Doing Push-Ups - Not Pushing Up Daisies!

Thirty years ago this month - I graduated from Army boot camp/AIT at Ft. Benning, Ga. A couple days before, my company performed its final PT test. I maxed my score on the 2-mile run and sit-ups, but I fell 2 shy of a perfect 61 in push-ups.

That's always bothered me. So while running and sit-ups have fallen into my rear-view mirror, I've kept up the practice of "pushing away the planet."

And now, thirty years later, I can do 61. In half the allowed 2 minutes. Without breathing hard. 

Drill Sergeant: are you listening?!


And So, On...

My father died 28 years ago today, killed by his second heart attack. Because I was born on his 28th birthday, today I am exactly his age at his death.

It's strange to think that, tomorrow and forever afterward, I will be older than my father. I'm exploring uncharted lands.

I figure my genes have gotten me this far. To the extent my lifespan exceeds today, I count that a dividend of all my conscious choices for careful eating, weight control, exercise, and stress management.

I plan to enjoy it.


Game Designer

Return guests of this blog may remember that I'm part of a local boardgaming group of some notoriety: The Greenville Mafia.  (See http://techsmiths.blogspot.com/2010/08/world-boardgaming-championships.html) We play weekly in our own condo (well, technically it's owned by four of our members) and cycle through a lot of games.

You can't play forever without having some ideas of your own.

I drove home after gaming one night with an idea for a game that I bounced off Hunter. After some back-and-forth, a completely different idea emerged, which I developed over the next week into what I called "MOVIE MAGNATE."

Players assume the role of movie studios, charged with producing films and then marketing them to the public, in competition with each other.

It took me another week or so to prototype the game. (Yes, everyone who has seen it in person correctly deduced I raided a copy of "Can't Stop!" for some of the components!) Cutting and gluing cards consumed more hours than I care to remember!

Four of my buddies were good enough to be Play-Test Dummies and sit down to a game while I sat by, doing double-duty as scorekeeper/banker and as note-taker for problems and improvement suggestions. Version 1 actually required a calculator to determine box office receipts... Even experienced gamers can be naive about what players might put up with!

Play-test #1 was really helpful in sharpening my pencil. Aside from the embarrassing mistake of completely forgetting to make one of the decks of cards, the game had too many fiddles, even aside from the calculator. I wrote up my notes that night, and then I refused to think about the game for a week.

By the time I returned to the drawing table, my subconscious had worked out solutions to the objections discovered by my Dummies. Er, Buddies. I re-wrote the rules, developed new charts (bye, bye, calculator!), and replaced half the cards with new, improved versions (groan!).

I had a harder time coercing four to sit down at the table next gaming night, but after suitable application of wheedling & cudgeling, I had a crew. And I'm pleased to report that Version 2 was much, MUCH better! Most of my notes from that session involved play-balance tweaks and optional rules for experienced players.

So, right now I'm in another down-week of mental fermentation, before I prepare Version 3. That one will get an acid test - my wife Brenda has scheduled a family game when we journey to Atlanta to visit Dear Daughter later this month!


Book Planning

I have habitually kept a wish-list of public domain books to narrate as I think of them or discover them. (There's over 90 on the list at the present!) I normally make an attempt at ranking my wish list - at least for the top one to three books - so that I can forecast my activities ahead for a few months. I keep a spreadsheet of my readings, with a planning page that plumbs in my expected time commitment each day in order to fix a target for each book's completion.  Both of these I update upon completion so I can look back and see how well my planning process fared against Real Life.

That process has gotten more complicated by my shift to professional recordings. Since for the most part those narrations are the result of successful auditions and a negotiated contract for production, they must take priority over my LibriVox work. In a recent case, my audition was submitted a full year before the publisher awarded the book to me, and then they gave me 5 weeks to produce it.

So now when I slot time for a LibriVox recording, I go to the wish list and feel for which title is calling me the loudest. It's frequently not the one I had nominally placed at the top of the list.

In mid-June I had a pause between projects and I wanted to do something fun, with character voice work.  "The Adventures of Pinocchio" wasn't even on my list, but when I ran across it somewhere on the Web, it was an "ah-ha" moment - I knew I wanted to do it, and soon. I started it the day after finishing "The Enchanted Island" for Audiobooks by Mike Vendetti, had one week clear, and then had to share time with my next pro project, "A User's Guide to the Universe" (which is now in final approval); still, I finished it in three weeks.

I started my formal book planning process in 2008. I finished ten books that year, 11 in 2009, 15 in 2010, 16 last year, and this year I've done 9 through July.


Dabbling With Digital Effects

Last year, I finally caved to the idea that it's a PhotoShop world, stopped using Corel Paint Shop Pro, and picked up PhotoShop Elements. Now I don't have to translate "how-to's" from PS commands to PSP's.

Then I subscribed to Adobe PhotoShop Elements Techniques. It's a bimonthly magazine that describes and leads you through interesting projects, specifically in the PSE world, rather than its big brother's.

Recently I was introduced to OnOne's programs for extending and simplifying PS, and I invested in their PhotoSuite 6.1.  I have to say - I like it!  As a completely amateur photographer and digital noodler, I don't work with these tools every day, and I appreciate things that are simple enough to remember how to use between sessions. So I'll give OnOne some props: go check them out at https://www.ononesoftware.com/  I've watched several of their videos and attended four Webinars which add to my appreciation of what can be done and how to do it.

I'm also testing Photomatix, a tone-mapper that enables me to produce HDR (High Dynamic Range) pictures from a series of bracketed exposures. I've admired HDR for years, but my prosumer Canon camera doesn't support it, so being able to gin it up on the computer is a workaround.

So, herewith a few Before-and-Afters: (click on them for larger versions)

 Nandina Bush

Gargoyles at Biltmore House

Bridge Over the Reedy River

Barnegat Light

Entry Tunnel, Watkins Glen

Revolutionary War Encampment


The Library

At the TechSmiths' house, one of the most important rooms is the Library.

Brenda and I were both raised in homes that valued reading. Trips to the local library were a weekly activity. And consequently, a quiet place to sit and devour a book became a priority for us. More than that, it became a place to display and store our collection.

At our first house, we built a lovely library in a room with a cathedral ceiling. The shelves ran so high, we had pull-out step-ladders in the cabinets beneath in order to reach them.  Brenda's dad designed the installation and did most of the construction. We were really sorry when a change in jobs moved us to another city and we left that space behind.

Our current home never reached that level of beauty.  We expected to live here two or three years, and then it was likely the company for which we both worked would move us on.

So, the library was put into a room with enough wall space to line up a string of store-bought shelf units.

This month we passed our 22nd year at the same address. Somehow in all that time we never got around to changing the library into the welcoming space we want it to be.

But as we look forward to our intended downsizing now that the kids are grown and we're retired, we're determined to remedy that. In older posts you will see I am fond of looking at house plans and imagining living in those spaces.  Now, few designers of residences insert a designated, planned library into their designs. Most families seem to have other priorities if there's a spare room - a media room, a home office, a guest bedroom - and so the nod to the book-readers is comprised of a few shelves in the family room.

If you're going to have a library - no, a Library - you're probably going to have to give up some other function. Like many other American families in this informal age, while we have a dining room, we seldom use it, preferring our eat-in kitchen for all but the most formal gatherings.

So when I look at a house plan, I mentally strike through "Dining Room" and replace it with "LIBRARY." Fortunately, designers usually give useful lengths of blank wall and by closing off the usual portal to the foyer more can be created. Dining rooms also often are graced with some of the prettiest windows in a house. So with some nice cabinetry, good lighting and comfortable chairs, we can create a small but inviting space for the display and consumption of books.

And when we visit new homes, we're always looking for signs that books will be welcome. Sometimes that's easy. But often it's a real act of imagination.

Of course, if I had my wishes, I'd live inside the two-story library of the Biltmore House, George Vanderbilt's little (!) estate house (which is an hour's drive from here). They restrict photography indoors, or I would show you the meaning of LIBRARY.

But I fear that modern influences are slowly corrupting old lines of thought. How much longer will people delight in holding books, turning their pages, dog-earing or highlighting their favorite passages? The old craft of the bookbinder is about as useful as making buggy whips; no one wants walls of books with uniform and luxurious binding.

Well, the purveyors are having to adjust to a brave new electronic world. And so must we. Still, it's against a lifetime of habit and training to embrace the library of the digital age.


The Ebb-Tide

Robert Louis Stevenson led an interesting life.  Poor health figured heavily in it, but by the time he took up residence on Upolu island in Samoa, he felt "there was never any man had so many irons in the fire."
He had already toured the Pacific extensively with his family on a yacht, had made friends with King Kalākaua of Hawaii, and had used his power of the pen to have several European officials recalled, for incompetency. He established a close bond with the Samoans, took the native name of Tusitala ("Storyteller"), and was establishing himself on an extensive estate.
Several South Pacific-themed books joined his other noted books, such as "Treasure Island" and "Kidnapped", on the shelf.
"The Ebb-Tide" was one of these. Lloyde Osbourne, the co-author, was his step-son; as they had traveled together and shared their experiences, he was perhaps a natural collaborator. They drew a detailed portrait of three wastrels ashore in Papeete: Herrick, an Englishman who couldn't seem to do anything right in business, Davis, an American ship captain who had managed to lose his last ship but fail to be one of those drowned, and Huish, a Cockney of disreputable background. Driven to extreme measures by extreme penury, Davis arranged for them to crew on a plague ship anchored in the harbor.
Desperation later prompted them to hatch a scheme to steal and sell the champagne cargo and the schooner, but their life of crime was quickly cut off by evidence that the former officers, now dead of smallpox, had had the same idea.
Finally, through misadventures, it appeared that their literal salvation lay through a chance-met Englishman, Attwater, on an uncharted isle. They needed food; Attwater had it. They wanted wealth; Attwater had accumulated ten years output of methodical pearl fishing with dozens of natives. And Attwater in his role as the settlement's preacher had already buried nearly all of the inconvenient natives, as smallpox had reached the isle. No matter what kind of salvation was called for - they all lay through Attwater.
What could three recreants do with such temptation?
I just finished my LibriVox audiobook of "The Ebb-Tide," and it should appear in the catalog in a few days. Please enjoy!


More Puzzling Decryptions

In Jan 2010, I posted about my daily attention to the "cryptoquote" printed in the newspaper. Well, I've kept that activity up, and in true engineering fashion have continued refining my technique to wring out inefficiency.  Last year I eliminated a whole phase of my spreadsheet setup that was intended to keep me from mistakenly double-using letters.

Alas, revisiting the past sometimes means acknowledging mistakes. In my prior post, I listed as "unique letter solution time" a number which actually had to do with spreadsheet setup, not solution. Mea culpa.

In comparing my 2009 full-year results with 2011's:  "unique letter prep" is down 3.1 seconds (25%!) and "unique letter solution" is down 3.9 seconds (13%), so better setup is most of my improvement.

I admit, though, that constantly doing these puzzles is rewiring my brain. This morning, I looked at the character group "ITUIKT" and knew immediately it represented the word "PEOPLE." With 4 unique letter (I, T, U, K)  substitutions already known, I was off to the races!

Ensculptic House Sold!

I was just reviewing some of my previous posts, and I suddenly wondered if the Ensculptic House (look down just three posts) ever sold. It did!  And just the month after I posted about it: 

Now, how likely is it that some couple in Virginia read about it here, and were so entranced by the house they bought it sight unseen?  - Such a couple DID buy the house, and I only wonder if this blog was responsible!