red echo

A web journal by Mars Saxman

December entries

Archived Entries for November, 2006

November 30, 2006

That's it - all packed, all prepared, all ready. It's time to shut down the computers and head for the airport. Back in January!

I've turned off the webcam, powered down my music gear, and signed out of dodgeball. My clothes are neatly piled on my chair, and all my other travel gear is laid out on the couch. I'm going over to the copy shop to print out my itinerary and the directions to my sister's place in Granada. I still have to pick out some books, pack my flight bag, stuff everything else into my backpack, pay next month's rent, switch Red Echo over to December's blogger page, shut down my computers, turn off the heat and lights, turn off my phone, and drop my keys off with the neighbor who will be picking up my mail while I'm gone.

Rummaging through my closet, I actually had the thought pass through my head: “should I bring my laser?” Perhaps it is a small sign of maturity that I allowed the thought to continue right along without stimulating action.

November 29, 2006

FedEx just brought a 10"x8"x6" cardboard box, containing mostly wadded-up paper. At the bottom of the box sat a 7"x5"x1" plastic package, sealed shut in that annoying way that requires a razor knife to open. Inside the plastic package was a little plastic carrier, about two inches square by 3/8" thick. At the center of the matreshka, at last, was the 1"x1 1/4"x1/16" memory card I ordered. Capacity, 2 GB: my camera thinks it will be able to take almost 1400 pictures. I think that should be enough for a month away.

Just got La Bête back from my new mechanic, Car Tender, on 12th. Turns out I need a new set of tires. I distinctly recall suggesting this as a possibility when I first asked British Auto Center to look into the steering-shimmy problem back in the spring - but no, no, they insisted, it was the pitman arm, the steering damper, the ball joints, the... Oh well. No more British Auto Center. Why did it take me this long to notice that there was a perfectly adequate Rover shop five minutes' walk from home?

November 28, 2006

Dinner at the Elysian with Kevin, Erica, Laura, Geoff, Brady, and Jen

November 27, 2006

The older half-dozen of us are heading to Lake Tahoe after Christmas for a family ski trip - just kids, not our parents. I've gone skiing after Christmas with two of my brothers for the last couple of years, but this time Melissa, Julia, and Olivia will be going too - plus Julia and Andrew will be bringing their significant others. This is the first Christmas since our parents split up, and we're all interested in keeping the family connection going between us. I don't know that this ski trip will necessarily become a yearly event, but it feels good to be doing something on our own, taking the sense of family relationship for ourselves.

Of course skiing is all well and good, but I'm flying straight from Madrid to San Francisco instead of going home first, and I don't want to go hiking around Morocco with extra pounds of gloves, jackets, and other cold-weather gear I won't need in the desert. I've just packed everything up into a cardboard box and mailed it to my brother in Sacramento. For some reason I've given almost as much thought to the composition idea of the ski-gear box as I have to the bag of clothes I'll be taking to Morocco, and it's a big relief to have it sent away.

I've also made an appointment to get my car's slowly-leaking rear tire fixed - and not only that, I found a shop within walking distance that can do it. Between the tire, the headlight, the leaking sunroof, the broken heater, and a variety of irritating rattles and squeaks, I'm very frustrated with La Bête right now. I've entertained thoughts of going to a dealer tomorrow or Wednesday and selling her, then buying something newer when I get home. I don't really have time to pull it off, however, and it'll be nice to have a car when I get back so I can go join my friends for New Year's - seems everyone is going out to the islands this year. Oh, well - there will be plenty of time to worry about vehicles when I get back.

I'm excited about seeing my sister soon. I don't think we will have spent this much time together since she left for college, and we were less close back then. We communicate well and care a lot about each other - I think we'll make a good travelling team.

I'm not sure how I'm going to update Red Echo while I'm gone. I'm not bringing a computer, so I'll have to use whatever internet-cafe services I can find. That wouldn't be a problem except for the fact that I update this site by ssh'ing into the server and editing the pages with pico, and I doubt I can count on finding an ssh client at every random internet cafe in Morocco. If I can't come up with a more elegant solution, I'll just set up a blogger account and use it for all of December's posts, then fix the formatting when I get home.

Random selections from my closet which will not be accompanying me to Morocco:

  • Fitted, sleeveless black shirt
  • Black utilikilt
  • Calf-high burgundy Fluevog Angels
  • Striped, partially see-through black collared shirt
  • Silver leather bomber-style jacket
  • Aquamarine hot pants
  • Big fuzzy hooded coat with red fur trim
  • Tuxedo tails coat
  • Black leather pants

Where on earth did I leave my passport?

Forty minutes of searching later: Ah, of course, it's exactly where it's supposed to be. Why didn't I see it there the first time?

November 26, 2006

It's snowing here in Seattle, and just barely sticking - there's a thin, wet blanket of white over all the parked cars and roadside planter strips. The temperature dropped rapidly this afternoon, and the light rain that had been falling just got progressively slushier. Mmm. I think this is a good night for fuzzy slippers and a mug of hot chocolate.

La Bête's left headlight died last night. I was going to replace it this afternoon but the weather made that idea seem somewhat less than appealing. Instead, I went back to REI and bought a few things for my trip: a big nylon bag to wrap my backpack in so its straps and buckles don't get snagged during the flight, one of those secret wallets, a quick-drying towel... and those hiking shoes I looked at Friday. They're rugged enough that I should be able to walk everywhere in them, but just civilized enough that I won't feel like I need a second pair to wear in the city.

I put the Nomad Lounge tractor up on craig's list this afternoon, and it was gone two hours later. There are still some scraps of wood and pipe at Heden, but the tractor was the last big piece to deal with. It's nice to have that out of the way before departure.

November 25, 2006

Fall Line Winery

Tasting reds at Fall Line

Open house at Owen-Sullivan Winery

Making sushi dinner at the Roo Chalet

November 24, 2006

Zoom zoom zoom! I leave for Morocco in six days, and I'm feeling a steady buzz of excitement. I'm starting to do actual, concrete things to get ready. This afternoon I got my hair cut, bought a new, large-as-possible memory card for my camera, and went to REI hunting for some good light hiking shoes. I'll start packing tomorrow, or later tonight - not so much because I actually want to have stuff packed as because that's how I'll know if I'm missing anything. I think I have all the clothes I'm likely to need, though I'm not really sure what the weather is going to be like.

I spent the morning building a second edition of my tube lights as a gift for Adam and Janet. Their apartment is a nice, open-air sort of place, but since they just moved in it's a bit spare, and every Seattle home can use more light this time of year. Of course I learned a couple of things when I made the first one, so their version looks better, and now I want to go back and redesign my set to match...

The The Nagy Magical-Movable-Type Pixello-Dynamotronic Computational Engine is a gorgeous reimagination of the computer as a piece of turn-of-the-century furniture.

In a similar vein, this almost-incomprehensible machine-translated page has some great pictures of a neo-Victorian typewriter laptop.

November 23, 2006

November 22, 2006

The band has a name at last: we are Three Against One

Dinner with Adam and Janet

November 21, 2006

November 20, 2006

The dance music machine

I spent a few hours reorganizing my music setup this afternoon. All the hardware is assembled within arm's reach now, instead of being spread out across a desk and a table. I've also delegated all the monitoring and computer input/output functions to a new second mixer so that each looper track and drum machine output can have its own channel strip, with its own fader, EQ, and effects level.

November 19, 2006

Drinking coffee with Grandma

November 18, 2006

New accent lights

Yes, I know I said I wasn't going to build any more electronics projects until I got back from Morocco, but I think I can squeak this one by on a technicality: it contains no lasers, LEDs, or semiconductors of any kind, and is really more of an electrical than electronic device. Ahem. Er. Well, it's built now, anyway.

At my last cocktail party it would have been nice to have some softer lighting available in my living room than just the main room lights, which are bright white CFLs. I saw a writeup in Make a month or so back about The Tube Lamp, and thought its special elongated display bulbs looked cool. After turning it over in my head for a few weeks I thought up this design: one 15-watt bulb on each side of my long bookshelf, with a simple, classic porcelain base. They're daisy-chained so a single switch controls both. I think it has a nice retro look that goes well with the feel of the room.

November 16, 2006

November 15, 2006

I just bought my ticket from Madrid to Granada. I decided to head straight for Melissa's place instead of spending a day in Madrid decompressing first. We'll hang out for a short while in Granada, then head down the coast and hop on a ferry, probably in Algeciras.

It still remains to arrange some way home. Since we'll be meandering generally southwards, we thought we'd plan to fly out of Laayoune (or El-Aaiun), in Western Sahara; unfortunately the Royal Air Maroc web site is not really cooperating, so we haven't been able to buy tickets. Oh well, we'll work something out somehow.

Just a couple of weeks away now - I've been looking forward to this for months, but it's now close enough to be exciting.

Crystal and Mount Baker open tomorrow. Stevens opens Friday. Whistler opens Saturday. My friends, the ski season has begun.

I hadn't expected to do any skiing until January, but now I think I may squeeze one trip in before I leave. Yay for winter!

This is the kind of weather that reminds me what all those candles are for.

November 14, 2006

Some ingenious Guitar Hero fan built a custom controller out of a real guitar.

November 13, 2006

Just arrived: eight laser modules

I twisted my ankle pretty badly Saturday night, so I spent the day at my desk with my foot up on a box. Oh well - it's getting better, but it is impairing my ability to keep my apartment tidy.

Tonight I had another sewing class. I learned to make buttonholes and waistbands. The pants I'm making are almost finished now - all that's left are the hems. They're not the most elegant things ever, but for the first pattern I've ever made, they're not bad, and they will definitely be comfortable for lounging around in.

I think I'm done making electronics projects until I get back from Morocco. I'm not certain my self-control will sustain such a resolution, but I have plenty of other things to do in the next few weeks.

Today's batch of lasers, then, will have to wait until January. My plan is to mount them on a pair of fingerless gloves, one per finger, with the battery pack on a strap around my wrist. I got this idea from someone at Burning Man, who had taped one of those keychain laser pointers onto each finger; I think my version will be more comfortable.

November 12, 2006

Michael Holden's dog, Pixel

Last night was the Magnetic party, which was held at the Pacific Science Center. A bunch of us met up at Katie's place ahead of time, and I brought along some of my toys: Lars borrowed the laser backpack, NaFun took waterpack #4 (deep red), and Katie borrowed waterpack #3 (blue spirals). Lars' girlfriend Amy was going to wear my white fuzzy space-cowboy leggings with the blue lights, but they didn't really fit.

We arrived early, since we wanted to get there in time to see the butterfly exhibit, so it felt like the party took a while to get started. We wandered around and looked at the exhibits, attended a planetarium show, watched the robot dinosaurs - eventually we noticed the dance floors getting more crowded, the outfits getting more exotic, and the beats growing louder: by midnight it was fully on.

There were four different dance areas; I mostly stayed in the big trance room, which managed to feel full of people yet always big enough to move around.

The lights finally came up at around 4 AM, after the last DJ played through what felt like a solid 40 minutes of increasingly ostentatious build-ups, and a bunch of us dragged our tired and hungry selves over to Michael & Jen's place for a sprawled-out after party on the big heap of pillows in his living room.

Ahhh, it was fun. Good friends, good music, good dancing. I enjoyed seeing other people wearing my backpacks, for a change, and seeing how much attention they got from other people at the party. I never get to see them in action, since they're always strapped to my back. The blue-spiral waterpack #3 in particular does not look much like I expected it to. My new waterpack worked as well as I could have hoped; I'd like to make one minor change to the backpack harness, and move the power switch to the side, but aside from that it worked out really well.

November 11, 2006

Magnetic II, at the Pacific Science Center

November 10, 2006

The 555 timer chip is extremely versatile. Here's an explanation of its use as an astable oscillator, i.e. pulse generator, with some very helpful information about resistor and capacitor value selection. This calculator will pick out resistor and capacitor values given a frequency and duty cycle, or identify the time given values in ohms and farads.

November 9, 2006

My little red camera is back!

That was super rush priority, alright.

I finished the plumbing on waterpack #5 today. While at the aquarium store, picking up another handful of check valves, I got into a conversation about the project with the clerk. He understood exactly what I was trying to do and suggested using an air stone to break up the bubbles. It took a lot of careful poking and adjusting to fit the air stone stem, the check valve, and some tubing into the increasingly crowded space inside the backpack's electronics box, but it all went together eventually. The effect works: taking a pull on the drinking hose starts up a storm of bubbles which then fades away slowly as the pressure equalizes. The LEDs make the bubbles sparkle. It's pretty.

November 8, 2006

I finally heard back about the little red camera I sent off for service two months ago: something slipped between Glazer's and the repair shop, and they never started working on it. Agh! Well, it's on super rush priority now, so I should have it back no later than next week.

Waterpack #5 is coming along. I soldered together a permanent version of the flasher circuit I tried out yesterday, then carefully mounted 8 LEDs, the breadboard, a battery holder, a switch, and the water-hose flange in the little plastic box that will form the lower end of the backpack. My previous LED-based waterpacks have had the LEDs arranged across the bottle itself, with plenty of room to work; fitting all the parts into the cramped space this one offers is much trickier, but it eventually all went.

I'm not so happy with the strobe circuit now that it's all put together. It looked fine with two LEDs, but with all eight the flash seems to cancel itself out - you can't really tell it's even running. It's all put together now, which will make it hard to change anything, but I'm thinking about trying to swap out a couple of the resistors and slow the flash cycle down a bit.

Even if the strobe circuit doesn't really work out, though, this pack has a number of significant design changes that I am eager to test out. I still have to sew together a harness and install a check valve, but I'm far enough along that I'm sure it will be ready to try out at the Magnetic party this Saturday. There will be at least ten or twenty of us going, so I may try to loan out a few of my other packs for the evening.

November 7, 2006

A very late-night conversation during the Seacompression afterparty prompted the idea of strobing the LEDs in one of my waterpacks at a rate just above the persistence-of-vision threshold. When still, the lights would appear to be steady, but any movement by the observer or the wearer of the pack would make the light sparkle and flicker. Having a couple of unexpectedly free hours this evening, I decided to experiment with the classic two-transistor astable multivibrator circuit and see what combination of capacitor and resistor values would give me a useful flash rate. Despite the fancy name, this is a pretty straightforward circuit - in fact it is one of the first I ever built, with my dad's help, for a Halloween robot costume when I was 10 or 11. It didn't take long to get a pair of LEDs boinging away, and on the fourth try I got a flash rate that seems about right. Well, this will be an interesting experiment. I hope the flashing doesn't turn out to be annoying.

Voting day: all I can say is that absentee ballots are the way to go. Think and decide at leisure, with the awesome power of the Internet to help you work out all the details.

There isn't much I particularly care about in this election, but I am very glad that initiative 933 seems to be crashing. What an appalling mess that would have been!

November 6, 2006

This weekend was all about Seacompression. I had brunch over at ATC on Saturday, then launched into a full day of sewing and soldering. I wanted to wear something like my Halloween angel costume, but also wanted to wear my blue waterpack, so I ended up constructing a whole new set of leggings and arm-warmers out of vivid, royal-blue fur. This also gave me an excuse to try out some of the design improvements I've been wanting to make with the light-up leggings. Instead of relying completely on an elastic band around the top, I added a spandex liner, so it grips your leg from knee to ankle. I also simplified the electronics: instead of running lights around the entire hem, I just put them along one side, using half as many LEDs. I also eliminated the long (and fragile!) power wire by mounting the battery on the lower hem. An extra strip of webbing sewed in behind the velcro makes the cuff stiff enough that the battery doesn't swing around and smash into your ankle while dancing.

After finishing the last solder joint, I flew into my outfit, strapped on a bandolier and the holster-belt from my Burning Man “space cowboy” getup, and rocketed over to Heden in time to meet everyone before grouping up and heading over to the party.

The party was easy to find: drive into Sand Point and notice the big hangar on your left whose windows are throbbing with red and yellow light. The place was huge - big enough that hundreds of people had plenty of room to move around - but full of so much cool stuff that it didn't feel at all empty. Flight to Mars brought their art cars, the Space Virgins set up their big circular truss thing, there was a big chill area under a parachute full of cushions, there were art pieces everywhere - it was a great Burning Man microcosm (if you ignored how clean everything was).

So: danced til two, when the party shut down, then grouped back up and headed over to Michael Holden's new place in Magnolia for the after-party. It's quite a place; I don't think it's any bigger than his last house, but the layout is better, and it's a lot nicer. The party sprawled out all over both floors and into the hot tub in the back yard. The party didn't exactly ever end, so far as I can tell, but I made my way into a cab sometime after the sky started to get dark again and promptly went to bed.

So: yes. Good times. And I think I've finally found a solid design for the leggings: this is the third revision of the design, and after wearing them for 24 hours straight, I didn't find anything I really needed to change. Progress!

October entries

my face

Webcam: spy on me
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Elsewhere: tribe, myspace, livejournal, flickr, dodgeball

Current reading

Roughing It, Mark Twain
The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
The Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, John LeCarre
Vagabonding, Rolf Potts
Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe
Wanderlust, Rebecca Solnit

Catalog of my library
Suggest a book I might like