23 September 2010

[liff] Building Your Own Solar Oven

2496.We were, yesterday, introduced to the world of solar cookery, which sounds kind of funny here in gray, rainy Oregon, but it can be done.

Those looking for it may have seen, betimes, an ad for a "Build Your Own Solar Oven" class held at Lents Park. After missing a whole bunch of dates, me and The Wife" finally managed to make one, at Lents Park, yesterday.

The idea of a solar cooker is simple and one might imagine, as old as sunlight - or at least as old as kids cooking bugs under a magnifying glass. Sunlight is energy that has been used for heating things for a very long time now, and the solar cooker does just this; by collecting and concentrating sunlight in a small insulated space, you cause the temperature in a small chamber to rise and this ambient heat provides surprisingly sufficient cooking temperatures for food preparation.

The design is actually a rather common one. Take a regular cardboard box, 20 x 14 x 12. Leave the top open. Construct a high back and sides for the opening, coated in aluminum foil; this is your collector field, and operates surprisingly well (remember, angle of incidence = angle of reflection - you don't have to have a fancy parabolic reflector or anything). These surfaces reflect enough light into a smaller, foil-lined box within this bigger box (the space around serves as insulation) to, once this light is received and reflected about by the smaller cavity, to raise the air temperature in the smaller cavity to 200F or even more.

There are some catches, naturally. For best effect, you have to keep the box turning to catch the full light of the sun; cook times are longer, and these things don't work so well at night. But it's a fun project, and there's a sense of self-sufficiency you get from doing it off the grid, as it were.

The teacher, a delightful woman named Dawn Starr (appropos, no?) walked us through it step by step, giving us encouragement and enthusiasm throughout. We could have bought a kit somewhere I suppose, but having an experienced and downright perky hand guide us along really made it more of a fun event. There was another person there, a retiree fellow who spends a lot of time in Arizona, so he's going to be able to make mad use of this stuff, yeah.

This is good stuff to know, whether you just like to play with it, if you're the type who digs autarchy, or just wonders how you're going to make it through the first few days after The Change happens.

You can get information from Dawn at her website, http://buildasolaroven.com/. Nice lady!

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20 September 2010

[funnay] The Perfect Talk-Like-A-Pirate-Day Accessory

2496.The iPatch.

My take on a joke I don't doubt others have made ... but this is my blog, so suck it, world!

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17 September 2010

[comic_art] The Donna Barr Trade School

2495.Heavens, I wish I could take advantage of this &

If you give any sort of a care about comics, you've got to love Donna Barr's work. She's someone I'm going to cite as an influence when I finally get famous.

This, as far as I'm concerned, is a non-negotiable. Her work - Stinz and The Desert Peach - are legends and if you don't know them, chummie, you have some amazing and excellent comic reading ahead of you. Intellectually and emotionally challenging, which characters you'll never forget. Do as I say and go get them, thanks.

If you ever wanted to learn how to do it from the master, or a master, it's hard to get an introduction. Well, chummie, here's your chance.

Donna will, if I read the linked post correctly, teach you what she knows about story, art, making and selling fantastic comics for $4500. That's the whole tuition. And if you think that's too much, my friend, then you haven't priced an art school lately. Anything like this worth having is worth paying for, and if I had $4.5K, I'd already be there. At $4.5 Kilobucks, it's a freakin bargain.

It's like having Stephen Hawking teach you physics in return for a nice dinner, if the price/value thing still hasn't sunk in.

And anybody can do it, really ... she'll teach you in person or via intartube.

If I had the money, I'd be doing it, If you have the money, well ... you go do it, you lucky primate. The link is here:

THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY: The Donna Barr Trade School

Now, you know what to do!

If you don't have the scratch, just go to to http://www.desert-peach.com/ to view the art and get that inspiration.

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16 September 2010

[OR_liff] Chris Dudley/Mac Tonight - Separated At Birth?

2494.My sad little brain, subjected to way too many of the Dudster's web ad placements, drew the connection. Just a matter of time, I suppose, but it seems to me that there's a family resemblance between Oregon's GOP candidate for Governor and McDonald's advertising mascot from 1988.

Long lost brothers, or Chris' early acting career?

You be the judge.

Chris: time to get a different ad, dude.

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15 September 2010

[liff] The Tom Peterson Watch Takes Seattle, Part 3: The Amtrak Cascades

2493.This is a chapter in a story that was continued from here.

We stood at the doorway to something I'd never done before; taking a train. I was excited, and The Wife™ was excited for me, as this is something she'd got to do, but never me.

My expectations were a little high, and swathed as I was by the nostalgic atmosphere of Portland's justly-renowned Union Station, I was in high spirits as we were finally admitted out the door. The air of nostalgic near-luxury faded away pretty quickly however: approaching the train, as modern as it was, as something of a slog.

It was memorable in its tedious way counting down the cars til we came to ours. We were in car 8.

I just didn't know what to expect. But, despite the spare nature of walking up to the train (I mean, I knew there wasn't any such thing as a docking tube ... but wouldn't that have been awesome) my excitement was still pretty solidly there. I like the feeling of putting myself in the hands of a trusted crew, of being whisked to another destination without having to worry about my car breaking down enroute. In my mind, I was that seasoned train traveller out of the 1940s, with a felt fedora and a natty suit, and The Wife™ was dressed something like a sophisticated noir chick.

Trains are awesome that way.

Actually, another thing that was awesome was the interior of the train itself. it was one of those Talgo trains, and the inside reminded me of an airliner cabin - at least the few times in my life I've been on one of those.

Tom found it, of course, perfect:

We sat in our assigned seats, putting the seat and row slips in the clip over where we were. This was something I didn't expect, but it makes sense ... that way nobody sees your empty seat and helps themselves to it. And that was important since, as the engineer said, the train was booked solid.

There was several minutes of everyone arranging themselves, people finding seats, and playing with the tray table, until - with a inside-thrill - we got started.

The common thing between Portland leaving and Seattle arriving is that both routes start out of industrial areas. Portland's, you probably all know. But the juxtaposition of natural splendor and industrial flats always gives the eye a feast, in my opinion.

You can have your own opinion. It'd be wrong, of course, but you're welcome to it.

The train's progress over the Willamette gave me a unique perspective on the Saint Johns Bridge:

... which arched in guardian splendor off to the north. The train then cruised through the cut through the North Portland peninsula; I remember chattering some small talk about how these are the memories that make a lifetime with my wife, the modest ones in interesting circumstances; the train proceeded over the might Columbia, with the Interstate Bridge and Wy'East in the distance on one side ...

... Mt Hood is a little tough to see in this resolution, but it's there, trust me ... and the Vancouver port on the other side ...

... and, after a stop at Vancouver's Amtrak station, the trip really begun in earnest. Here was Terra-still-Incognita for me, and the beginning of a three-hour journey along the rails of western Washington.

My love wondered if it were possible to buy a ticket just from Portland to Vancouver. I have found out that this is indeed possible.

The Amtrak fare from Portland to Vancouver is $14.

The trip takes 15 minutes.

Slightly less than a dollar a minute - isn't that absurd?

I should have had the camera snap a few more pix along the way, I know. The interior of Western Washington, though, is something I've seen before, and I was getting into seeing the same sights I usually saw from I-5 though from the train. It, like western Oregon, is miles and miles of pleasant green, small houses on big farms, pleasant countryside. It was beautiful though unremarkable, though this is the area I've lived in all my life, so, perhaps I could be forgiven a sort of jadedness ... but make no mistake about it, I may take it for granted, but I love it more than life itself sometimes. I've seen some other areas of the USA, and ours is a beautiful country, but Cascadia beats them all.

The stop in Centralia was charming. The town sits astride the tracks and the station is in the middle of downtown, looks like those stations, say, President Truman or Roosevelt might have done a whistlestop at, and a very charming painting of the old Hotel Centralia on a wall visible from the train.

Electric lights, steam heat, and a horse-drawn hack to meet all trains. They sure know how to treat the traveller, in Centralia.

The train stopped at Kelso, Centralia, and Olympia/Lacey before breaching the Puget Sound. Centralia was the only real preposessing stop - the rest seemed unremarkable and forlorn, especially Olympia's, which was located on Yelm Hwy some miles southeast of Olympia. I was hoping for a look at Oly's Capitol building, but that was not to be. Soon enough - and it's a good thing because the rushing greenery was actually contributing to The Wife™'s motion sickness (not Amtrak's fault - she's just prone to that, poor dear, always has been) we saw the Sound.

I always thought Puget Sound was one of the coolest things going. It's like being at the ocean without having to go to the ocean; the sea comes to you. And I love the scent of a sea breeze. And the geography of the Puget has always enthralled me. I love the quirky little islands, all of which have some sort of a ferry landing.

The Saint Johns Bridge isn't the only suspension span you get to see from the train. The rail goes along that long sweep of curved coastline along the back side of Tacoma, and you get marvelous views of the now two-span Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

The old one has that Golden Gate Bridge feel, and the new one has that modern, spare, almost Swiss feel to it. I understand the newer one is a toll bridge, which frets me; I've lived too long in Oregon, I suppose, where there's no toll roads to speak of although, I understand, some misguided souls are working to change this. We should hope that they do not succeed. But I do digress, don't I?

Rounding the top of the peninsula Tacoma's built on, We finally get our first look at Mount Rainier ... and if you didn't know you were in Seattleland yet, doubts come removed right here.

There's a massiveness to all Cascade volcanoes that I just can't capture with my little ol' faithful Plastic Fantastic. But I wasn't struck by anything so much as how Rainier loomed, dominated its landscape, even across an industrial district.

I adore Hood, but a little corner of my mind wishes she were more like Rainier. Washington got all the really good mountains, including the one that blew up. Say lavee, as the Frenchies say.

Sidling along Tacoma's downtown we go between the commercial center on the right and the dockland flats which is on the left. Connecting them is this nifty cable-stay bridge, which carries S. 11th Street (if my Tacoma geography is correct) over one of the industrial waterways:

The train then carries us a little south and east of downtown, as the station is near the Tacoma Dome, and then southeast toward Puyallup, thence north through the Duwamish River valley into the south side of Seattle. I saw us passing up what looked like Amtrak stations but which, I found out later, were actually Seattle's LINK light rail stations, and affording at least one more magnificent view of a magnificent mountain:

... and that's all I have for now.

But, before I leave off, riding the train was a fun experience. I enjoyed the strangely-organized space, the interiors that felt like an airplane ... the restrooms were more comfortable than I expected, the tray-tables less. While we had food available on the train, it was kind of pricey, so we brought along peanut butter for her, potted meat for me, tortillas, and made ourselves little rollups right there in our seats.

Travel food never tasted so good. And, yes, I like potted meat. All I'll say about that, right now, is that you know what you think Spam is? This is what it really is. I can't explain why I like it ... but I do.

But however you do it, travel on a train with your love. You'll never regret it.

To be continued.

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10 September 2010

[liff] Walter Mosley's "This Year You Write Your Novel"

This brilliant little book is what I'm cruising through right now.

I have long fancied myself a writer of some sort. So far, it's just a diary, but I've thought I could write science fiction.

I'm not ashamed of being a genre reader. I read what pleases me.

I don't know if I have a novel in me, but if I do, this just might coax it out of me. Less than 25,000 words, conversationally-written (but not too familiar), frank without being blunt, no nonsense. And it suggests just what the title says; a program through which you can produce a solid, durable if not spectacular (and no guarantees that it'll sell - it's how to write your novel, not how to sell it) mid-size novel.

I highly recommend it. If it don't get the novel out of you, it'll make you a better reader, anyway.

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[design] The Peril Of The Unsolicited Submission

And now a little cautionary tale designed to explain why unsolicited submissions are something you shouldn't attempt without a lot of thought. The standard I am not a lawyer disclaimer applies.

If you want to, fine. But understand that assuming a contract where none exists may burn you in the end.

A few days ago, this story (http://mddailyrecord.com/2010/09/02/appeals-court-revives-suit-over-ravens%E2%80%99-first-logo/) caught my eye and it occurred to me that this could be a major teachable moment. In it, if I'm reading this correctly, in 1995, a security guard designs a new logo for his favorite team, the NFL's Baltimore Ravens, and faxes it in, unsolicited.

His requirements are reportedly quite modest. The payment requested: a team helmet, and a signed letter.

The Ravens used his logo from 1996-1998 and, apparently, did not compensate him adequately - because he took them to court over using it. A variety of rulings have largely confirmed the creators copyright, but for one clear instance in which it was found that the use details team history and is therefore fair-use. It doesn't look like he's gotten much, if anything, in actual damages, and has presumably spent a great deal of time in court and engaging legal counsel.

It was obviously worth it to this creator. Doesn't sound like a lot of fun to me.

Big companies, in the main, are leery of the unsolicited submission. It's not because they're evil, necessarily, but it's too easy for someone to see the gist of their unsolicited submission in the work product from that point forward to take the risk. That path leads to court, and nobody really wants to go there.

Independent designers should be wary of sending in what's not asked for. Companies are not necessarily evil, as above, but sometimes the urge to use a cool thing seen in the mails just might be too tempting.

A good, reasonably ethical company will have strong guidelines about unsolicited submissions. A good example that goes the extra mile is the policy for Apple, which can be found at http://www.apple.com/legal/policies/ideas.html. Essentially what is says is that Apple doesn't accept unsolicited submissions:
Apple or any of its employees do not accept or consider unsolicited ideas, including ideas for new advertising campaigns, new promotions, new or improved products or technologies, product enhancements, processes, materials, marketing plans or new product names. Please do not submit any unsolicited ideas, original creative artwork, suggestions or other works (“submissions”) in any form to Apple or any of its employees. The sole purpose of this policy is to avoid potential misunderstandings or disputes when Apple’s products or marketing strategies might seem similar to ideas submitted to Apple.
Cut and dried. But Apple, knowledgable as to how admired a company it is generally, also realized that some people won't take a preemptive no for an answer, even after you tell them why. Further along, the policy provides that if you continue, despite being told a firm no, to submit your ideas to Apple, you have essentially given it to them to do with as they wish.

Any intellectual property agreement between parties such as this has to be a meeting of the minds in order to really work for all. A company such as Apple (or the Ravens) are not obliged to give you their time and consideration regardless of how much you love them. Plying such companies with unsolicited ideas amounts to trying to force them, unilaterally, into a contractual arrangement they had no chance to review before even being broached, and regardless of anyone's view of the corporate world, this just doesn't seem fair on any level.

And if you want to think of it in terms of the individual's rights - this attitude protects both sides. The company protects itself, and the integrity and ownership of your own ideas is protected at the same time ... unless you want to go to the wall with Apple (for example) about it.

I know, it's tempting to salute your favorite company/sports team/whatever with expressions of love such as unsolicited designs. If you have one cued up on the table, ready to send out, my advice is ... don't. You can buy an Apple product, or attend a Ravens game if you want to show appreciation.

Besides, if you have that much creative animation, you can probably come up with amazing designs of your own, and do the freelance thing to some sort of good result.

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02 September 2010

[liff] The Tom Peterson Watch Takes Seattle, Part 2: We Reach Union Station

Continued from here.

We now have reached the MAX Green Line station, and we must change modes.

I see a lot of carping, but you know, when you use it ... it just makes so much sense. And it works so well. It's a quick walk from the MAX stop in front of the Greyhound depot over to the front door of Union Station. And our planning is on point - we arrive about 250 feet from the front door of Union Station with a bit more than an hour to spare.

The Greyhound buses congregate between that funky barrier ... and I regard it with some wistfulness, as I know we'll be back there, in about 30 hours' time.

The Wife™ insisted I get a photo of this:

... which is one of the seemingly endless condo projects going up in NW Portland, because she thought the porta-johns up there on the corner of the top floor was funny.

I guess you'd call that toilet humor?

Correction 10-Sep-2010 0929: in the comments, commenter Ben mentioned that that's not a new condo tower but something much more estimable: the Housing Authority of Portland's Resource Access Center, which you may find out about at http://www.hapdx.org/resourceaccesscenter/. Thanks for the correction and the great info, Ben!

Just across NW Irving Street from the station property itself is a big nifty looking bit of public art, which seems to speak to the fact that everything in these few blocks of NW Portland have to do with timing, in one way or the other.

I thought it a sundial at first, but the big clock-face is actually the backrest to a chair-like affair, that allows you to sig back and look right through a big circular hole in that screen-like affair, right at the clock in the Union Station tower. So that's rather witty, actually.

Having certain things around, you tend to take them for granted. We all adore the Benson Bubblers, and all the public fountains installed since the originals echoing their look and feel. It reminded me how good they are - and how rare it is to expect to see them in any American city - when me and The Wife™ espied what was obviously a dad taking a picture of his wife and daughters all taking a drink in unison. I caught them (apparently them not realizing I was doing so) just after they broke formation.

As I intimated elsehwere, there is ineffable hilarity in observing the observers observing something, and this was no exception.

But, when it comes to public fountains, PDX rocks. And always will.

Now, at this point I always go for that "postcard" picture. Here's this one's:

Perfect, yes? Yes. And, of course, rights are up for sale ... Man, I tell you, I should have been a photographer.

For pay, I mean.

As long as I have Tom Peterson along for the ride, let's see how he feels about it:

Judging from the beatific smile, we can only assume that Tom is pleased too. But then, Tom is always upbeat.

It was getting close to departure time and as we arranged our tickets, I noticed that there was much activity at the front doors ... a flock of hacks pertaining.

Black and yellow, red and white. No black and white though. Now, perhaps Union Station's biggest reason for being is, indeed, the historic architecture, which pretty much wraps you up in charming, city-to-city train times, almost from before you enter. I enjoyed the sign:

... but not as much as I enjoyed the interior, with its dark, cool, cavernousness. This must be a fine place to work when it's hot. And all the old-fashioned details, the arches in the architecture, the old-style signs. It is a very seductive atmosphere leading us jaded moderns to charming if predictable thoughts of what it must have been like before interstates and suchlike.

Now this is the point where my meagre photography skills (and my equally-meagre camera) do not quite measure up to the demands of the environment. The pictures are a little blurry because of the low light levels and the need to hold that camera still, but they'll always remind me of a very pleasant hour ... well, except for the line to the train, which I didn't like much. But Union Station is a treasure, and we're lucky to have it, because this is one of those buildings that they got right the first time.

Something that I found curious was there were only three gates to the trains - but they weren't gates 1, 2, and 3; they were gates 6, 7, and  8. Judging by the interior structure, gates 1-5 used to be in the wing that goes around the far side of the gift shop, which forms a passthrough to the restrooms and (I was surprised to find) business suites as you go down through that segment of the building.

We walked to the train through gate 6, and people leaving the trains came in through gates 7 and 8. Lots of bikes - was pleased to find out how far you can get with a train and a bike here in Cascadia.

What really made me smile, though, was the neon signs along the sides. Beautiful, bright, old-fashioned signs that pointed the way, and charmed me to the soles of my feet.

Now that is old-fashioned class. As is the ticketing counter, with its arrivals/departure board, maintained, as it is clear, in the old fashioned way.

Aw, yeah, people in transit. Wish we had more trains.

Is this how railfannage begins?

From here, we boarded our train into the great beyond ... which is detailed in the next chapter.

To be continued.

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[design] Adobe Illustrator Ninja Moves

Because there can never be too much hintage and tippage for Adobe Illustrator, here's an article which deeply impressed me by Mordy Golding at CreativePro.com that everyone should bookmark:


Pretty much is what it says. Really quickly though, there's a toolbox of little things that become good habits … making selections, stacking order, selecting … most appropriate!

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