Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What I'm Reading: Quick Reviews

What I've read since my last book review:
(all links to Amazon)

A trio of quirky siblings that brings A Series of Unfortunate Events to mind star in this delightful, quick read. (I finished it in one sitting.) I especially love the narrative style, which is written from one of the sibling's POV - but you have to guess which one. Without spoiling anything, I will say I have some complaints about the twist ending, but nothing severe enough to make me regret the choice. Definitely pick it up if you have the chance!

The Blue Sword

Robin McKinley was one of the authors mentioned most frequently after my review post, so I went hunting for her at the library. If I hadn't been seeking it specifically, I never would have picked up The Blue Sword; the older cover has that slightly cheesy 80s look that plagued fantasy fiction of the time.

The story itself also seems dated, in as much as it has a slower pace (it gets interesting around page 50) and an almost painful predictability. The attempt at romance was also incredibly weak. That said, I did like the story, as it reminded me of some of Tamora Pierce's work, and in many places the prose reads like poetry. However, for someone used to the faster pace and more dynamic character growth in today's YA fiction, I'd recommend Pierce's books over this any day. (Sorry, guys!)

[Note: I've since discovered through Amazon & Goodreads that nearly everyone else in the world considers The Blue Sword to be The Most Amazing Book Of All Time, and it's won tons of awards, and people have called it "life-changing," so take my review with those huge grains of salt.]

This was also recommended by one of you readers for its great art and a plot that revolves around an astounding automaton that actually exists in real life.

The story would be perfect for parents to read with their kids. It moves quickly, and at times the simple pencil drawings are used to move the story forward for many pages without any text at all - a neat creative twist.

The only problem I found is that none of the characters are very likeable - the hero Hugo least of all - which was a big hurdle for me since I need someone to root for. Still, it was worth the read if only so I could discover the Maillard automaton. (OMIGOSH SO AMAZING.)

Stay tuned for more, or check the comments here for more of your fellow reader's recommendations!

Also, because it's a FAQ - I *do* have a Goodreads account, and have had one for ages, but I haven't had time to update it much the past three years. Since I plan to post my reviews here from now on anyway, rest assured you aren't missing anything. It's a great site, though, and I highly recommend it.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


We recently moved our cats' scratching post perch to a different window.

As you can see, Tonks is REALLY enjoying the new scenery:


Credit goes to John for getting the perfect bird's eye view.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Photo Upload Update

I mentioned last week my fuzzy photo problem with Blogger lately. Since then, I've learned it has to do with the way Blogger scales our pictures down (essentially showing a large thumbnail instead of the full-sized photo), and I've also learned that Flickr doesn't look too kindly upon bloggers using their site as a photo host. (Which is odd, since they make it so easy to blog directly from Flickr. However, I'm assured by my friends at Neatorama that this is the case, and that Flickr will shut off your account if you do so.) I figured I should let you all know, in case any of you were thinking of using Flickr as an image host like I was.

However, thanks to reader Sammy, I now have an easier solution than Flickr that works just as well: use the direct image link from Picasa (where Blogger hosts your photos anyway) to get your full-sized, unscaled photo placed directly in your blog post.

Here's how:

- Upload your photo as you normally would to Blogger.

- Once it's in your post, right-click your image and open it in a new tab.

- Copy the URL in that tab

- Return to your upload screen, and paste that URL in this spot:

- Hit "upload image", and you'll have your full-sized photo uploaded to the post. Which means it's gonna be HUGE. So, next:

- Resize your honkin' photo by either dragging the corner or popping into the html and correcting the height and width there.

To keep the proportions correct, I've been inputting the same dimensions as the first photo I uploaded in the html, and then switching to the compose screen to drag the corner and make the photo as large as I want there.

Because it's your original photo, and not a scaled version or thumbnail, you can upsize it this way without losing detail.

Obviously this is still an extra step and a pain, but the difference in clarity for those of us who want to show off a pretty photo from time to time is amazing. It will also allow you to make your photos as large as you want without losing detail, and there's no added expense of a separate photo host, since your pictures are already on Picasa anyway.

I hope this helps some of you fellow bloggers! And thanks to everyone who offered tips and advice along the way!

Friday, August 5, 2011

How Geeks Keep Calm

I'm sure you've all seen the British war poster Keep Calm and Carry On many times. (Oh so many, many times.) And while I think we can all agree it's been done to death by now, I still get a kick out of a good geek parody. Here are some of my favorites:

found by Clare L., £9.99 at Getting Shirty (ships world-wide)

And two more from the same site:

Moss from The IT Crowd

(If you don't get this one, go watch the IT Crowd on Netflix Streaming, stat.)

$20.40 from Impossible Alice

I'm surprised I couldn't find a better Potter parody. Why isn't there a "Keep Calm and Snitch On" with a flying snitch over the text? (There *is* a "Keep Calm and Catch the Snitch", but that sounds dumb to me.)

I found lots of versions of this one:

$14 from Flippin' Sweet Gear
($24 for women's sizes, though - ouch!)

You can also get it with a game controller instead of a mushroom, and in any color.

Love the electrical tape on the glasses here:

$19.95 from 604Republic (men's sizes only - curses!)

I've posted this one before, but it's still one of my favs:

Only $10 at Busted Tees , although it looks like they only have men's sizes left. (Or maybe that's all they ever had, since it looks like the model's wearing a men's cut. What the heck, geek tee makers?!)

Not a t-shirt, but a great poster:

Starting at $6.88 from artist SevenHundred

Haven't found this one on a shirt yet, either:

Found via this Tumblr blog, no credit given. (Anyone know?)

For my fellow craft geeks:

Found via NotCot, appears to be discontinued (Nooo!)

Check out the crown made of wrenches! I love it.

This is different enough to perhaps not count as a parody, but I like it anyway:

From Teefury, a shirt-a-day site, so it's no longer available. (Curses! Foiled again!)

As a fan of wordplay AND Trek, I especially like this one:

$25.99 from Cool Tees
(where it's also available on everything from magnets to iPod cases)

Heh. Aheh. Heh.

("There's Klingons on the starboard bow! Scrape 'em off, Jim!")

I also couldn't find a great Firefly version; just a "Keep Flying and Stay Shiny." Meh. Not great.

And since I couldn't find the Disney one I'd like to see, I went to the Keep Calm-O-Matic site and made it myself:

My star looks icky and should be smaller, but a graphic designer I am not.

So tell me, geeks, what would *your* parody say?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Procrastination Station 8/3/11

Do that stuff later. This is more fun!

- If by some freak tragedy you haven't read about the Bloggess' giant metal chicken yet, prepare to thank me. It remains one of the funniest blog posts I've ever read, and I promise you'll never open your front door the same way again.

- It's one gorgeous urban decay photo after another in this collection of 75 Pictures of Abandoned Six Flags in New Orleans.
(thx to @banagade for the link!)

- This explained how I can be a hardcore introvert and still do a funny presentation for a room of 500: Caring for Your Introvert. (In a nutshell: we're good one-on-one or performing for crowds, but not much in-between. This lines up with my experiences - how 'bout you guys?)

- And another good read on the subject, found via SuperPunch: 10 Myths About Introverts.

- Fellow Disney fans, did you know that the Haunted Mansion was originally going to be the Museum of the Weird?

See more creepy concept art like this and learn some fascinating history over at Long-Forgotten. (Also found via SuperPunch. Can you tell it's my favorite blog?)

- And finally, here's a random Netflix recommendation for you: Downton Abbey. I've never been in to period films ala Pride and Prejudice before, but this one set in the early 1900s caught my eye, and I was immediately hooked. And then I watched all seven hour-long episodes in two days. :D

It's light on romance and heavy on fabulous characters - and fellow Potter fans will enjoy seeing Professor McGonagall as the straight-backed comic relief. The series was just made last year, though, so the only bad news is we have to wait 'til 2012 for the next season. :(

Oh, and you can watch it on Netflix streaming, so no need to wait for the actual DVDs. Woot!

So tell me, guys, what's wasting your time this week?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Song John Won't Stop Singing


And the weirdest part?

No, not the faceless chubby dancer. Not the Barbie doll and banana hair clip. Not the stream of eyeball vomit, or the giant femur floating through the window, or even this new facial tic.


No, it's that I think that was a Kraft Macaroni and Cheese commercial.


Thanks, Dave B.

I think.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Blogger's Fuzzy Photo Problem

I've spent most of my afternoon today trying to figure out why my uploaded photos on Blogger have been looking so awful lately. If you have a Blogger blog, you may have noticed the same issue: increased pixelation, blurriness, etc. The maddening part is that if you click to enlarge the photo, it looks fine. However, the scaled version in the blog itself? Crapsville.

John and I did some digging, and discovered we're not the only ones to notice this issue, but so far we've seen no official comment or explanation from Blogger. From what we've read, the problem began within the past month or two, so it's possible a lot of bloggers simply haven't noticed yet.

Just to show you how bad it is, take a look at this photo I uploaded today:

Now look at the exact same photo, in the same size, only hosted on Flickr:


It's like seeing through a new pair of glasses, huh?

Unfortunately, this is just the latest in a growing pile of problems with Blogger of late, and I'm sad to say I can no longer recommend the platform in good conscience. It's been one frustration after another here the past several months, and we've been working hard to find a long term solution (news on that coming soon, I hope).

In the meantime, I'll probably be hosting all of my Epbot photos on Flickr from now on. It's an additional step and a real pain (I just spent two hours re-uploading an entire photo post - arrrgg), but when you've worked so hard at making your pictures look pretty, dang it, you want it to show!

Now I can only hope that you all can see Flickr photos, since I know some workplaces have those servers blocked. Let me know in the comments if you can't see the second photo, won't you?

[UPDATE] - Sarah in the comments just offered an excellent suggestion: if you convert all of your photos to .pngs before uploading them, the loss in quality is reduced. We just tested it out ourselves, and did see an improvement - although nothing nearly as impressive as the Flickr-hosted photo. Still, it's a good option for anyone still wanting to use Blogger's hosting. Thanks, Sarah!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

How To Make: Steampunk Goggles

There are about as many ways to make steampunk goggles as there are steampunk goggles, but I hope this tutorial will help get you started.

Some of the things you'll need:

- Leather/vinyl [for the eye cups and straps]

- a small buckle or vest clip [to adjust the straps]

- 1.5 inch plumbing coupler [to make the eye pieces]

- Plexiglas [for the lenses]

- Optional: 2-hole pipe strap [for the nose piece]

The most important piece is the plumbing coupler, which looks like this:

You can find these at any hardware store for around $6, and one coupler will make both eye cups.

Mark off the width you'd like for each cup on the pipe:

We used a fat pencil as a guide - but keep in mind my goggles are shallow, and sit very close to the face. You may want your eye cups to be longer.

Next, cut the pipe:

To hold the pipe, John clamped channel lock pliers on the edge and then secured the pliers in his table vise.

Oh, and it only looks like he's about to cut his fingers off. Promise. ;)

Keep in mind that the coupler pieces that screw on to these edges are the only metal that will show on your finished goggles. So, if you want your goggles something other than silver, paint those pieces, not these. (I painted mine copper.)

Now the lenses:

To keep your saw from scratching the Plexiglas, first cover it in blue painter's tape:

Since we already had a finished pair of goggles to work from, I used one of those lenses as a template.

Cut out your lenses on a scroll saw:

Sorry about the crazy hair photo bomb.

Once your lenses are cut out, you'll need to use heavy grit sandpaper to fine-tune the fit. They should fit snugly inside the outer screw-on pieces of the coupler.

NOTE: If Plexiglas is not an option, cut your lenses from a clear thick report cover. You can even layer a few sheets together to make them stronger, and no one will be the wiser!

Next, the eye cups:

Wrap a piece of paper around the metal pipe to mark the length and form a template. You want your eye cup to flair out slightly at the temple, so that it forms a seal around your eye. To do that, your shape should look something like this:

Play around with the shape to see what you prefer: the more rounded the valleys, the farther out your temple flair will be.

And in case I've completely lost you, here's what I'm talking about:

See how the far edge is higher? That's the temple edge. Again, on my goggles it's a fairly subtle difference, so play around and see what size you prefer.

Once you have your template, add about an inch to the straight edge and the two side edges, and then cut our your vinyl/leather:

The extra inch along the straight edge allows you to roll over and sew the curved edge like this.

Now, I won't lie to you: this part is hard if you're not a sewer. (Er, meaning a person who sews, not a smelly network of waste disposal pipes. But you probably knew that.)

Which is why I had John do it. :D

To puff out our rolled edge, we stuck a piece of rolled paper raffia inside. This is completely optional, though.

Finally, sew the two edges together right side in, flip your cup inside out, and you've got your finished leather eye cup. It should fit snugly around the metal pipe, like so:

Glue the leather to the metal, making sure to leave the metal edge with the threads exposed. Here I'm using a toothpick to fill in the tiny seam between the leather and metal with superglue.

At this point you'll want to attach the nose piece. We used a copper pipe strap bent into shape, but I'm considering going back and replacing it with a strap of leather. (Because my eye cups are so shallow, the metal nose piece touches the bridge of my nose, which is uncomfortable. If your cups are longer, though - as John's are - you won't have this problem.)

We attached the nose piece with bolts and small screws. You can do the same with a leather or chain nose piece.

Next cut your two straps and glue them to the sides of the eye cups, as you see above. If you bring the raw edge of the strap all the way forward against the metal threading, it will be covered when you screw on the edge piece, like so:

Also be sure to hand-stitch your straps along the edge, since glue alone probably won't be strong enough.

Once you sew on your strap buckle or vest clip, you're ready for the fun part:


I bought these brass filigree pieces from The Mermaid's Dowry on Etsy, which has hundreds and hundreds of gorgeous stampings and charms. (Kid? Meet candy shop.)

I glued the tiny rose gold piece on the nose piece (bending it to match the curve), and I hand-stitched the largest filigree pieces onto the straps:

And finally, on a whim I cut out two circles of iridescent cellophane to insert in the lenses, which turned out to be my very favorite part. It adds a lot of fun color, is easy to see through, and helps hide the bolts from the nose piece besides.

Cost Break Down:

Because this is one of those projects that uses tiny scraps left over from other projects, the cost can be quite negligible. The only things I had to purchase were the plumbing coupler ($6) and the vest clips ($3). Even with the vinyl and filigree pieces, I'd say your material cost should stay well under $20 - probably more like $15.

So, if you decide to make a pair, please send me pictures!

And if you missed it, click here to see John's goggles and ray gun, plus more beauty shots of these.

Friday, July 29, 2011

My Steampunk Goggles!

John and I have spent the past two days trying to find the best way photograph two pairs of steampunk goggles. [insert joke about using our time wisely here]
Here's the best of what we've got so far:

This is my pair, which I just finished a few days ago. (The gun is an antique reproduction that belonged to my grandfather.) I'm super chuffed with them; I really like the copper and dark brown leather together.

Here's John's pair along with his ray gun, which we built ourselves - and are rather proud of. :)

The gun is made from a glass bottle, brass candlestick pieces, and a custom wooden grip we made ourselves. It also lights up when you pull the trigger. [pewpew!] I'll be doing a tutorial on it just as soon as we build another one... for me. :D

Outside shot:

You can see the difference in eye cup sizes here: I thought John's were way too long, so we made mine much more petite and closer to the face.

Fuzzy inside shot:

Pretty close-up shot:

The iridescent film in my goggles turned out to be our favorite part, and was an easy last-second addition. It makes the lenses look holographic, and I looove all the colors.

Now let's try the photo cube, shall we?

John's gun and goggles again, along with an antique Elgin pocket watch from my Dad.

(Can you tell I had a little too much fun staging all these pictures?)

(Oh, and John says I should mention I actually wear those gloves. Antique gloves seem to the be the only ones that fit my teeny hobbit hands; modern ones are always too long in the fingers. Anyone else have that problem?)

And one final beauty shot of my goggles:

Stay tuned for the tutorial!