The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

March 17, 2015

Time For a Few (Big) Changes

Filed under: Random Stuff — Brian Lutz @ 12:53 am

In what has become a bit of a recurring theme on this Blog over the past few years, I apologize for the shortage (or lack) of posts recently.  I’d say that I’ve been busy with various things, but to tell you the truth I haven’t been quite as busy as I might normally be, mostly on account of the fact that my last contract at work ended at the end of last year.  Fortunately I’ve got the next one lined up now and I expect to start it next Monday, but even without work to worry about, there’s still been plenty going on.  Fortunately, I’ve dealt with enough job instability over the years to know that I need to plan for it whether it’s coming or not.  In this case, it was nice because it allowed me to have a bit more flexibility on my job search and the ability to be a little more picky about things than I might otherwise be.  That’s a good thing, because that’s not the only major life change I’ve got coming in the near future.

To make a long story short, my girlfriend of several years (and whom I have known for a number of years before that) has now become my fiancée of several weeks.  Of all the big life-altering decisions that one might make over the course of a lifetime that’s probably right near the top of the list, and I’m just starting to realize how much things are going to be changing over the course of the next few months.  Probably the biggest and most obvious one is that I will need to make some changes to my living arrangements, which means moving out of my current apartment.  It’s certainly a nice (if a bit expensive) bachelor pad, and I’ll be disappointed when I have to leave, but even for just myself the place feels a bit on the crowded side.  It’s actually a pretty decent sized place for a 1-bedroom in Downtown Bellevue, but the layout could use a bit of work.  It’s also had its share of problems, mostly with the plumbing (as I wrote a couple of posts ago I’ve had a leak in the shower which was recently fixed, but which introduced another problem with the hot water being disappointingly tepid because the shower valve would only open up about halfway.  And believe me, there are few things more disappointing than a lukewarm shower, especially when you know you’ve got plenty of hot water.  Fortunately that issue got fixed now, and I can actually take a decent shower again.  Of course, that’s just a minor little quibble in the grand scheme of things, especially compared to the damage caused by a leaking pipe at my fiancée’s sister’s house last week.  That one took out a decent chunk of drywall and a room of carpet, and is still being dealt with as of when this is being written, which isn’t exactly making me look forward to the joys of home ownership when the time comes.

But aside from where we are going to live, there are a whole lot of other changes that come with this as well,  mostly in terms of what things will be like when we get there.  Aside from the obvious ones I won’t discuss here, it is going to take me some getting used to living with someone else in the house again.  For nearly ten years now I have had an apartment to myself, and I suspect I’ve probably developed a few habits over the years that might be somewhat less than fully compatible with living with another person, even (or especially) one  I might happen to be married to.  It has already been decreed that the couch in the living room needs to go (preferably in a method that involves setting it on fire) and it’s been strongly suggested that a king size bed might be a good idea by the time we start sharing one.  Fortunately the big TV can stay, but I suspect she will end up using it more than I will.  But mostly I suspect I’ll have to change some behaviors.

And the on top of all that, there’s the wedding to plan.  Fortunately, there seems to be no shortage of people willing to take care of that (apparently there are plenty of people in both my family and in my fiancée’s family who seem more than happy to plan weddings for some reason.)  Mostly I have to come up with the rings (all of them, including the big shiny one we’re still in the process of working on) and tuxes, then I have to actually show up to the reception.  On one hand, I hear from other people that you hardly remember much of the reception because it all ends up being a bit of a blur and you have about half a zillion things to do and all sorts of people to meet while you’re there.  On the other hand, maybe if I’m the one getting married this time I can go to a wedding reception and not have to help with cleanup afterward.

It’s a lot of work to figure all this out, but in the end, it should be worth it.  It’s been a long time coming, and I look forward to no longer having to answer endless “When are you going to get married?” questions from friends and family.  Oh yeah, and there might be some other benefits to the whole thing as well, but I’ll just figure those out when I get there.

February 11, 2015

I Suppose I’ll Just Put Up With it.

Filed under: Random Stuff — Brian Lutz @ 12:44 am

(Apologies for the relative lack of posts lately, I’ve been busy with other things.  The annual Valentine’s Day Kitsch Roundup post is coming though, and should be posted in time for said holiday.)

As of when I am writing this post, I have now been living in my current apartment for roughly 4 1/2 years.  Although for the most part it’s been a good place to live, for virtually the entire time I’ve lived here there have been a couple of nagging issues that I just haven’t ever gotten around to getting fixed.  Granted, none of these little issues amount to much more than just a little nuisance, but a lot of them seem to be things that are hard to ignore completely.  It was just last week that I finally got the creaky floor I’ve had underneath the bathtub fixed after it has been creaking while I try to take a shower for years.  Fortunately I’m not the one responsible for fixing the problem (I’m sure that will come up soon enough when I finally get into a position where I can buy a house though) and all it really takes for me to get it fixed is to send in a service request on the building’s service ticket system.  Even so, I’ve just put it off for this long, mostly because it just becomes one of those little things we put up with even though they annoy us.

A somewhat more significant problem that may or not be related to the first one is that for probably just as long there has been what appears to be a leak in one of the pipes behind the shower.  I suppose if you’re the management in the building this is probably a bigger issue than it is to me as the renter.  For me it’s just a few annoying drip sounds and maybe a little bit of a soggy floor next to the tub (in this case the floor is concrete and the wall studs are metal so there isn’t anything that could actually rot, although I suppose something could possibly rust if I tried hard enough) but to the maintenance staff it means possibly bringing in a plumber, opening up the wall, repairing or replacing pipes and then putting it all back together to make it look the way it did before.  Naturally, this isn’t the only time I’ve had issues with the plumbing here.  When I moved into this particular building it had only been occupied for roughly a year and a half.  In the time I’ve been here quite a bit has changed, and although a lot of it is purely cosmetic (I’m pretty sure the Chihuly glass in the lobby has little to do with the plumbing) there are a number of things that seem intended to fix things that the original builders cheaped out on.  None of it makes the place unlivable or anything like that, but it’s definitely enough to be a nuisance at times.  After all, you never notice these things when they’re functioning properly.

On the other hand, it’s one thing to put up with a creaky floor or a leaky pipe in the shower.  It’s another matter entirely when the minor nuisance happens to be located within your own body.  For some unknown period of time, I’ve had a bit of a nagging issue with my left knee.  Aside from a significant effusion, it also becomes occasionally painful and limits the mobility in the joint.  It’s one of those things that comes and goes, rarely ever much more than a nuisance, but every so often it would make me walk like an old man for a couple of days at a time.  Walking for the most part is just fine, but if I try to run it will definitely have something to say about it.  Even though it became clear at some point that the issue was not going to go away on its own, it wasn’t until just recently that I bothered to actually do anything about it, and that after considerable persuasion from my girlfriend (yes, I know how stubborn I am about those things.)  Following an initial doctor visit, an MRI, a second doctor visit that resulted in a big needle being used to drain a shockingly large quantity of joint fluid from it, a third followup visit and several hundred dollars worth of bills (even with insurance) I have a reasonably good idea of what’s going on (they’ve basically narrowed it down to a couple of possibilities, neither of them too serious)  but ultimately it’ll probably require an arthroscopic procedure and possibly several thousand dollars more to actually get something done about it.

As the type of person who has never particularly cared for doctors (mostly it’s the sharp pointy objects involved that are the issue here) the temptation to just live with it ends up being rather strong.  After all, it’s not like my knee is about to fall off or anything like that, although it is probably going to provide mild to moderate annoyance for the indefinite future for as long as it takes me to get around to doing anything about it.  It does make running painful, but I’ve never been the type to do much running anyway.  I suppose if Bellevue gets invaded by starving wild animals I’ll probably end up being the one who gets caught and eaten so everyone else can get away, but fortunately the risk of predatory carnivores seems pretty low here (unless they’re opening up some fancy new store at the Bravern that I don’t know about.)  Even so, I suppose that knowing that the problem is more of a nuisance than anything that’s particularly serious should make me more likely to do something about it, even though there’s a good possibility I could be opening a completely different can of worms at that point.

I suppose I can just live with that, right?

December 16, 2014

The Joy of Collecting Pointless Data

Filed under: Random Stuff — Brian Lutz @ 12:28 am

Over the past couple of days, I have learned that the hot water in my apartment runs about 125 degrees.  And that the freezer seems to be somewhere around -8 degrees in the back.  I also learned that the temperature in my apartment varies by several degrees from the outside of the building by the windows to the part that faces the inside of the building.  None of this is really all that surprising to me, but thanks to an impulse purchase off of Amazon last week of a cheap infrared thermometer I bought off Amazon on a whim last week when it went on sale for $12 with free Prime shipping (currently it’s $19, but still a relative bargain.)  Granted, for that much money you’re not exactly looking at a top-of-the-line model, so you’re not exactly going to get scientific grade accuracy out of it (if you need that, be prepared to spend at least a couple hundred dollars)  but for any purpose I might use it for around the house it should be more than adequate.  It’s actually something I’ve wanted to pick up for a while, but the last time I looked at these they were still somewhere around $40, which is a little bit on the high side for a random impulse purchase.

Still, regardless of what I plan to actually use the thing for (I’m still kind of trying to figure that part out myself) it’s kind of a neat thing to have around the house.  Need to figure out how hot something is on the stove or in the oven?  Grab the infrared thermometer.  Need to figure out where a draft is coming from?  It does that too.  Not that I’d actually fix anything if I did find a problem with this, but it’s kind of interesting to know these things anyway.  Just in the course of our normal everyday comings and goings we have a tendency to generate a whole lot of data.  Naturally, for the most part we don’t even pay any heed to this as this data comes and goes, never to be noticed for more than a few seconds at a time.  Then again, over the course of the past few years, it seems that people have taken a lot more notice of this data, as the concept of the “Internet of Things” has taken hold.  For example, about a year and a half ago I got a Nest thermostat installed in my apartment, which not only makes it ridiculously easy to set up timers on the heat and AC (at least compared to some of the notoriously convoluted “programmable” thermostats I’ve used in the past), but it also includes all sorts of tracking information, and sends a monthly e-mail to tell you how your heat/AC usage compares to other months.  To be honest, after I did the initial setup I haven’t really done much tweaking to the schedule at all, but it does allow me to see how things like outside temperature affect energy usage.  It also has features that allow it to automatically adjust the schedule based on my history and other factors, but in practice I have found that it doesn’t seem to do a whole lot of that.

And that’s just one example.  These days, it seems like just about everyone you see on the street is using some sort of fitness tracker.  I have yet to join in on this particular craze, but these have started popping up all over the place lately.  I can see where it might be useful though.  After all, the toughest part of the whole diet and exercise thing is actually remembering to do it, so if nothing else one of these things would remind you to actually do it.  One of the main attractions of these fitness trackers is that they collect quite a bit of data as you go along, which you can then use to see what how many steps you’ve taken during the day, what your heart rate was at any given time, how well you slept (I’ve always been wondering about that one myself, although I suspect the answer is probably “not as much as you should”) and other things like tracking of runs and other exercise.  It’s all sorts of information that could be useful if you made it useful, but I suspect a lot of people who use the things don’t necessarily do so.  But at least you know how guilty you’re supposed to feel at the end of the day, right?

And those are just as couple of the more obvious examples.  Pretty soon, you’ll see people trying to integrate things like smartphone integration and data monitoring all over the place, and I’d be willing to bet that most of it will get applied to stuff that has absolutely no use for it whatsoever.  Right now, the most egregious example of this I can find is a Crock Pot slow cooker that is Wi-Fi enabled to allow it to be controlled by a smartphone application, all for the low price of only $129.  Last time I checked, a Crock Pot typically has one control knob on it with three settings (four if you buy one of the fancy ones) so I have no idea what the point of one of these things is supposed to be, even if it does allow controlling virtually every aspect of my Crock Pot remotely instead of having to walk twelve steps to the kitchen to do it.  That’s definitely got to be worth an extra $80 over one of those other (sort of) fancy Crock Pots where you have to actually control it by hand.  On the other hand, I’m pretty sure I have no idea how the heck I’d enter a WPA password onto the not-so-fancy one.

For better or for worse, technology has started finding its way into places where we don’t particularly need it.  And as a result of all this, prepare to have all sorts of new and exciting sources of information at your fingertips that you didn’t even know you needed.  And in most cases you won’t actually ever need it after all, but I suppose it’s still neat to have it anyway, right?

October 25, 2014

Random Thoughts: Una Discussione Molto Vivace, and Responsibility, What’s that?

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 11:10 am

I know I still need to finish up the trip report on our Alaska trip last month, but lately work has been keeping me busy so I haven’t had time to do that.  In the meantime, a couple of random thoughts from the past couple of weeks…

  • Currently stuck in my head:  This MxPx song.  It’s not the type of music I normally listen to (it’s actually one of my brothers that listens to the stuff) but I do have to admit I’ve been tempted to think along these lines every once in a while lately.  In theory, by the time I’ve reached the age I’ve reached, I’m supposed to be some sort of mature responsible adult.  For the most part I can at least impersonate one occasionally in a pinch, but I do have to say that sometimes the whole thing can seem to be more trouble than it’s worth.  Responsibility also has a way of creeping up on you at times, as I’ve seen at work recently as various organizational changes have left me and a co-worker in charge of much larger portions of the project I’ve spent nearly the last two years working on than we have been in the past.  In some ways it can be nice to have more day-to-day control over the project and to basically be handed the keys to the car (in this case literally, although the opportunities to actually drive it are rather limited) but at the same time it can also feel a little bit like getting tossed into the deep end of the pool.  The other day I made a comment to one of the co-workers who recently got reassigned off of our project (but who still sits in our area) that things were so much easier back when we had him going to all the meetings and dealing with a lot of the administrative stuff for us and we could mostly just stick to the technical side of things.  One thing that comes with this is responsibility for managing (sort of) a couple of testers we currently have on our project in China.  This isn’t the first time I’ve done this (it’s one of the things that I did for a while when I worked at Motricity a couple of years ago) but it does tend to result in a fair number of late-night Skype conversations to keep them on track and make sure they have what they need to do their jobs (fortunately the late night bit isn’t a problem for me…)   All of this can definitely be a challenge, but to be honest, I have little to complain about where I am right now.  There’s plenty to keep me busy, I’m getting good pay, there are a few nice perks, and it does feel like I’m making progress on my long-term career path.  That doesn’t mean I’m not occasionally tempted to just go off the rails and hoon golf carts around every once in a while, but I suppose that’s how we end up at Disneyland taking ridiculous ride photos on Splash Mountain.

  • Also currently stuck in my head:  Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Second Movement (Scherzo: Molto  Vivace – Presto).  Last weekend I had the opportunity to see a live performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony put on by the Ensign Symphony and Chorus at Benaroya Hall.  I do have to warn you that the Ninth Symphony can be a bit of a slog to get through (and that’s just being in the audience, I can’t imagine what it must be like being in the woodwind section) but it’s definitely worth hearing live at least once.  Obviously the Fourth Movement (by far the most famous part) gets all the attention and I’m sure virtually anyone would recognize it when they hear it, but interestingly enough I think I like the Second Movement better overall.  Having never heard all of Beethoven’s Ninth all at once before, I was a bit surprised to hear this particular piece and instantly recognize it as something that gets used often in various forms of media (in particular, the intro seems to be used as a bit of stock “creepy” music for some reason.)  Of course, when you’re listening to it live it all moves so fast you don’t have much time to process it (this particular movement is one of the fastest parts of the whole symphony) so it really takes repeated listening to really catch all the intricacies.  Not that I profess to know a blasted thing about the subject of music (in fact, I had to go to Wikipedia to figure out what a Scherzo is supposed to be, and even after reading the article I still don’t have a clue,) but I have to say that even if it’s less well known than other parts of the symphony it’s still quite the piece of music.  It;’s interesting to note that back in the day pieces like this were considered to be something of a joke (which is in fact what “Scherzo” translates to from the Italian) but these days even the less serious stuff would be considered high culture.  I don’t know if that speaks more to the decline of culture these days or if the stuff is just that good.  Probably a little bit of both really.

 

  • Ever have one of those days where you just can’t seem to focus on anything?  Well, I… Wait, I forgot what I was going to say here.  Oh well, I’ll probably think of it later.

September 17, 2014

Live from the Lido Deck: Slightly Colder Than Usual Edition

Filed under: Random Stuff — Brian Lutz @ 11:38 pm

 

Date and Time: September 17th 2014, 10:40pm Alaska Daylight Time
Location: Aboard the Golden Princess somewhere south of Glacier Bay National Park en route to Ketchikan Alaska, Not really sure about specifics since the voyage info channel on the TV seems to be broken
Weather:  Foggy and somewhat cold, a bit of a running theme on this trip
Visibility:  Pretty much nonexistent

To be perfectly honest, even though I’ve done a fair bit of cruising over the years, a cruise to Alaska has never been particularly high on my list of priorities.  Part of this is because I have plenty of other places to go on vacation, and part of it is because I’ve always been under the impression that an Alaska cruise has the kind of weather I go on vacation to get away from.  After having spent the last several days in Alaska at the end of the Summer cruising season, I don’t think that assessment is entirely false, but at the same time the weather has actually been pretty reasonable considering the circumstances.

Granted, we’re not necessarily talking Summer weather here, but at the same time it hasn’t been unreasonably cold here either.  During an afternoon spent wandering around Skagway (an 1890s Gold Rush boomtown gone bust, then eventually turned into a tourist trap) I just left my jacket behind and was perfectly fine.  The weather in Juneau was fairly nice as well.  Today’s visit to Glacier Bay (you stay on the ship and the rangers from the National Park come aboard the ship and narrate as you go through the bay and stop at several of the major glaciers) was markedly colder, but just my usual Winter jacket was sufficient.  Given the scenery that we got to see, I think it was a reasonable tradeoff.

This is actually the last Alaska cruise of the season for the Golden Princess, which will be heading South to warmer climates once we return to Seattle on Saturday.  One of the interesting things about my current workplace is that the windows on the North side of the building face Seattle’s cruise terminals, and in one or two of the conference rooms I can see the big cruise ships in port.  On various days of the week during the Summer there are Princess, Carnival, Norwegian, Oceania and Celebrity ships that make Seattle their homeport during the Alaska season (quite a few ships homeport in Vancouver as well, mostly for one-way iineraries that are legally prohibited from departing from a US port.)  Being able to see the ships on a regular basis has made thr prospect of being able to hop aboard and take a cruise sound more attractive than it was previously, but ultimately it was my friends and frequent travel companions who put this one together.  Originally our plans called for an Alaska cruise at the beginning of the season in May, but various cirumstances resulted in cancellation of that booking in favor of one later in the season, which is where we are now.

On most of the cruises I’ve taken I have traveled with various members of my family, both immediate asnd extended.  These cruises have been enjoyable and memorable experiences, although as anyone who has spent enough time around the Vanderhoeven Machine knows, we can definitely take a little bit of getting used to.  This time around I’m basically traveling with someone else’s family though, which would probably be more of a culture shock than it already is if not for the fact that I’ve spent so much time with my friends.  Not that it doesn’t take some getting used to, but in many ways it’s a similar experience.  Fortunately we all have very similar (and in many cases rather unusual) senses of humor, and seem to have independently picked up a lot of the same quirks long before we ever met each other.  I’m sure some of the other people on the ship are wondering about us.

Anyway, we have two more days remaining before we return to Seattle on Saturday (a short morning visit to Ketchikan tomorrow and a short evening visit to Victoria on Friday) and since the Internet packets around here seems to be carried back to the mainland by sled dogs, I’ll have more to post when I get home.  Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s kind of cold out here right now.. 

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 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 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.

April 24, 2014

More Disneyland Facts That Are Not True

Filed under: Random Stuff — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 12:50 am

 

When you spend as much time at Disneyland, you start to learn a few facts about the place (you also have people that start wondering about you, but that’s another story for another post.)  Just about everywhere you look, there’s a story lurking around somewhere.  Perhaps it’s rooted somewhere in the past, telling a tale of rides and attractions long gone, but still remembered today.  Perhaps it’s somewhere in the future, whether an imagined future that probably never will be, or a very real future soon to come.  Perhaps it’s a story of fairies, magic and happily ever afters, or a tale of adventure in a time long forgotten.   And sometimes the stories just pop out of thin air for no apparent reason at all.

Those are the types of stores I deal with.  As you might know if you read my Facebook posts or have read my previous compilation of these from previous visits, when me and my friends go to Disneyland we tend to make up little stories along the way.  Sometimes it’s just little throwaway one-liners here and there to explain away some minor inconsistency.  Other times we’ll just decide something isn’t quite what it seems, and we’ll need something to explain it.  Other times, it’s just more amusing to make something up.  One way or another, we end up with these little stories and completely made-up facts, and somehow they just stick.

If that’s not clear enough, I’ll throw in this disclaimer:  ALL OF THIS IS COMPLETELY MADE UP.  That’s why they’re Facts that are Not True.  If they were true, Disneyland would probably be either a far more magical place or a much weirder place, and I’m not sure which.  Probably a bit of both.  Anyway, without further ado, some more Disneyland Facts that are Not True.

 


  • Most Disneyland visitors are aware of Disneyland’s practice of honoring Disney legends with windows on Main Street USA. What most people don’t know about is that cast members in Adventureland have established their own similar practice with the pile of skulls found in the canoe in front of the headhunters’ camp on the Jungle Cruise. Over the years, a number of notable cast members have been honored with skulls added to the pile in their honor. In recent years, advances in medical imaging technology have allowed Disney Imagineering to now create anatomically accurate representations of the skulls of the cast members being honored.
  • In 1967, following a number of notable incidents of bad driving on the Tomorrowland Autopia, Disney briefly experimented with adding several “police officers” hiding behind billboards on the ride to pull over misbehaving drivers and issue them “tickets” for their infractions. This move proved to be unpopular as almost immediately a number of children claimed to be traumatized by the experience, thinking they were about to go to jail. Finally, the experiment came to an end about a week later, after the Anaheim Police Department claimed jurisdiction over the Autopia.
  • In recent years, Disneyland has sought a number of different ways to put special overlays on existing rides, which has resulted in such favorites as Haunted Mansion Holiday. In addition to Rockin’ Space Mountain (which has been run primarily during Grad Nites) and Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy during Halloweentime, Disney also briefly experimented with running Space Mountain with the cars placed backwards on the track. Although the ride functioned surprisingly well in this configuration, ultimately the concept was sunk by difficulties in loading passengers and the fact that people tend not to buy photos of the back of their head, No formal name was ever decided on for the concept, but in testing, Disney Imagineering generally referred to this as “Backspace Mountain”.
  • For over 20 years now, the Brotherhood of Mechanical Performers and Artists (BMPA) has been attempting to unionize the animatronics at Disneyland following successful efforts in a number of smaller parks throughout California. In spite of a campaign promising shorter working hours, more breaks during the day and upgraded mechanical components, a vote among the animatronics in 2011 went overwhelmingly against unionization, with 88% voting no. Since this time, the BMPA has filed grievances against Disneyland with the NLRB, claiming that they somehow manipulated their animatronics to vote against them.
  • Most people know about the popular RunDisney events that take place at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, but in recent years, Disney has explored the possibility of expanding to swimming events as well. Last year, RunDisney extended invitations to a select few runners from the Tinkerbell Half Marathon to a special before-hours event where the Storybook Land canal in Fantasyland was opened for swimming. Although the participants were enthusiastic about the opportunity, it was ultimately determined that a large-scale event would be impractical. Although the Rivers of America seems like the most obvious place for an event like this, Coast Guard regulations designate it as a navigable waterway, which prohibits swimming.
  • (Note:  This one was posted on April 10th, the 50th anniversary of It’s a Small World.)  Today Disneyland is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the opening of It’s a Small World at the 1964 Worlds Fair in New York City.  Although the ride as it is currently designed promotes global friendship and harmony, what most people don’t know is that design of the ride is based off of an early rejected concept for the Haunted Mansion where creepy looking animatronic dolls would have filled the roles now taken by the various ghosts within the Mansion. This design was quickly rejected for being too scary, but only minor modifications were required to transform the original concept into the It’s a Small World ride we know today.
  • The fleet of parking lot trams that services the Mickey and Friends Parking Structure at Disneyland cumulatively travels over 150,000 miles in a year, a half mile at a time. This is enough to make a trip at least halfway to the Moon, leaving a trail of lost hats, glasses or other loose possessions that may fall from the tram in its wake.
  • It is well known that parrots and many other types of birds commonly kept as pets have the ability to learn how to mimic human speech and other sounds if exposed to them often enough. What is less well known is that crows and other Corvids have a similar ability. In 2012 a pair of resourceful crows found a prime spot to build a nest just inside the entrance to Star Tours. They went undetected for quite some time, and by the time a cast member spotted them several months after they had established a nest, they were able to make sounds that almost exactly matched those of the R2-D2 animatronic in that portion of the queue.

  • In spite of the fact that the mailbox in front of the Haunted Mansion does not have an actual mailing address, this does not stop people from sending over 75,000 pieces of mail to the Haunted Mansion every year, mostly containing death certificates and other applications. Although Disney originally responded with a form letter about the high volume of applications for the coveted 1000th Happy Haunt position, eventually they just had to start marking all the letters as “Return to Sender: Deceased”.  In an attempt to try to stem the tide of mail, Team Disney Anaheim has reportedly given consideration to creating a website to accept online applications for this position.  Which will promptly be ignored, of course, but at least it might save some paper.

  • Recently, Disney Imagineering has been working on a secret project to develop a set of fairy wings that will allow performers to actually fly for short distances. Early prototypes have proven surprisingly effective, but many logistical challenges have hindered their integration into performances. The project was nearly derailed when one of the prototypes was accidentally sold to a young child in a gift shop. They eventually caught up with the child and brought her down safely, but she had made it nearly to Irvine before they did. The FAA is still investigating the incident.
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