Good sport

It’s nearly Thanksgiving, which means it’s time to get cracking on our annual Christmas cards. I have an idea for this year’s card which is decidedly mediocre, so we had to take some pictures. I’m fortunate that I married someone who’s a good sport about all of this. (Honestly, I think it’s mainly because I only ask about five minutes of her time, and I do all the rest myself.)

Our photo shoot was pretty amazing. Let’s start with the “power shot” that looks like we’re about to start a WWF match:

There’s the cheesy “engagement photo” shot…

Our “celebratory shot”, in which I look like a complete idiot:

And the “toasting shot”, which is questionable on many levels:

Which one(s) will be on this year’s card? Ooh, the suspense…

Hexteria Beta

It was cool to see the alpha version of Hexteria’s printed tiles, which were basically designs I made up so I could have “real” hexes instead of leftovers from my ancient Settlers of Catan game. I boxed up three copies of Hexteria and mailed them to friends and family for testing, and now I’m waiting to hear what they think.

In the meantime, I received new hex designs from my nephew Tim, and just had them printed:

Whoa, these are much cooler than the ones I designed. That’s what happens when you go with a pro!

Today I’m heading out to my favorite local pizza place so I can playtest the game (with the shiny new hexes) with some friends. One step closer to becoming a famous game designer!

A foot

I keep thinking it’ll be cool to see a “real Montana winter” with four feet of snow right outside my door. Well, we’re not quite there yet. But over the past couple of days we had a pretty steady snowfall, and now that it’s stopped and the sun has decided to show her face, it’s fun to see a foot of snow atop everything.

Pretty! If only our driveway didn’t require all-wheel drive and studded snow tires…

#montanalife

Earlier this year, we decided to get a generator so when the power goes out, at least we’ll have water and heat (both of which are powered by electricity). It seemed simple enough, and I felt like I could just organize a handful of contractors and make it happen. Well, summer is apparently a very busy time for contractors around here, and the pandemic made it worse because everyone’s doing house projects this year. After being ghosted by most of them and turned down flat by others (“the job is too small” and “you’re too far away” were common reasons), we finally opted to just hire a generator company to handle everything.

The only thing they can’t do is install the gas line to get propane to power the generator. We have a thousand-gallon tank buried in our front yard, but (naturally) the generator will be in the back of the house. Somehow we needed to install about 200 feet of piping. I thought I had it all lined up with the gas company two months ago, and last week– literally the day before the project was going to happen– they said they couldn’t do it because we didn’t have a trench dug for the pipe. Umm, what? I thought that was part of what they were doing. Nope, they said– I have to trench it. I was pretty exasperated, and started frantically calling contractors. Everyone was still busy, and it’s November, so the weather is threatening to freeze the ground. If I couldn’t get the trench to lay the pipe, I couldn’t get the generator, and we’d have to wait until the spring thaw.

After failing to secure a contractor, Pepper and I decided to cowboy up and do it ourselves. I rented an excavator (the ground is far too rocky for a simple trencher) and we went to work. This thing wasn’t exactly one of those monster earth-moving machines– it was more like an oversized Tonka toy.

I got the hang of the levers pretty quickly. Pepper gave it a whirl but despite intense concentration, she ended up kind of swinging the bucket around like a drunk construction worker.

So we agreed I’d run the excavator while she did “support work” to make the job faster. There’s nothing quite like tearing up your beautiful lawn just to lay a 3/4″ pipe.

After almost six hours in the chair, breathing diesel fumes and slamming levers around, the trench was finished. We laid the pipe and went to work pushing all that dirt back into the ditch. The excavator was a lifesaver, because it was amazing how much dirt there was.

Once that was done, I had the rare privilege of repairing the sewer line I’d accidentally destroyed. It was unmarked, and fairly shallow, and although it gave up a good fight against the excavator’s hydraulics (I thought I was pulling on a huge rock, which had already happened many times), it eventually exploded into a bunch of PVC shards. I had to dig it out and then cut the pipe. Whee!

After what seemed like hours but was probably about 30 minutes, I had the new pipe installed.

We raked literally tons of dirt, gravel, and rock to tidy up a bit, and the end result of two days’ hard labor isn’t too awful.

I guess I can cross off a couple more things on my “things to do now that I’m a Montanan” list: run an excavator and fix a sewer line. Sheesh, I’ve done more house projects in the past year than I’ve done in the previous forty-seven.

Now we’re just waiting for that generator…

Trackers

Today I was putting together an online poll for some friends, to figure out when we can have our next virtual game night. I was using Doodle, a web site that has a quick and easy (and free!) way to create polls. But the site didn’t work, because it told me I was blocking ads. I turned off my ad blocker so I could finish my poll, and the software I use to block tracking scripts (Ghostery) went haywire. Check out the purple column on the right:

68 trackers! This single web page is using that many different scripts and sites to track me and deliver ads. Holy smokes.

For those people who think they’re “anonymous” on the internet, or wonder how Amazon and Facebook can suddenly display an ad for something they were looking at on a completely different site, here you go. And this is just for a simple little poll…

First-grade art

Okay, I’ve been doodling with my new tablet for a bit, and it’s clear I’m not much of an artist.

That’s supposed to be a barn but looks like a doghouse. Then again, it was about three minutes of effort and really just an exercise to get used to how the stylus works, and how to make varying line thicknesses and use of colors.

After goofing around a bit more, I decided to “paint” an actual photo. Here’s the source material, a shot of Lake McDonald from a recent trip to Glacier:

And here’s the sketch:

Breathtaking, I know. But in about an hour of scribbling stuff like this, I’m already feeling more familiar with the tools and how to use the stylus. Give it another week or so, and I’ll be Monet.

Digital artist

As I continue on my (long) journey to become a better photographer, I thought it might be interesting to work with a digital art tablet. Many people seem to think using a stylus is far easier than using a mouse when it comes to image editing and manipulation. Moreover, as I continue working on Hexteria, I feel like it might be fun to make some digital art (illustration kind of stuff) and a tablet is definitely superior for that sort of thing.

So, I bought one. It just arrived, and I’m having some fun messing with it.

There are a bunch of programmable buttons on the device, and of course for years I’ve already been all sorts of keyboard shortcuts to let me quickly change tools and modes. One hand holds the pen, the other taps some keys, and the magic happens. So far it’s been pretty slick.

One part of the process was calibrating the tablet to work with my three-monitor system. Technically the tablet is a fourth monitor– I can drag any windows over to it, and then manipulate them with the stylus. In order to “scale” the stylus’ drawing area to only the tablet, so it doesn’t bleed over to my other screens, I had to do a bit of linear algebra to compute a transformation matrix for the screen coordinates. Wow, that took me back. I remember absolutely loving linear algebra, although admittedly I had to brush up a bit to figure this one out.

In any case, it’s the start of yet another hobby. I’m curious to see how artistic I can be…

More critters

It’s been a while since I shared some security camera footage of critters roaming around the house. Almost daily we see deer and mice; occasionally we’ll catch a bear wandering across the lawn. But last night we had two new ones.

First there was a skunk walking around by our front door. (Click to watch the night-vision video)

About an hour later, someone’s dog dropped by.

While I’m not at all surprised that animals wander around here, we’re a good quarter-mile from the nearest house, and even then it’s a trek through a forest with heavy underbrush. For a dog to get up here is pretty odd. He walked all around the house, showing up on every one of our cameras. I hope he made it home this morning…

Escargo

We were in town today for some shopping, and I saw this awesome license plate in the parking lot:

It reminded me of a joke I used to think was absolutely hilarious:

… So this snail goes to an auto detailing shop and asks if he can have a giant letter “S” painted on the side of his car. The owner asks why. “Because,” replies the snail, “I want people to see me driving past and exclaim ‘Wow, look at that S car go!'”

Groan.

Hexteria Alpha

Today I received the first batch of printed parts for Hexteria. It was exciting to open the box and see all the little baggies with tiles and reference cards…

I laid out the board for a two-player game, just to see what the tiles looked like together, and how big it was. Not too bad.

There’s still a lot of work to be done, but I’m at the point now where I can box up a few copies of this “alpha” version of the game and send it to people who have agreed to playtest it. I’m looking forward to some feedback…