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Archive for April, 2010

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Expanded capabilities: As you can see, the latest upgrades of the Guide include the ability to control nearby Nutri-Matic dispensers and several settings that allow it to work in tandem with your shipboard computer. Most importantly, the latest Guide relieves you of the need to carry a separate Sub-Etha Sens-o-Matic, incorporating as it now does a lighted indicator of Sub-Etha reception plus a Thumb switch. Hitchhikers everywhere can now complain along with everyone else about how many bars they’re getting or not getting.

Safety and comfort features: When events become overwhelming you can now adjust the Perspective in your immediate vicinity to something a little more comfortably self-centered, or opt to “grey out” perception of the immediate future and its dangers by toggling Temporal Focus.*

The Guide’s latest edition also incorporates the mind-bogglingly successful “Somebody Else’s Problem” Field, which renders troublesome objects completely invisible with a flick of the switch.

And while the Guide’s location sensors are as powerful and accurate as ever, we realize that the modern hitchhiker may not always wish their exact location to be known. Thus we have added a Location obfuscator, which not only hides the user’s current position but actually represents the hitchhiker as being at another location, the randomness and distance of which are adjustable. In beta testing, our field researchers pronounced this their favorite feature.

Touch technology: While the expanded feature set has not reduced what some reviewers have called the “insanely complicated” appearance of the Guide, we have by popular demand retained the original message, so calming to generations of hitchhikers: “Don’t Panic.” Even these large friendly letters are improved, however, as you will see they are now raised in a smooth embossed plastic that is not only soothing to pet and stroke but also osmotically releases low-level endorphins.

* Note: These functions bear no similarity to products of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation and any suggestion to the contrary will be dealt with by our large and rapaciously effective legal department.

Graphic design by Sue Owen offered in tribute to Douglas Adams, who would have had the first iPad out of the box. He’d have loved it, wouldn’t he?

Short link for this entry: http://bit.ly/guidecover

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UPDATE: Well, it’s just as well my photo didn’t come out — it’s a copy of the flag that’s on display right now, as I learn is normal when the Lege is not in session. But I’m told the real flag is up at the Bullock museum. Revising my plans 🙂

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Actually, I went yesterday. But I wanted to get a photo of the San Jacinto battle flag, which I’m already at work making into one of my Texian Tees.  (Here’s a photo that’s better — or at least more brightly lit — than the one I got.)  It’s a good thing I went, though, because just a few hours later, I learned that the House chambers, where the flag hangs, will soon be closed until November as part of renovations to the Capitol.

I always love visiting the Capitol, and I particularly like it when there are schoolkids going through:

Half of ’em with their faces tilted back, looking up into the dome. This is what they’re seeing:


And I didn’t notice till I was going through my film that the star design way up there at the tippy-top is the star from the (disputed) De Zavala flag.  Which fact I’ve of course now retconned into the sales pitch for my De Zavala flag T-shirt! A lovely shirt in very soft navy-blue cotton; I’m wearing mine right now, in fact.

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I’m a big James Herriot fan, and thanks to the JamesHerriot.org Twitter feed, I recently learned that there’s a BBC 4 documentary — a good one, with modern-day interviews with all the actors plus lots of behind-the-scenes footage — available on YouTube about the making of the “All Creatures Great and Small” TV series. It’s split into parts One, Two and Three.

See “Boris” the hellion cat actually tear into the actors! (What an amazing example of an actress staying in character as the cat tears strips of skin off her back.) See “James” and “Helen” talk sweetly about their real-life romance!

Bonus: A 1985 news feature that visits the set during filming at the end of the third series, just as they ran out of original Herriot material and before they knew the show’s producer would persuade the veterinarian himself to let them continue by writing new material that didn’t come from his own life.

Second bonus: Here is the gag they played on actor Robert Hardy (Siegfried) once they found out they were going to be able to make a fourth series. Hardy believes they are filming a real episode as the cameras roll… Come to think of it, Hardy does a pretty spiffy job of staying in character here himself.

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Sewing is, by some estimates, 45,000 years old. Sewing is older than cloth, but not as old as clothes: First we wrapped ourselves in hides, then we tied the hides around ourselves with cords or sinews, and eventually we poked holes in the hides and started running cords through to hold the pieces together.

After another 5,000 years or so, we came up with needles. Another 10,000 years, and we started rolling fiber together in our fingers to make string. That gave us the basis for cloth, which we began weaving on looms about 27,000 years ago. We’ve had scissors for a couple thousand years.

IPads are about six minutes old. You can point an iPad at the night sky and it will recognize the stars and planets from your location and tell you which ones they are. Wouldn’t the cave people have loved it?

This week, an idea that’s at least a few centuries old helped me hand-sew a simple iPad sleeve. Saddlers and other leather-workers use a device called a stitching horse to clamp thick layers of leather together and hold them steady while they poke holes and stitch the leather. I wanted to make my iPad sleeve from 5mm neoprene, which is thick enough to mess up my sewing machine, and I foolishly decided to use a pretty, contrasting thread, which would really show my usually sloppy hand sewing.

It came out fairly even, though:

What I did was clamp on a couple slim pieces of wood, which held the thick fabric in place but also gave a straight edge to guide my needle. This is basically the clamp idea from the top of a stitching horse. (The stitching horse includes a stool or bench to sit on; a stitching pony is the same thing but without a place to sit; so I dub this … a stitching jenny!)

Basically, I cut a 10.5″ by 16″ piece of black neoprene, folded it in half to make a 10.5″ by 8″ rectangle and then sewed the two short ends closed.  (I learned, too late, the cheapest way to get a small piece of neoprene is probably to find and cut up an old laptop sleeve or wetsuit.)

I made my seams about a quarter-inch from the edge. Neoprene is stretchy, which gives you some margin for error in fitting around the device, but still, measure carefully. Another great thing about neoprene is you don’t have to finish or hem the edges, which makes this project real easy.

You can see there, the wood is thick enough you can kind of lay the needle flat along it. This means you’re coming in at the same angle, along the same line, every time, which helps a lot. I did a simple running stitch all along one side (like this: —   —   —   —   –) and then took off the clamps and sewed back the other direction to fill in the gaps (–––––––).

Gave this one to my buddy @omarg for his wife! They’re sweet folks — who let me play with their brand new iPad. Thank you both!

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Watch just the first 1:03 of this video (actually you can jump in at 0:35, the first bit is the credits) and tell me if you don’t want to watch the rest of this show.

I can now retroactively complete my list of British TV on Netflix “Watch Instantly” (streaming video to your computer; free with any plan, which start at $9/month). “Black Adder” is probably the best of the bunch, and if you don’t want to pay $50 to $80 for a box set, you can watch all but the “Back and Forth” special RIGHT NOW in your pajamas! Which I am about to do. Starting with Series II, which I love the most dearly.

If you think Hugh Laurie’s good in “House,” … oh boy do you owe it to yourself to watch this. My crush on Mr. Laurie dates to the episode “Chains,” excerpted above. (Hugh shows up a little later.)

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When I was a kid, we had plastic items called Decoreggers that held an Easter egg securely while you painted or drew on it. Last year, my family went on a major hunt for Decoreggers and couldn’t find any in local stores. This year, I got out my saw and improvised.

With a saw, a drill and some scrap lumber, you can make this very quickly. Compression springs (as opposed to expansion springs) run about $3 a pair at hardware stores, and dowels are even cheaper. You’ll need both wood glue and a super-glue.

I made the egg cups from Fimo polymer clay, about $2 at hobby stores.  (Cover a wooden endpiece in plastic wrap and mold the square bases on that. For the cups, press a flat circle of clay onto a plastic egg, also covered in plastic wrap.)  Polymer clay bakes up at home oven temperatures. It’s mighty stuff.

The springs I found were a little bigger than I needed, so I used a pretty big dowel and uprights. Assemble these upright parts first and then judge carefully how far apart you need to place them on the base.  Too close together = too much pressure on the egg. Too far apart = not enough tension to hold the egg. This totally depends on your individual springs.  When you get it right, glue them to the base.

I glued foam into the cups to help compensate for natural variation in the spheroid form 🙂  Just scavenged packing foam, cut into circles. (Ever wonder why chicken eggs are pointier at one end than the other? Ask a lady chicken. Or an Aussie scientist)

In the top photo you’ll see little wire collars at the ends, holding the dowels level. That’s a last-minute fix — I’d planned for the holes in the uprights to be only a tiny bit larger than the dowels, figuring the close fit would keep them level. But my biggest drill bit was the same size as my dowel, and I drilled the holes first. The fit was too tight; dowels wouldn’t slide. I tried sanding them down but had to switch to a smaller dowel, which flopped all over the place. Wire collars to the rescue.

Happy Easter egg decorating!

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