Monday, November 5, 2007
NaNoWriMo >
by Blob

Well, that didn't take long. I walked down the hall to the restroom wondering what I might write about. By the time I got back, I had it. Here's a sample.

A grey-skinned alien next to Derek shouted something unintelligible at them.

"What the hell does he want?" asked Peter.

"How the fuck would I know?" yelled an exasperated Derek. "They didn't cover alien gibberish at orientation!"

Peter said, "Wait!" He closed his eyes and concentrated.

After something failed to happen for 30 seconds, Derek started to ask, "What are--".

"Shh!" shushed Peter through clenched teeth. After a few more seconds, there was the now familiar popping sound. In Peter's hands were two small headsets, a combination of earphone speaker, microphone, and vision enhancement device. "Huh. That's not quite how I pictured them," he said with amusement and surprise.

"What are they?"

"Translators, I hope. Took me a while to guess what shape they might be. I was going to try a fish next."


"Douglas Adams? The Babelfish?"

"Fuck your nerd shit, dude. Seriously. Give me that thing."

Coincidentally, it was at about 650 words when I decided to post this.

Monday, November 5, 2007
NaNoWriMo >
by Blob

It's that time of year again. It gets dark way too early. It's fucking cold. The only thing really worth looking forward to, aside from April and maybe the orgy of materialism around the winter solstice, is a dead bird and some gourd flesh made into a dessert. And thousands of psychotic people like myself get the notion to write a (albeit short) novel in November's 30 days.

I was seriously on the fence this year. I really wanted to do it. In fact, I really wanted to revisit my 2005 novel, Unchained, and finish it. That was my best effort to date; of the three times (not including this one) I've attempted NaNoWriMo, I got around 22,000 of the required 50,000 words before getting so far behind that I threw in the towel. While I was pondering whether or not to participate, I re-read it. With the distance from the rigors of actually writing it, I found that it was an enjoyable read. I wanted to know more, so I resolved to rewrite it.

But I also have a lot on my plate. Five or six hours of my free time per week are now devoted to the Volcanicast. I'm remodeling my living room/dining room/kitchen. And work looks set to get stupid busy on me.

Furthermore, I've lost my two best writing buddies. KJToo has defected to the Lake County group, and honestly, who can blame him; they're much more local to him. And Wesley isn't working on a novel this year, but his own pet NaNoesque project. He's also working nights, so I won't see him at any of the meetings. Without their camaraderie, I'm losing a significant part of the motivation. I hope that doesn't sound like a complaint, I can certainly not fault either of them.

With all that, I've done a miraculous thing. I've given myself license to fail. Every other year, I've expected to succeed (because I'm foolish and undeservedly optimistic). As such, I was overly concerned about being "behind" the average one thousand, six hundred sixty-six and two thirds words per day, and felt the growing gap as a tremendous weight such that when it became mathematically impossible for me to complete the task, I simply gave up and quit.

So I have a much more relaxed view toward NaNo this year. If I don't make it, that's okay. The odds were against me, anyway. If I do make it, though, what a sweet victory it would be.

I started on November 1, rewriting Unchained as Projection. It quickly became apparent, though, that that's not what I really wanted to do. Every divergence from the original feels wrong. I find myself copying chunks of words (manually, no cut/paste) because I think I did it better the first time. That's not what I set out to do. And I realized that I just want to finish Unchained as it is.

This leaves me with a dilemma. I still want to do NaNo, so I think I'm going to start over with a new story. I don't have any characters or plot, but that's never stopped me before. I know that if I just start writing, the rest will come. The good news is that I came to this realization fairly early. That means that if I start tomorrow, my average word count per day need only be 2,000. A mere pittance over the original goal of 1,667.

I'm pretty excited about this turn of events, actually. I'm also excited about the freedom to fail. I don't think I'm going to quit this year, even if it seems near the end like I'll only hit 20K, I'm going to write until the last day.

So, wish me luck, and look for the new title and reset status image at the top left of my home page.

*There goes another 650 words. I'm doing it wrong.

Friday, November 2, 2007
by Blob

Fig. 1
The floor, the carpet, some drop cloths, and a 120 gallon fish tank being siphoned out through the mail slot.

Fig. 2
More carpet gone. Note that the old finish on the floor was probably salvageable.

Fig. 3
Carpet: gone. Floor: cleanish. Misc. Crap: laying around. Doorways/Vents/Outlets: masked.

Fig. 4
The next morning. Furniture's gone, Floor: ready. Sander: rented. Crap: still laying around.

So, you know you've got hard wood under your nasty old carpet and you're thinking to yourself, "I can probably yank the carpet, sand that sucker down, apply some finish and have a great-looking living and/or dining room floor." This is a friendly guide to doing that very thing, based on my personal experience.

Step 1: Don't.

Step 2: Seriously, call somebody who knows what they're doing.

Step 3: If you are, like me, foolish enough to skip steps one and two, read on.

I had decided to use some of my accumulating vacation before I lost it and spend it on this exciting project since I had no money for a real vacation. I figured $300-400 in supplies should do the trick, and I could just about swing that. So, we began.

    What you will need:
  • A carpet knife/box cutter/liberty killer
  • A device for prying carpet, nails, tacks, and staples
  • A shop vac and a swiffer/mop
  • One or more generous and very understanding friends
  • More money than you expect
  • More time than you expect
  • Patience
  • Floor sander
  • Lots of sand paper
  • Hand-held random orbital sander
  • About six hundred tack cloths (Estimate. Probably closer to fifty.)
  • Stain and applicator
  • Polyurethane and applicator
  • Lots and lots of mineral spirits for cleaning the above
    What you may want, but hopefully not need:
  • A cyanide capsule

First, yank up the old carpet. This will take longer than you expect. We began at about 8pm on Friday, Oct. 19th. I had a wife and a friend to assist; we finished at about 5am. That was about 400 square of carpet stripped from our living room, dining room and stairs leading up and down (we've got a split-level), cut into sections for garbage removal, padding pulled and put in garbage bags and/or vacuumed, nails, staples, and tacks all pulled.

Next, remove the furniture. This will probably take about as long as you expect. This is where the friends come in. Thank you ever so much, Wesley and Sam. This begins our Saturday.

Next, tape off everything. This will take longer than you expect. Any place that sawdust can go, you almost certainly don't want it to. Particularly your HVAC system. If it does not pose a fire hazard (it will), it will certainly kill your filter.

Next, acquire a sander. I rented a Varathane floor sanding system thingy from Lowe's. Don't do this unless you know you have an easily-sanded finish. I understand you can rent sanders that will strip more readily, but must be more carefully controlled to keep from over-stripping. I would like to have dealt with that problem. There are two good things I can say about the Varathane: 1) The sandpaper pads can be easily removed and reapplied. This will become important in a moment. 2) The integrated vacuum really does a great job of minimizing the sawdust.

Fig. 5
Uh-oh. What the Hell is that!?

Fig. 6
And that!?

You will want to begin with a coarse sandpaper to do most of the cleaning/leveling, then move to a medium grit for prepping, and a fine grit for finishing. Unless you have a floor covered in shellac, or whatever sticky finish they used on my floor. After just a few seconds of sanding, the sander started bucking and making an unpleasant grinding sound. I immediately shut it off and turned it on its back. It had thick brown streaks, the consistency and color of dried chocolate all through the sandpaper and had left a brown muck apparently glued to the floor. See Figures 5 and 6 to the left.

After some research, we found that this is common if you have shellac or lac-based finish on your floor. The solutions are to either 1) Sand anyway; this will take longer than you expect and use a lot of sand paper, or 2) Strip the finish first with some nasty chemical. I actually went back to the store and bought some nasty chemical and tried it in my pantry (which is also part of the floor I did). It didn't work.

The solution is to sand about half a square foot, when the machine starts to complain, stop, take the pads off, knock the crap off of them (I accomplished this by slapping them against hard things I could find outside), then repeat with another, cool set of pads. They heat up very quickly and that seems to be when the stuff starts sticking. I ultimately had about 9 sets of pads in a rotation. Gum one, clean it, grab the next, repeat. This will take very much longer than you expect. I actually wanted to buy more sand paper pads, but all the Lowes in the area ran out of them. I bitched and got a second rental day gratis, since the old sandpaper becomes less and less effective with use and cleaning.

I was done with the rental sander on Monday at about 1pm, this was pretty much exactly when I had to have it back to avoid being charged another day, and also represented about 50 hours of work since Friday night. Finishing your own floors is only a bargain if you assume your time is worth zero. Which, considering I can't really get a second job or paid overtime is effectively the truth. I took the rest of Monday off because it was likely the last good weather of the year. We took a motorcycle ride. I had another day off on Tuesday because I was scheduled to babysit nephews.

Fig. 7
Done with the floor sander. Click for full resolution to see the old finish remaining in the depressions.

Fig. 8
Sanding finished, at last. The floor is ready for stain (optional) and finish. Note the water stain from around the fish tank on the far right. Some dumbass forgot he was running water into the thing one night. The wood stain I applied did not hide it very well.

Fig. 9
Applying the stain. The additional dark spots are where the stain dripped from the applicator on its way to the desired work area. These were wiped up as well as possible before the actual coat was applied.

Fig. 10
Applying more stain. The ghostly circular apparitions on the later photos here is from very small particles of sawdust that settled on the camera lens.

Next, you will need to do the corners and clean-up with the orbial sander. This will take longer than you expect. If you look at Figure 7 in the full resolution, you'll notice that where one floor board was slightly offset in depth vs. its neighbor that there was old finish remaining in those nooks and crannies. Trouble is there's a lot of them. Fortunately, Renee suggested that I could just attack them with the fine sand paper on the orbital and she was right. That saved me a bunch of time and effort sanding with the coarse and then graduating to the fine. It did, of course, gum up more 120 grit sandpaper, but it was way worth the expense. Unfortunately, I had already done the perimeter edge where the floor sander couldn't reach in the coarse grit, so I did have to go over that with the fine. This took me all of Wednesday and Thursday, with just breaks for meals.

Next, you will clean the floor thoroughly. You need to remove every trace of sawdust that you just got done filling your house with. This will take longer than you expect. We spent most of Thursday on this. First with the shop vac (very helpful!), then the swiffer, then tack cloths on the swiffer, then tack cloths by hand.

Next, if desired, you may stain the wood. I had already decided to do this, and decided on the color (Olympic's Antique Maple). But when I saw how good the floor looked au naturel I almost didn't use it. I was very proud of myself at this point. I applied the stain using a mop-like applicator, then wiping off the excess with rags by hand. This worked better than I expected, and the overlap marks I feared where one section stopped and the next began did not materialize. When this dried, I was extremely pleased with myself. Be sure to paint yourself into an exit.

Next, you will wait for this to dry a while. We waited overnight.

Depending on the darkness of the color you want and how much time you allowed between application and wipe-off (we went for about 10 minutes), you may want to do a second coat of stain. This was already slightly darker than I wanted (and fairly even, thankfully), so we did just the one.

Next you will lightly sand the floor, clean it, and apply the finish, we chose polyurethane for its durability. We did this on Friday morning. I used a lamb wool applicator, also mop-like, and the first coat went on very well. They tell you to maintain a wet edge on the applicator, which basically means you want to be sure to have enough liquid to be able to push a wave of the stuff ahead of the applicator through the stroke. I had very long strokes since I wanted to get even coverage go with the grain of the wood. The applicator did about four boards at a time and I went the entire length of the floor at any particular part in one long stroke. I actually daubed a bit of polyurethane at strategic points in the anticipated path so that I could maintain the aforementioned wet edge all the way through the stroke. The first coat went fairly smoothly (the applicator caught a piece of wood that had been "lifted" by the stain and ripped it out before I felt a thing; this left a slight gouge a half inch wide, three inches long, and a couple of millimeters deep) and I painted myself into the stairs going down.

We were fortunate that during all the drying periods we were able to move from the downward stairs directly to the kitchen or to the upward stairs (I had decided to do the stairs at a different time for this reason). So we had our whole house available to us during the process, which was nice. The prospect of sleeping on the couch with my back aching after a week of hardish labor was not appealing.

We waited all day for the stuff to dry and by the time we had decided to go to bed, around 2am, it surprised us by feeling dry everywhere I checked. I was as proud of myself as I had ever been when I looked around; the urethane had dried evenly and clearly (lots of people apparently experience bubbles: never shake your urethane, and stir it gently). The floor looked fantastic.

Fig. 11
The first coat of Urethane is dry! Oooh, purty.

Unfortunately, the instructions call for three coats and sanding between each coat. So, we dutifully sanded the whole floor lightly and a little more aggressively where there were minor imperfections. Sadly, this led to us finding that it was not fully dry everywhere. The sanding led to some portions having to be left somewhat rough because you can't sand goo. I hoped that the second coat would fill in these imperfections.

Fig. 12
Done! If you look closely, you can see the curve of my foot print in the middle of the image.

After cleaning again with swiffer and tack cloth, I began to apply the second coat. Unfortunately, I made two crucial mistakes at this point. 1) I missed a stripe, all the way across the floor. That wasn't really the mistake. The mistake was going back to try to fill it in because I didn't notice it until I was several feet past it when the light struck it at the right angle to show it off. I decided to step, in my bare feet, in the still wet urethane to get the area I missed. Don't do this. Just let it go and get it on the next coat. I could not get a good drag of the applicator because I would slide in the opposite direction. Fucking Newton. So, I made myself stepping stones with paper towels. Unfortunately, while all this was going on, the part that I was stepping in was slowly setting, so if you look closely at the floor in the area just this side of the dining room, you can actually find a couple of my foot prints and paper towel impressions even though I went back over it with more urethane during that coat. Mistake 2) I decided that since I could access the family room downstairs through the garage, I would paint myself out the front door. This had two problems that I didn't find until I got there. One, there was very little room to maneuver in the front, as you can see in Figure 1. And two, I stepped outside briefly to set up the tray. I then realized that I had all kinds of dirt and crap on my very sticky urethane-covered feet and there was no way to clean them enough that I could finish applying the second coat at the front of the house. So, the front six to eight boards really only have two coats. Whoops. I went to bed around 4am, exhausted and frustrated, kicking myself for basically ruining a week's worth of hard work in twenty minutes.

On Saturday evening, having given the floor a full twelve hours to dry (the instructions said four), we proceeded to try to sand out the aforementioned imperfections in anticipation of the third coat. Don't do this. Even with twelve hours of drying, we ran into the goo problem again. After giving the rest just a light surface sanding and cleaning up, I applied the third coat, taking the lessons of the previous night to heart. This went very smoothly, I painted myself into the kitchen, and all was well.

Sadly, when I checked it out the next day, I found that the third coat did not fill in the paper towel marks and foot prints as well as I'd hoped. They're not obvious at all if you're just walking around, but if you know what to look for, you can find problems. I suppose I shouldn't be looking for perfection, particularly on my first effort, but after the elation at how great it looked after the first coat of urethane, it's a bitter disappointment.

And finally I had Sunday to myself before having to resume my day job the following Monday. We needed to wait at least 72 hours for complete drying before the next step: fixing the walls and painting. I bought Guitar Hero III and rawked all day long. It's hard work, but somebody's got to do it.

*I totally should have spent this time working on my NaNo, but I wanted to get this out there before I forgot the details. If it comes down to it, I'm going to claim the approximately 2,400 words as part of my novel. Nyeah.

Thursday, October 11, 2007
by Blob

I've been meaning to learn to use AJAX for a while, now. It's a very useful thing to have a web page interact with the server without the need for a full page load. I had a general idea of how it worked, but I hadn't spent the time to learn the specifics.

The bug bit me a couple of days ago, and I had an idea for a fun/easy test gadget, so I got to work.

I'm proud to present: Letterboard. It's a pointless little diversion, but I think it's amusing. The best part is, you can mess with people as they're laying out letters in (almost) real time. It's stupid, but I'm proud of it. The best part? I can make a dress-up Jesus or whatever with very little change to the code. Woot!

You'll need to have Javascript enabled to play, and also to see the notice that says Javascript is required. I should probably make that visible regardless, but then I'd lose the cool fadey-inny-thingy.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007
Stuff >
by Blob

This was totally a different post a few minutes ago. It was, in fact, my Haiku of the Day. But when I noticed the post id number, I had to change it.

This post is now in honor of Douglas Adams, in my opinion, one of the greatest minds of the last half of the 20th century. He was my generation's Mark Twain. He's known as a writer, but I think he was more of a thinker. He may not have had the raw analytical power of a Stephen Hawking or Albert Einstein, but he did have a keen insight and a gift with words. He observed the human experience almost as though detached from it, himself; from an outside perspective. He was then able to communicate those observations with simple language and wit, so that anyone could experience that point of view with him.

He was also a pioneer, I had the opportunity to meet him, briefly, at a book signing and reading in Dayton, Ohio, of all places, because he told us about it, personally, in his Usenet fan group. Before most people had ever heard of the internet, and before there were more than a few pages in the fledgling world-wide-web. He was an avid Apple fan and saw promise in the new electronic media before anyone else did. Hell, Wikipedia is basically the Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Mostly Harmless Edition.

It is a terrible shame and loss for all of us that he died so young, and perhaps also that he was not a very good writer. Not in the sense that what he wrote was in any way lacking, but he was notoriously horrible with deadlines and making himself write. I can relate to that. To quote Douglas, "I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they go by."

And so it is that we have so few of his works to remember him by. Quality over quantity, I suppose. Thanks, Douglas.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007
by Blob

Want to keep up with what tidbits I choose to share, but don't really care to see my Haiku of the Day clogging up your RSS reader? Fear not, gentle reader. I have created an alternate feed that you can use. It filters out those annoying little poems and leaves you with the pure, unadulterated drivel you've come to expect.

Let it never be said that I am not a benevolent webmaster.

Friday, August 31, 2007
by Blob

Wherein I continue to put way too much effort into this little blog.

So, I have decided to join Twitter. Not so much because I intend to use it with great frequency, but more because I was hoping that its interface would let me follow my friends' twitter conversations more easily. (It does, but only marginally) I have now had 50 attempts to post a tweet fail unceremoniously on the Twitter site today (literally; I was trying to post something to the effect of '3/x posts successful; that's not too bad', increasing x with each failure), so I'm not enjoying it a whole lot right now. Is there a better way to post tweets?

As such, I wanted to put a "recent tweets" bit on the ol' main page just so's I could keep track of them, be reminded to tweet, and let people know that I'm there. And since I was going to put that on the right side of the screen, I might as well put up the recent comments as well, so you (read: I) can see at a glance if there's any scintillating wit that requires your (my) attention.

And, as long as I had the guts out, I might as well make a few more changes. First, you can now add your own website address when you comment. Your name in your comment will link people back to you. Second, and more importantly, if you use the "remember me" cookie, you will now only have to defeat the captcha once. Hopefully that won't lead to abuse, but if it does, I have a solution in mind.

And that's it for the Ch-ch-changes. Let me know if you see any rendering weirdness with the new right sidebar or any bugs and I'll try to straighten them out. Unless you're using Internet Explorer.

Monday, August 27, 2007
by Blob
Monday, August 27, 2007
by Blob

You know, I have not once written about last year's birthday present, even though it's kind of a big deal.

I learned to ride and subsequently bought a motorcycle. If you can get in on the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's Basic Rider Course in your area, I highly recommend it. I believe it was $25 here (partially state subsidized), and consisted of two (or three?) evenings of classroom instruction, followed by a weekend of riding on motorcycles they provide. As fuel prices continue to increase, it's worth looking into, and it's just plain fun. Plus, assuming you pass, you get a certificate and just go in and pick up your motorcycle endorsement; no state riding test required. And, some insurance companies will reduce your rate for having taken it.

I'm not much built for the sport bike, so I got a baby cruiser, a Kawasaki Vulcan 900. It was pretty much the sweet spot for my first bike, in my estimation. Enough power that it'd be fun to ride even after I gained confidence, but not so much that it would be hard to handle while learning. I've put 4500 miles on it in my first year, and it's a lot of fun and economical; 50 MPG (unless I'm riding with my speed demon brother).

So, for my impending 0x24th birthday, how could I possibly top that, you might ask?

Well, I couldn't really; not while avoiding bankruptcy. But, my fascination with guitars, always present, has been growing exponentially with the release of the Guitar Hero games. I'm pretty darned good at it. I'm not quite up to the level of those guys on YouTube who can five-star Bark at the Moon on expert with their backs to the screen, but I can pass it pretty routinely; the same with Free Bird.

I've had access to an acoustic for a while, and I piddle around with it occasionally, but what I want is to rock \m/. And for that, you need a solid-body electric. Yes, yes, blah, blah, "you should learn on an acoustic first, it will reinforce good habits that will serve you well in the future." Whatever. I've had trouble finding people to play my drums with, so I figure I'll just record my own damn drum tracks and lay guitar licks over the top. So myeh. Of course, I have to learn to play said licks first.

In pursuit of that dream, I decided I wanted an electric for my birthday. Since I'm just learning, and there's a chance that I may lose interest, or whatever, I didn't want to drop a truckload of money on a guitar/amp, so I was looking at the budget models. The two biggest names in guitars, Fender and Gibson have their budget brands, Squier and Epiphone, respectively. So, I was looking at the Squier Stratocasters and the Epiphone SGs and Les Pauls. I had, without touching any of them, pretty well decided I was going to get a Squier Strat in the $200-250 range. They had decent reviews on the Guitar Center site, so I felt I'd probably be happy, at least while I was learning.

Well, this weekend, finding ourselves with a Sunday afternoon free, we decided to head up to our local Guitar Center to check 'em out. Not planning to buy yet, just trying to nail down the budget. I was dismayed to see that they didn't have many of the Squier Strats out and available to sample. I played a couple of the bottom-of-the range examples, the "Affinity" series, and even without much in the way of experience, I didn't really like the feel of them. I can't say why, but I just wasn't impressed. The Epiphone Les Paul was better, but not really my style. I did manage to play What Can I Get Ya: The Stargate Cafe Theme Song in the store several times, though, which is fun. Particularly while other people are busting out thick blues riffs and metal numbers.

So we left and went to Sam Ash, which was nearby. They had a beautiful blue Fender Strat, used, with a custom bottom pickup, for $299. I played it for a few minutes and fell in love. It sounds great (to me, at least), it felt good, it was close to what I was planning to spend on a lesser guitar, so I was pretty much sold. Since it was used, and it might not be there in two weeks for my actual birthday, we decided to snatch it right then and there. Also picked up a used cheapo amp with some built in effects (which is the one I tried out the guitar with), cable, and stand. I took it home and played for a couple of hours until it was time to go record the Volcanicast.

I can't wait to get home and play it some more. Hopefully I'll pick it up near the same rate I did with the drums, in which case I'll be almost useful in a few months.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007
by Blob