first built it could boot to Program Manager in Windows for Workgroups 3.11 (Win95 was still a few months off at the time) in ten seconds flat.  The other computers in the den were a DECpc 486SX/20 (my Dad spent about twelve years working as a DEC field service engineer, and worked on VAXen as late as 2002 when the last one at his current workplace was retired)  and the 386SX/20 that was our family’s first PC.  All of these were equipped with 14″ VGA monitors, which were pretty much the standard at that point, but that didn’t exactly make them cheap.  The laser printer that you see in the foreground was an old (as in mid Eighties) DECLaser that my Dad managed to save from the dumpster and somehow keep running (sort of) for a number of years.  For color printing and the all-too-frequent times when the laser wouldn’t cooperate, there was a marginally more reliable Citizen dot matrix, which is found under the desk.  All of this stuff was networked using 10Base2 Ethernet over coax cables (there’s a networking standard that didn’t exactly stand the test of time,) which mostly served to enable playing games over IPX LAN.  Internet connectivity came by way of an external 28.8k modem and Netscape 2.0, although not long after this we would spring for the blazing fast 56K modem, which would remain until 2000, when we made the leap into the broadband era with a 768k/128k (again, blazing fast for the time) DSL connection.

While on one hand it was nice to have three computers (plus whatever other detritus had found its way into the den on occasion,) keeping them up required constant work, and upgrades and replacements were frequent.  As noted above, there were times when all three computers were disassembled or otherwise missing portions of their case, much to my mother’s chagrin.  As time has continued to inevitably march on and technologies have come and gone, I have found that I haven’t been bothering to keep up quite as much as I used to.  The computer that I am writing this post on is fast approaching four years old.  Granted, this machine might just be the most stable and reliable one that I have ever built, but it’s definitely reached the point where it’s having some trouble keeping up with the latest apps.  I hardly ever bother trying to play games on it these days, and I suspect the machine would probably choke on anything less than two years old by now.  As stable as this system has been, it’s definitely time for a replacement, which should be happening shortly.

As of right now, I have about 1/3 of a new computer sitting here in my office, waiting for the rest of the parts to arrive.  As you see above, I currently have a motherboard (an Asus P5Q Pro), RAM (8 GB of Corsair DDR2 800), a power supply and a DVD burner that got thrown in when I bought the PSU from someone at work.  I plan to reuse the case and 500GB secondary drive from my current system, and I still need to come up with a CPU (which will most likely be an Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600,) video card (not sure what I’ll get, but it’ll probably be nVidia based,) and a new system drive (probably a 150GB Western Digital Raptor 10,000 RPM  drive, which is supposed to be just about the fastest SATA drive around right now.)  Assuming that Moore’s Law is still holding out these days, I should be looking at roughly a quadrupling of performance over my current box, but with as long as I’ve held off on upgrading, for some reason it just seems a lot more drastic than that.  Needless to say, this represents a pretty significant upgrade over my current system, which is a single-core AMD Athlon64 3200+ with 1GB of RAM and an AGP GeForce 6600GT video card.  Back when I built this machine, I picked just about the wrong time to build that system, as I got it up and running just a couple of months before the first dual-core processors were announced, and went with an AGP video card just before PCI Express really started to establish itself as the standard.  Theoretically, I could have upgraded the board to support an Athlon64 X2 processor with a BIOS upgrade, but at the time I figured I’d just build a new system a year later anyway.  That year ended up turning into two, then three, until I finally got around to upgrading nearly four years later.

To be honest, this computer performs just fine for 95% of the stuff I throw at it still, but I figure that I should at least attempt to keep up with the latest technology.  My rule used to be that I would upgrade my computer if I started having better computers at work than I have at home.  If I was following that standard I would have upgraded two years ago, although I think with the computers they’ve got me on right now at work, it’s just about a wash.  I expect it’ll be a couple of weeks still until I actually have all the stuff to build the new machine,  but I’m definitely looking forward to it (except for the “putting it all together and trying to get the blasted thing to work” part, but that’s another post that you’ll probably be seeing later…

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