Red Echo

December 30, 2011

Thinking about projects for next year

When I got in to work this morning, the office was dark and there was nobody around. Google apparently considers both New Year’s Eve *and* New Year’s Day to be holidays, and since those events fall on weekend days this year, we end up with a four-day weekend. Well, okay. I did a little work but it’s hard to get much done when there is nobody around to review your code.

I’m back home now, thinking about walking over to ALTSpace to do some more work on the dress for Jeanine. I brought a muslin down to Sacramento for an in-person fitting, and it came out reasonably well. I had to add another bust dart and take in the existing one, but overall size and style worked out nicely.

I spent some of the long hours on the drive home thinking about the projects I want to work on in the upcoming year. As far as Burning Man goes, I haven’t thought much about whether I’ll go, but in any case it seems like a good year to avoid getting involved in a big project. I have a few mid-sized projects that have been rolling around in the back of my head for a few years, and this might be the summer to tackle them.

Specifically, I’m still thinking about that laser angel costume. After doing the motorcycle seat last summer, I feel confident I can handle the leather sewing involved in the armor pieces, and after a year’s worth of high-current LED projects I have some new ideas for the lighting effects. I’ve also learned how to work with laser-cut acrylic, which could add a lot of sparkle and shape to the design.

The other project vying for priority is the Playa-Time clock system. I think I would try to recruit a group to help me build this one, since it’s very much the sort of work that can be parallelized. Besides, it somehow seems fitting that a custom time zone for the playa ought to be created by a group rather than an individual.

December 25, 2011

Christmas with family in California

I’ve come down to Sacramento for the annual family Christmas. Ava brought her cat, Oedipuss, whose curiosity and positive attitude make a well-tempered traveler. We had Christmas dinner on the 23rd, as has become usual for us; there are many other families tied in to ours now and it’s easier for us to shift back a day than for all of those others to accommodate us.

Mom hosted the dinner but we all produced it – different people took on each course. Ava and I stopped at the Pike Place Market on the way out and picked up a whole steelhead, which we baked with dill and lemon. Others prepared an onion-mushroom consomme, kale-pomegranate salad, roast ham – I can’t even remember all the courses. It’s really nice to watch the family grow up and continue to become more a small community of adults and less a mob of children. Reminds me a little of my burner community in Seattle…

We’ll be visiting in Sacramento for a couple more days. We don’t have much planned but I’m sure we will find ways to hang out with family. This afternoon I took a nap on my mom’s living room floor and now we’re doing the laptop zombie line on the couch with Carolyn and Jeanine. Come to think of it, this might be a good time to make Jeanine try on that muslin I mocked up and see about adjusting its fit.

George R. R. Martin knows what he is doing. A couple of chapters after I nearly threw the whole story out in disgust, a trip east to check in on Daenerys went surprisingly well. She has her travails, of course, but I’ve begun to wonder whether her branch of the story – largely disconnected from the rest – was included specifically to give the reader a break from the misery of self-immolating Westeros.

December 21, 2011

I started reading George R. R. Martin’s unfinished seven-volume series “A Song of Ice and Fire” a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve made it part way through book three, “A Storm of Swords”. The first book was delightful; the writing sparkled, and it’s always fun to discover a well-imagined fantasy world. As the story has unwound, though, it has become almost unbearably grim, a relentless litany of betrayal and misfortune, and I’m not sure I will bother to finish it.

The dark tone may be a function of the story’s great length, as book three is only approaching the middle of the tale, and one expects the tension to build up toward some climax. There’s a flow to a good story, like there’s a flow to music. You build up to a small peak, ebb back for a rest, build up to a bigger peak, ebb back again, until you push across the crest, then all the threads of the tale cascade together as you ride down the far side.

In “Song of Ice and Fire”, though, there’s plenty of tension, but never a moment to stop and breathe. Every glimpse of apparent peace just sets someone up for a new betrayal; every near accomplishment is merely preparation for a greater catastrophe. I find myself detaching from the characters, unable to care about their troubles and hopes, because the author seems determined to inflict so much pain on them that there will be nothing left to celebrate when the conflicts are finally resolved.

Part of what made the first book so much fun was the strength of the author’s novel perspective on the whole fantasy-adventure idea, but it’s come to seem less like he’s reinventing fantasy and more like he’s simply demolishing it. Let go of romance, he seems to say, let go of all those pretty myths; forget all those notions about the Knights of the Round Table. Let me show you what it’s really like. It was fun, at first, but it’s grown stale. The misery has become predictable and is no longer interesting, and I’m growing impatient for the payoff. What is it I’m supposed to be enjoying about this story? Why should I slog through thousands more pages of this if the characters I like are only going to fail, suffer, and die? If the author wants to keep the story going he needs to start throwing in some surprises where things actually go right for a change.

I’ve started using a new Galaxy Nexus phone in place of the old Blackberry Curve I got from Ava. The touchscreen keyboard is better than I expected. It’s still weird not to be able to feel the button click, but the touch pads are much bigger than the physical keys I’m used to, so it’s not actually any harder to hit the letters I aim for. I’ve stuck with the Blackberry this long largely because I didn’t like the idea of a touchscreen, but it’s really not so bad.

December 20, 2011

In honor of Kim Jong-il’s passing, here’s a retrospective gallery of DJ Dear Leader’s most memorable performances.

December 14, 2011

This enormous digital clock kit looks like it would make a good base for the “playa-time” project I’ve been wanting to set up at Burning Man some year. 9.4″ x 2.7″ is pretty big – it’d be easy to see, even up on a 10′ pole.

December 8, 2011

I like psychedelic trance music. I like it a lot. I listen to hours of it every day at work, in fact, and have done so for years. I used to maintain a constantly growing collection of albums, but these days I mostly just listen to Radio Progressive or Divbyzero.

A friend with similar tastes related a conversation he had with his wife. “Why do you like psytrance so much?”, she asked; “it’s so driving and repetitive!”. “Exactly-” he replied, “it’s so driving and repetitive!”

Good psytrance really is driving and repetitive, but that’s just the foundation. The steady pulse of the 4/4 kick and the robotic throb of the rolling 16th-note bassline that define the style free the composer up to go completely nuts in the higher registers. When it’s really hitting the mark it feels you are riding some giant machine, surfing on a railway engine as it roars down the track. Underfoot it’s massive power and rumbling vibration, overhead it’s all lightning and meteors, a crackling network of interlocking arpeggios hissing and sparking and melting together. It’s power and clarity and unstoppable energy, and at its best it completely swallows you up.

Of course all music ebbs and flows, but the most satisfying moments when listening to psytrance are the points where it feels like the music has found a steady state: the entire sonic spectrum is full, the machine is powered up and roaring away, throttle wide open. I stand in front of the PA system and it feels like standing in the waves at the beach – endless, they roll in, lift you up, push you back, pull you forward, and all you can do is ride.

December 6, 2011

I was rummaging through my fabric bins hoping for inspiration on Saturday and saw a small piece of some quilted material, a cotton/dacron/cotton sandwich, left over from a pair of pants I made several years ago. The idea of a short vest for Ava popped into mind, and I proceeded to stitch it up, using a bit of embroidered silk for collar trim. It’s a neat little high-waisted thing, lined, with four silver buttons and an inner pocket. I’ll try to get a picture later, if I can convince Ava to model it. A quick, simple project was a nice break after the highly technical ski pants.

December 4, 2011

Ava and I are going to get a little Christmas tree later tonight – we’re planning to put it on our coffee table. I spent a couple of hours with a soldering iron this afternoon getting ready, and now we have a ten-foot string of animated lights to wrap around it. Yes, that’s right: each light is driven by its own 20 MHz RISC processor. Technological overkill? Certainly – but it was also cheaper than running them all on a single controller would have been.