The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

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.


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