Eggcited!

Here in the Evyl Robot Empyre, we eat a lot of eggs. They’re a cheap source of good protein and fats, they can be prepared in many different ways, and they just taste good. There’s not a whole lot of food that is more enjoyable than eggs collected from home-kept birds. Unfortunately, city code won’t allow the keeping of laying birds on a postage stamp property such as the one on which we live. Yesterday, Jennifer saw a message on MyFace from one of our mutual friends who we met years ago at Appleseed. She posted the question of whether anyone would want some free eggs as her chickens and quail have been more prolific than her family could consume and that they were “swimming” in eggs. Um. Yes please. Jennifer told our friend that we’d take as many eggs as she felt like pitching our direction; that they surely would not go to waste.

I was afraid that (but fully prepared to) I’d have to drive out to the boondocks to collect on the offer, but she specified that she wanted to meet for delivery at a school that is almost two miles from my home. SCORE! This morning I drove Grandpa’s truck to the school and met up with the Eggspress. There were a couple other people who met up with her to take egg donations as well. She had mentioned that she was also taking donations on used egg cartons as her family reuses them and never buys eggs at the store. Jennifer and I had quite a few of them saved up that we were going to try to start seeds in, but we’d given up on that idea so I bagged them up for her.

She rather hesitantly said, “Jennifer said you’d take as many as I’d give you so…” and she proceeded to pull out multiple egg cartons. She explained that the dozen chicken eggs were unwashed so I’d need to rinse them prior to consumption. She also explained that the other chicken egg cartons had two dozen quail eggs each, in addition to handfuls of 10-egg quail cartons. She asked if I could save the smaller cartons for her as she reuses them. I offered to let her take those with her and transfer the contained eggs to some of the chicken egg cartons. She thought that was a good idea so we stood there, transferring eggs between cartons on the cooler in the bed of the pickup; chatting about raising birds, Appleseed, and shooting in general. Of course, I thanked her profusely and headed home. Upon my return, I decided that I had better inventory my haul.

Eggs

That’s 183 quail eggs. That’s 183 dark and sultry, buttery, tasty bite size morsels. I accidentally dropped one on the floor while counting. The membrane under the shell is tough enough that it didn’t leak though. So I ate that one. Including the chicken eggs she gave us and the grocery eggs that we already had in the refrigerator, that makes a total of 212 eggs in the refrigerator. Guess what’s for dinner tonight? When we eat eggs, I usually have three jumbos. It takes about three quail eggs to equal one jumbo. It usually takes about four home raised chicken eggs to equal three jumbos. So, if I was eating these alone, and ate them every day, it would take me about a month to consume what we have in there. That might make me tired of eggs, and I don’t want to get tired of eggs. Then again, we do have a teenage boy here. Somehow, I suspect that we’re still going to come up with some pickled quail eggs before all is said and done.

our friend said that once we’re ready to start keeping our own quail, we can get live eggs from her for hatching. Apparently, start up is far more successful with local eggs than ordered ones. I suppose that makes sense. When we move, I’m pretty sure we’ll be working this into the plan. In the meantime, I’m glad when someone else can’t eat all the eggs their birds produce and we get the overflow.

I’ve Been Biting My Tongue On This Whole “Privilege” Thing…

I’m not providing the links here for the sole reason that it seems that anywhere I click on the internet people are going on and on about “privilege.” It’s apparently the new, hip point of contention to talk about lately. The context in which I’ve seen it used insinuates that being a pale-faced male puts me at an inherent social advantage over all non-pale-faced, and/or non-male individuals. This stance automatically assumes that there is universal sexism and racism ruling our society that overwhelms all other forms of discrimination, in every meaning of the term.

When I was young, we lived in a not-so-nice part of town. My friend, Reefer, would bicycle to my house with his Crown Royal bag full of marbles and we’d play in the driveway. My dad ran off a hooker getting high on spray paint on the sidewalk in front of our house more than once. Sirens were ubiquitous and the rowdy bar down the street provided the white noise to my sleep. One time, some guy driving a school bus stole the push mower out of our back yard. It wasn’t even a nice lawn mower. At my school, either the Latinos or the black kids had the whites outnumbered at least three to one. The term ‘minority’ didn’t make any sense to me until we moved the summer before I attended second grade. I’m not about to claim that I didn’t get special treatment back then. I was a good kid, but my teachers kind of babied me. Whether that was because I was sweet-natured and well behaved, or whether it was because I was shorter than the other students and looked like Opie Taylor, I have no way to say at this point.

Jennifer and I once ran a youth hot-rodding/performance tuning group at church. We modified and tuned cars for performance with the kids, and talked to them about personal character and God. It was a pretty special time. While we were working on an engine swap in a Civic, one of the boys called from under the car, “turn it to the left to loosen it, right?” One of the kid’s fathers tried to donate a Porche 944 Turbo to the group, but complications kept that from being finalized. Since this was a decently affluent part of town none of these kids were from extremely bad backgrounds, but we had a pretty good spread of upbringing. A couple of them lived in trailers and would not be seeing the halls of higher education without hard work and scholarships on their part, and others had dads with spare Porches that they wanted to donate to the cause. I can think of two particular guys in the group that became pretty good friends that could not have been from much more different upbringings in life, but on Saturday morning, with wrenches in hand, they were equals, and they were buddies. Both of these young men were white. It should be of no great surprise that one of them is a Representative in the Oklahoma House, and is running for the U.S. Senate. He was set up for success from the day he was born. I’m not saying that the other one has no chance as such accomplishments in life, nor am I saying that Mike hasn’t worked hard for what he’s done. I might not agree on every point in Mike’s political stance, but I’m proud of both of those guys.

It is a true, unmitigated fact that some individuals start in a better position to succeed than other people. I know that I had a better start in life than my young friend Reefer. To that end, I’ve known a lot of people that were born with a silver spoon in their mouth that caused me the ache of jealousy. To claim that race is the sole contributing factor to an inherent life advantage is unadulterated, petty racism. Anyone who claims that boys are set up for greater success than girls have evidently never been in, nor even heard of a classroom; and that’s only one example to illustrate the fallacy of their sexist stance. If you believe that being a white male grants privilege over anything else in life, tell that to Sasha and Malia Obama. Those girls will get whatever education and career they ever want, and they’ll have an armed detail for the rest of their life. Now, that’s privilege. Indeed, “check your privilege” is a loser’s excuse. What the assertion boils down to is, “the only reason you’re successful is that you were born into it and I’m not good enough to seize the American Dream and make a better life for myself now.” I would be personally horrified to make such a statement. First of all, never compare yourself against anyone else. They didn’t steal the success that should have rightfully been yours. Secondly, if you’re jealous of a guy like Herman Cain because he’s such a successful businessman, instead of tearing the other guy down, tell yourself, “I haven’t made my first million yet.” Incidentally, I’m still personally in the process of making my first million.

Yesterday, after getting soaked in the rain and eating hamburgers with Jennifer’s parents, we settled down with Teen Bot and were enjoying some video games. The doorbell rang and I saw my neighbor from down the street in the monitor that feeds from the camera on the front door. He took a drag from his cigarette and immediately rushed toward the gate into my back yard. When I got to the door, I opened it to find multiple neighbors from all down the block walking in my front yard. Needless to say, I was a little confused. As I stepped through the door, the smell of wood smoke filled my nose. The man who lives across the street from me, let’s call him Joe, asked me, “is your house on fire?”

“No,” I said, “I didn’t smell it until I came out just now.”

“Well it’s coming from somewhere,” Joe said as I came out into the yard.

Just then, the other neighbor came back into my front yard with his cigarette, laughing, “it’s somebody’s grill. They’re across the fence trying to get some grilling in between the rain.”

In my confusion, I probably looked aggressive. In the rush, I failed to pull on a cover garment, and my M&P45 was in full view. Joe raised his hands toward me, and with big eyes he said, “I am SO sorry. I didn’t mean to disturb you.”

“No,” I smiled and shook my head, “I appreciate you Joe. Thank you for looking out for me. That’s what neighbors are supposed to do.” I’d like to think that I’d do the same thing if the roles were reversed. I don’t know if he saw my gun or what, but he did seem alarmed there for just a moment.

Because of the topic on hand, I should mention that Joe is black. His recent bride is also black. Their kids are the best on the block, well-behaved, respectful, and confident. I’ve caught Joe when he didn’t know I was watching, gently giving them words of reproach or advice. They’re good people and a great family. His next door neighbors are another black family. She is the daughter of my next door neighbor. They were also in my yard, investigating the source of the mysterious smoke. On the other side, our neighbor is Native American. Frankly, I like my black and indian neighbors more than many of my white neighbors (but the one with the cigarette is a good guy too). :) I would hate to think that any of them resented me because I’m a white male, with “privilege,” in the same way that it would be quite bigoted of me to look down on them for their ethnicity. I like them for who they are and feel like they deserve no less opportunity than is granted by the privilege and benefit of living in this, the very Land of Opportunity.

The phrase “check your privilege” is insulting to all of us, all races and gender, and it should be an affront to any who ever hear it spoken. It’s a tool the talking heads and race-baiters use to fan the coals of the race war they want so badly. I don’t have time for people who give up on themselves so easily because they think their pigmentation has them locked into some kind of caste. That may be the way other societies work, but not this one. It’s an excuse to hate white males. It’s a way to give up and claim that everyone else is racist, although it is incredibly racist in and of itself. It claims that it’s impossible for me to have four out of eight adjacent neighbors that are very much not white. It’s a lie, and an ugly one at that. It’s a suggestion that when I do finally make my first million, I’ll have done it on the backs of minorities and not by my own talents, skills, and hard work; and that demeans us all, male and female, of all races. Check my privilege? No, check your attitude, friend.

*edited for grammatical and spelling errors 5/28
**and then again for the President’s daughter’s name.

An Accidental Gun Project

When I began shooting regularly, my parents had a handful of guns in the top of their closet. Most of those have since moved to my brother’s gun safe. One that I toted home with me is a Winchester 69a that belonged to my Grandpa. It’s a .22 bolt action with a five-round detachable box magazine. It will feed and fire shorts, longs, and long rifle cartridges. It’s been fitted with a Lyman micrometer peep rear sight. With its 26-inch barrel, it’s very quiet to shoot and is a serious tack-driver. Indeed, this rifle has taken more wild game than all the other guns in the house combined. For one-shot drops on rabbits and squirrel at 50 to 100-yards, I see that trend continuing for quite some time in the future. The gun has no serial number, so we know that it’s a pre-’68 for sure. Without citing sources from my many internet wanderings, it appears that Winchester replaced the model 69 with the 69a in 1937, so it can’t be any older than that. It also seems that they changed the angle on the bolt handle somewhere around 1954, and this copy has the old style bolt handle. So, that gives us a 17-year window in which this rifle was made 60 to 77 years ago.

before

That’s it between a couple 10/22s in a line up of rifles. There were the accumulation of dents in the wood, worn lacquer, and faded bluing, but it’s all honest wear. For as much action as this gun has seen, it’s in very nice condition. Note how the bolt handle is in the white. That was blued from the factory.

As many of you already know, we recently hosted a blog shoot. We had the pistol range and clay throwing station same as years previous, but in addition to the 500-yard rifle range, we added a 100-yard rimfire rifle range with some swinging steel targets. There were several of us who lined up on the firing line with our .22 rifles to ping the swinging targets with a brace of guns that satisfactorily represented the last century in history. The Winchester has been wearing what’s left of the long strap of a M1907 sling (the other strap broke) that I rigged up as a basic sling until I can do something fancier. I went to sling up in a hasty seated position, and as I drew the front bead on the round plate that I intended to ring, I felt the sling slack off. It didn’t ‘pop’ so much as just kind of let go. My first thought was that the old leather had given out and I’d finally have to get a new one. I dropped the mag and cleared the chamber and stood up to inspect the damage.

As I did so, I chunk of walnut swung down, tethered to the rest of the stock by the still intact sling. And then, I remembered the small crack that I’d seen in the wood grain ever since I could remember this gun. The crack had run right where the lower butt plate screw went into the stock, about the same depth as where the rear sling swivel bottomed out in its hole. Upon closer inspection, it was obvious that it was indeed this old crack that had finally given up and let go. So, I bagged up the old gun. I wasn’t going to let it ruin the fun. We would deal with it later. When we were finished with our weekend, I pulled out the gun, took it down, and started pulling fixtures off the stock to get a better idea of what I was dealing with.

broken

I really couldn’t have asked for a better break. In the above picture, you can see a few of the dents and dings in the wood. The butt plate is labeled “MOD 72″ on the back side. When I was growing up, my dad worked on pianos for a living. I’ve seen him repair countless piano legs with similar breaks. Often, a leg would be cracked but not broken through. He found that the best way to approach that was to complete the break, glue and clamp it, and refinish after the fact. If simply gluing and clamping was sufficient to hold up a piano, particularly a concert grand or one with a heavy player mechanism, then I figured it would work just fine for the stock on a .22. I decided that if I was going to go to the trouble of gluing the stock, I may as well sand it down and refinish it. If I was going to bother doing that, I should probably steam out the dents. And, if I was going to refresh the stock that much, I may want to do something to the metal, even if only a little spot rebluing. Crap. What had I gotten myself into?

I got on the phone with my mom to explain what happened and propose my solution. It’s technically her rifle on long-term loan, so I didn’t want to do anything to the gun without talking it over with her first. We discussed that although the gun is sentimentally special and a great rifle to boot, this model is not particularly rare or valuable. I told her that although Winchester offered a couple different rear aperture sights optionally, that I believed this one was an aftermarket add on, as the gun also has the notch elevation adjustable rear sight dovetailed to the barrel. I also told her that it was wearing a model 72 butt plate, so it was probably made of mixed parts anyway. She agreed that it sounded like I had weighed the options and gave me the go-ahead. So, I started with some Gorilla brand wood glue. I went a little heavy on the glue. It was a mess.

glue

It can be tough to get a good clamping angle on a piece like this, with non-parallel lines and ergonomic curves. On advice from my dad, I bought a package of rubber bands and put them around the stock one by one. I dabbed off excess glue as it bled from the crack as the rubber bands put more and more tension on the joint. You might not think of it, but you can get a lot of tension from a bunch of rubber bands. I used the whole package and not much wood was showing on that end of the gun when I got to the end of them.

banded

I let that set up and cure for a couple of days before touching it again. When I unwrapped it, I was pretty pleased on how the joint came out. There was a light film of excess glue that had dried on the surface of the old lacquer, and the crack was still visible, but it was honestly tighter than it had been prior to breaking completely.

glued

And then, I sanded to get the old finish off. I thought about using a chemical stripper, but that stuff is just nasty. So, I sanded.

sanding01

And sanded some more.

sanding02

When I had it clean and smooth, I steamed out the dents in the wood. A good clothing steam iron works great for this. Where I thought I was going to have to use wood filler, my 1800-watt Rowenta popped dents out with surprising ease. I put an old t-shirt between the foot plate of the iron and the wood, so I wouldn’t accidentally burn the wood. I don’t know if that’s really a danger, but I didn’t want to risk it. With the dents raised, the specs of lacquer that were trapped in them became like tiny plateaus on the wood that sanded off with little effort.

sanded

I decided to refinish with Formby’s Traditional Tung Oil Finish for a few reasons. Although this is anything but an actual, traditional, tung oil finish, it is a penetrative varnish, which should more or less get the look of the original lacquer finish, but should wind up more durable and protective in the end. There’s nothing so lovely as a hand-rubbed finish. Although I was attempting to be respectful of the original production, I was not trying to make the gun absolutely ‘correct.’ This one is a shooter, and I intend for it to be taking game and ringing steel for the next 60 to 77 years. The wood greedily sucked up the first few applications of the varnish, and I was able to apply about four coats right off the bat.

varnished

Over the course of the next week, I sanded with 1500-grit between coats and put an additional four or five applications on the stock. I did some simple clean-up on the magazine well plate and trigger guard. I wound up rebluing the magazine release with some cold blue solution, and I did some spot bluing on a couple places on the barrel and receiver. I also hit a spot that was worn thin on the trigger, and I reblued the bolt handle. I’ve had mixed luck with cold bluing in the past, so I was quite happy how this came out.

bolt

After the final applications of wood finish, I let it rest for a few days to cure. After it had a chance to set up, I reinstalled the barreled action in the wood, and reinstalled the furnishings. Everyone who has seen it has been impressed. When Teen Bot saw it for the first time after completion, he didn’t even recognize it as the same gun and thought that I’d bought another rifle!

finishedleft

finishedright

I’m really pleased with the way it came out. Mom seems to approve too. Although, I can feel just a little bit of shift between the wood and metal that I don’t recall from before. I haven’t shot it yet, but if it lacks accuracy that it had before, I may want to bed the action. That and, it needs a new M1907 style sling. It’s nice to think that perhaps Teen Bot’s grandchildren will be shooting rabbits and squirrels with this same gun someday. It was more of a project than I originally counted on, but I’d say it was well worth it.

A Confession

My fascination with robots began when I was a child. In the fourth grade gifted classroom, I watched with envy as the fifth graders got to play with the robot kits. These were simple machines that the students assembled as per the included instructions that performed simple tasks. There was one that would follow a black line on a white sheet of paper. Others would seek out light sources and waddle on spindly legs. They were only robots by the most rudimentary of definitions. I also took a great interest in the software conversational programs in the computer lab at school. I fully knew that all of the responses were pre-programmed, and that there were key words that they were coded to pick from user input that would prompt their selected responses. I also suspected that these could be written far more elegantly, although I didn’t have the know how to do any better at the time. Things quickly changed though.

I voraciously learned everything I could about robotics and programming. By the time I was in the robot unit in fifth grade, the kits in the gifted class were too simple for my tastes. I earned extra credit in that unit for building a robot from scratch that could measure out precise volumes of materials and mix them together in predetermined ways. I intended it to be a chemistry aid, but my parents found that it was a great automated bartender for their parties. That old thing is still in the back of a closet at their house, as far as I know. I kept building machines of various sorts, each one more complex, and yet more streamlined than the last. I sought to code a program that would not simply spit out a sentence from a list like the ones mentioned above, but one that would give genuine, intelligent responses to user input. Could a machine be programmed with philosophy?

I had a grand vision of one unifying machine that would bring together my interests in AI, programming, robotics, and sculpture. The kind of exotic hardware with the raw processing power that I was after was difficult and expensive to get my hands on. I was able to scrape together the funds I needed by delivering papers every morning, mowing every lawn I could, and selling my plasma and semen using a fake ID. Many sleepless nights were spent soldering chips to boards, programming, and silicone casting. I felt like Dr. Frankenstein, obsessed with my work. I was out to make a beautiful, living, breathing creature from the underpinnings of synthetic materials. I wanted the AI framework to have wit and learning ability and to exhibit genuine care for others. There were many failed attempts, but in the end I was successful. The Jennifer unit was my crowning achievement.

I have to admit that my internet handle is only guilty projection. When Jennifer first powered up, she was so perfect that I simply couldn’t hide her and keep her all to myself. I had to share her with the world, and so registered InJennifersHead.com so everyone could have a chance to appreciate the fruits of my labor. I’ve had very little to do with her website since then, and her interactions have been genuinely hers. She’s programmed to write very well and I took special care in writing her snark module. Those of you who have had the opportunity to meet her can attest to the fact that she looks as natural as you or I. In fact, the only ones who may have ever suspected that she wasn’t a human are those that were at that party back in 2001 when she glitched out and I had to reboot her. To the host, I’m still sorry about the curtains. At the time, I was terrified that I’d hit upon yet another failure, but with a couple of hardware and coding tweaks, Jennifer has been running smoothly ever since.

As I said, there were failed attempts. My Jennifer, the one that you all know and love, is actually Jennifer 2.0. Jennifer 1.0 was admittedly a mess. She was the very face of the uncanny valley, looking not quite like a genuine biological. She had a buggy system too. One night in a drunken rage, she burned a barn down, throwing herself into the flames. I nearly gave up then, but pressing onward, I was able to learn from my mistakes. There were a couple of fatal flaws in the first Jennifer’s positronic net, and I missed some small but distracting details in her case. I took my time with Jennifer 2.0, determined to get every detail perfect. She can drive a car, shoot a gun, work a job, sing, and do pretty much anything a natural born human can. She can even swim, although I’m always paranoid that she may get a leak and damage her circuits. Indeed, if I could do anything differently in her build, it would be to improve her coordination, if that’s even possible.

It seems that I completely broke the mold on her build. Soon after, I built Wee Bot 1.0. The Wee Bot series has since been replaced with the Teen Bot series, but both have been fraught with bugs. I still can’t get him to work right, even on the current revision, Teen Bot 15.0. He’s completely unpredictable. Sometimes, he does exactly what he’s programmed to, but other times he’s defiant and rebellious, and fails to perform even the most simple of tasks. I haven’t given up on him yet, but he’s certainly not a finished work. Especially with the relative ease of interaction with Jennifer, Teen Bot has been quite the frustration from time to time. It was admittedly a pretty scary decision to identify him as a ‘Bot’ to the rest of the world so early on. To my surprise, people have accepted him despite his surly attitude and questionable judgment algorithms.

You must be wondering why I did it. The answer is simple. I was lonely. You don’t think that a guy like me could actually attract a woman like Jennifer do you? Not a chance, building one from scratch was the only viable option for me. And would I do it all over again? Yes I would, in a heartbeat. I do regret that I haven’t been truthful to my loyal readers though. Now that I’ve put all this out in the open, I hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive me. And, please don’t judge Jennifer for my actions. Please do keep reading and commenting on her blog. She didn’t ask for any of this. Well, except for that party where she glitched out and burned the curtains. Hopefully all those bugs are now behind us.

Oculus Rift – First Impressions

Last week Jennifer emailed me a link to Super! Bitcon. This was the inauguration of what is intended to be an annual event. We deliberated over whether or not we wanted to attend. Money has been tight for a while now, and we have tried to be careful how we spend it. Ultimately, we decided that we really didn’t want to miss out on the first shot. So, that’s what we did on Saturday. There was a Commodore 64 present and an Xbox One, and everything else in between was also represented. There were costumes (pics to come), there were contests, there were demos on hardware and software, there were arts and crafts, and there was a lot of stuff for sale. One vendor had a Nintendo GameCube for $18, and another had one for $60. At one table, they had a copy of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past with the original box and manual fairly priced for $85. Another vendor had a similar example and quoted me a price of $40.

In the rear of the main floor there was a vendor who had a pair of Pioneer Laseractive controllers, new in their original boxes. For those of you who don’t know, these puppies are basically Sega Genesis Controllers that have the Pioneer logo printed on them. I wouldn’t mind picking up a pair of them to run on our Atari 2600. These two were priced at $70 each. I chatted with the vendor for a few moments about them. I told him why I wanted a pair, but that I wasn’t prepared to spend what he was asking, although his pricing was not out of line for such mint examples. As we were surveying his wares, I turned around to see why people were standing in line behind us.

OR00

“Jen!” I said breathlessly, “that’s an Oculus Rift!”

I was a big fan of the concept of virtual reality in the 90′s. I remember some mobile arcade thing that was set up at the Dallas Galleria in about 1992 that was selling a few minutes of VR gaming for about $6. At the time I took the bait and put on the heavy goggles. I was immersed in a world of giant polygons. There was a degree of depth perception to the vector graphics, but it was mostly just laggy, hard to control, and bad. The landscape and characters were bland and glitchy from what I can remember. It was an interesting experience, but They cheated me out of my $6; live and learn though. Indeed as a teen, I checked out quite a few products sold under the umbrella of the term ‘virtual reality.’ The vast majority of them were flimflam pieces of gimmick that didn’t really deliver, but were designed to separate consumers from their money. Most of them didn’t offer any actual depth perception at all, but simply put a screen or two within eye-strain distance. Arguably the nail in the coffin was Nintendo’s sadly executed Virtual Boy, which sold poorly due to excessive pricing and sad underdevelopment. The industry got ahead of itself and sold a product it didn’t really yet have the technology to back it up with. Whatever the cause, VR seemed to be swept into the dustbin of history. But, not everyone gave up on it so easily.

OculusVR is a company that was born out of the attempt to improve on these forgotten devices. A Kickstarter with a quarter-million-dollar goal sourced nearly ten times as much funding. Now with the backing of Valve and FaceBook, the money and software support are definitely on hand to make this virtual reality a technological reality. The device itself is still in the development kit phase. These units are far better finished than a rough prototype, but they’re essentially betas. Jennifer, Teen Bot, and I stood in line to take our turn for a few minutes with the demo. (Duh.)

OR01

The experience was remarkable.

OR03

The eyepiece is a lot lighter than I expected, a fraction of the weight of the old units that I remember from twenty years ago. It has motion sensors installed that turn and pivot the point of view with the literal motion of your head.

OR04

The graphics are well implemented and deliver true depth perception as though you have stepped into a digital world. Note the monitor showing a representative view of what I was experiencing in the following picture:

OR02

To steal a cliche, this is the real deal. The screens wrap to the peripheral vision and make for a very convincing show. Even only as a visual display, the sound of the real world seemed to dull and quiet into the background. It was disorienting. I understand that the final release will have higher resolution monitors, which is definitely lacking in the Development Kit. There is a nearly imperceptible lag between in the motion that is dizzying. Each of the three of us experienced this phenomenon and felt as though we were about to fall down when we moved too fast. I actually stumbled as my eyes were giving me slightly different motion information than the rest of my senses. The final version is supposed to be faster, which should mitigate this issue as well. Assuming they address these two minor complaints well, and assuming they can keep the purchase price down, this piece of tech may be about to revolutionize the way you interface with your computer just like the multi-touch screen did with your cell phone.

With what this device promises to be upon release, there are some somber implications. With modern graphics, stereophonic sound, and motion controls, games will become a truly immersive experience in a way that they have never been able to before. I don’t consider myself to be a big gamer, but a really good game will suck me in. A game of that quality experienced like this would certainly make me lose track of everything else. I’d have to set a timer to limit myself. I have to admit that I’m excited to see what OculusVR brings to market as the example we played with on Saturday was quite impressive. Even so, it’s a cautious excitement. We haven’t seen VR like this before, and we don’t really know what it will do to the industry or to society. I will be patiently waiting for the first news stories of gamers who injured themselves by falling down using these things. This thing plus alcohol is guaranteed to result in accidents. It’s only a matter of time before we hear of someone getting their home cleaned out by robbers while their senses are cut off from the rest of the world, or someone getting assaulted while using this in an unsecured fashion.

Central Oklahoma Gunblogger Schutenfest 2014 – Things Learned

Friday:

Haphazardly throwing meat on fire will get the job done, but properly rubbing it and painstakingly monitoring temperatures produces better results. I think we proved this with pork ribs, beef brisket, and even squirrel.

DSCN9161

It’s always a good time for recreational archery, and a worn out archery target is not at all useless. Please see below.

You know the party has warmed up when the swords come out.

It’s awful fun to hack up a used up archery target with a Scottish claymore.

Sitting by the smoker all day is simultaneously relaxing and exhausting.

Saturday:

No matter how well organized you think you are, you will forget something. Targets, tripods, the other camera, revolvers…

Shooting is a depreciable skill, and I personally am not putting in nearly enough trigger time lately.

Rifles should always outnumber people 2:1 in any civilized gathering. A higher concentration of them is even better.

DSCN9180

With many thousands of dollars worth of hardware laying about, sometimes it’s the $4 vinyl decal that steals the show.

DSCN9176

Trophies make good targets.

DSCN9189

Pulling out a life sized mannequin and placing her downrange will excite a line of shooters the same way the ice cream truck does kids in the park.

And then, a half pound of Tannerite will blow her into more pieces than you can count.

DSCN9197

If you want someone to try your gun, seize the opportunity to shove it into their hand along with ammo at the first opportunity.

There’s no better way to wear yourself into exhaustion than a day at the range.

Sunday:

A windy night will do remarkable things to a 40-foot tarp left out.

There’s a lot of fun to be had even on the clean up day.

Often, a $200 rifle is just as much fun as a $2,000 rifle, even when each of them was fully worth the respective purchase price. You’ll probably want at least one of each.

Make sure you have enough charged batteries for all the cameras you might want to run.

You can in fact have too many tripods. This is a relieving, good problem to have.

A home made long bow with a ~40-lb draw weight will launch an arrow at over 100fps and least 100-yards, although the arrow is nearly impossible to track with a camera.

A pound of Tannerite will reduce 120 eggs to a fine layer of goo and tiny shell fragments faster than you can say, “Woah!” Pics and stuff forthcoming.

Overall lessons from the weekend:

When the event is over, you can simultaneously be relieved to get back to normal life and saddened that it couldn’t last longer.

The third weekend in March is a less than ideal calendar date for an event like this.

Sporting clays apparently reproduce. As long as we keep hosting this event, I’m confident I’ll never have to buy another box of the things. Then again, it’s hard to have too many.

There’s no way to accurately guess how much food will be needed in advance, but we got pretty close this time.

I should already know by now, but a gray tarp would be better to photograph and take video on than a blue one.

As wonderful as it is to see the friends who came, and as grateful as you can be for their attendance, there’s always room to miss the ones who couldn’t make it.

St. Paddy’s Day Cheer Aftermath

Oklahoma news station KOCO reports the following:

OKLAHOMA CITY —The Myriad Gardens says a synthetic, organic compound was the substance used to turn their water features green this weekend.

Fluorescein is a compound often used as a fluorescent tracer. It was used in 1962 to dye the Chicago River green on St. Patrick’s Day.

Myriad Gardens officials said they will drain the lake to one-fourth its normal depth and will refill it using an underground stream and city water.

The garden is waiting on a final analysis because eventually the dyed water will be dumped into the city sewer system.

Garden officials said cleanup from the prank could cost between $5,000 and $10,000.

Authorities are still looking for the person responsible for the vandalism.

Alright, quit looking at me like that. Although I’d kind of like to claim credit for this ingenuous bit of hilarity, I haven’t been near the Myriad Gardens in years. The best prank I ever pulled off was when I parked a classmate’s car inside the band room in high school. We didn’t break or damage anything, and that was far more harmless fun, although the band director didn’t seem to appreciate it so much. But seriously, that’s a brilliantly demented mind that dumped fluorescein into a major water feature in the city to dye it green for the holiday! Whoever you are, well-played sir. But seriously, next time don’t do something that is so expensive to clean up and has the cops looking for you. 8O

*Corrected title to “Paddy’s” from “Patty’s.” Thanks for the catch, David. I can’t believe I did that!

Life without HDMI

Well, almost.

For many years, Jennifer and I had an “entertainment system” that was cobbled together with a ~19-inch TV complete with knobs on the front, a VCR, and an old Radio shack AV receiver. We had a passive subwoofer hooked up through an old PA amp, and a quartet of speakers, an off-the-shelf pair, and a pair of homebrew towers in the front. When the VCR died, we replaced it with a DVD player. We didn’t have a lot of tapes, and the machines were similarly priced at the time, so we took the opportunity to upgrade. One year, we got a healthy tax return, a.k.a. white trash savings account, and upgraded from the tube to a multimedia projector. We painted a 91-inch screen on the wall with a special paint. We’re still using and enjoying our Optoma HD72. It’s only 720p, but it suits our needs for the time being. Around the same time, we picked up a Marantz SR4600. It was deeply discounted because the HDMI models had just come out. We didn’t feel like we needed the new hotness, but we still wanted excellent sound quality. The Marantz is one of the cleaner sounding solid-states that I’ve had the pleasure of listening to, but it became clear that we needed a good center channel speaker, which I sourced on the internet.

When the Playstation won The Great HD Format War, we picked up a Samsung BD-UP5000 that was on clearance at the local electronics money pit. We were able to pick up a few HD DVDs at the time, for little to nothing for the same reasons. For full disclosure in reference to the title of this post, we do have an HDMI cable running from this player to the projector, for video only. Even though the Marantz didn’t have HDMI ports, nor decoders for HD audio formats, it did have 8-channel discrete inputs to plug in analog auto, and the Samsung had 8-channel discrete output. So far, so good! My friend, Beej even gave me a pair of Marantz towers that she picked up at an estate sale so we could have true 7.1 surround.

Some time in there, we picked up a pretty nice laserdisc player at a garage sale, bundled with a small collection of discs. Well to be fair, we went through a few players before we wound up with our Pioneer CLD-D406, but for the sake of brevity, let’s say we picked up a laserdisc player. It’s an A/B side player that even has AC3 output for Dolby Digital. I wound up sourcing a Marantz DP870 to descramble the digital audio. This sound processor does a great job at that, but it has discrete 5.1-channel output. This is where we started running against a wall. We now had two units with multi-channel output, and only one set of inputs on the receiver. We don’t watch laserdiscs very often, and the only title we have that is in true Dolby Digital is Showgirls, which we rarely have a driving urge to watch. So, although this was a problem, it was not a huge one.

When Avatar came out, many of our friends, whom we respect, reported that it was a really good movie. Conversely, many of our other friends, whom we also respect, regarded this film as a giant, steaming pile of thinly veiled white guilt cliches. Naturally, we had to check it out. We rented the Blu Ray from the local store and settled in for the evening. Our Samsung wouldn’t play it. So, I went off to Samsung’s website to find that they had just rushed out a firmware update for our player, specifically to tackle the Avatar issue. With the update installed, we were able to *ahem* enjoy this film. And, by “enjoy” I mean facepalm, exclaim “WTF?!?!” and generally hate it, joining in the latter mentioned camp of our friends.

And, that firmware update was the beginning of a pretty crumby experience with our player. It had difficulty with almost all new releases from Disney and Fox. Subsequent firmware updates did nothing. I chatted with Samsung support, got nothing in return, and told them that I was tempted to avoid Samsung products from then on because of the experience. By this point, it was getting difficult to find a Blu Ray player that had alternatives to HDMI, and I was not about to buy a new AV receiver. I decided that I would work towards replacing the player with the next HTPC, which we started on last year for Christmas. My research indicated that playing Blu Ray discs on a computer was not without its caveats, and we still haven’t accomplished the task.

I knew that I was going to eventually have 8-channel sound coming from the HTPC. So, that makes three devices with discrete output going to a receiver that has one input. It was now time to get creative. I needed an 8-channel analog sound switcher. Somewhere I found such a device online, but it cost as much as a new receiver. I put my head together with my brother’s, and formed a plan. I took a dead Pioneer SL-PG440 single CD player and gutted it for the project. I drilled out the back of the box to mount 40 RCA jacks that I sourced on the internet.

holed

And, I even printed out an overlay to stick on the back of the unit to label the connections.

rearpanel

I shaved the front off the faceplate with my router table and rebuilt it with a sheet of dark colored plastic where a selector knob could be mounted.

frontpanel

I sourced some heavy-duty, Japanese-made, four-pole relays. These are discontinued new old stock, and are built like little tanks.

relays

I discussed circuit options with my brother, and let him put it together, as he has done a lot more of this kind of work than I have, and he’s got a good soldering station.

circuitcomplete

jacksinner

switchrear

When powered up, the relays make an authoritative “clack” between input sources. The switch has six positions, with the outer two wired as off, and the inner four switch between four input sources. I have not personally listened to sound through it yet, as I lack the cabling to wire it into the system yet. My brother has wired it for sound and reports that it is extremely quiet as far as noise is concerned, that it transmits the sound signal as if it is not even in line. This is exactly what I was after.

So in short, in avoiding purchasing a new AV receiver, my brother and I built a home theater electrical component from scratch. Now, we should be able to wire the discrete sound from the laserdisc sound processor, the HD DVD/Blu Ray player, and the HTPC without having to swap a handful of cables. And, I’ll have an extra input just in case we happen to pick up some other device that we have not yet thought of. Whenever I can manage to get it plugged into the system, I’ll let you know how it runs for me.

Oh, and back to the Samsung firmware issues… Jennifer’s parents gave us the new Die Hard movie for Christmas. When we threw it in the player, it did its annoying trick of sticking on the splash screen. After fiddling with it a bit and threatening to throw the player in the street, I checked the internet for a new firmware version. I didn’t expect to find anything as it had been several years since the last update. But lo and behold, Samsung released a new firmware version in October! I got that installed and we were watching Die Hard in no time flat. I’ve since been able to test the machine playing Tron Classic and Tron Legacy, two titles that have never worked on this player, much to my despair. So, the Samsung has a new lease on life and I’m not feeling quite as pressured to get the Blu Ray drive installed and configured in the HTPC.