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…


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!'”


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…

Out the window

Many times as we’re driving around, I notice a really cool scene out the car window. More often than not, I didn’t bring my “good” camera– my sweet Canon DSLR– and have to decide whether it’s worth a shot on my phone. (To be fair, sometimes Thom snaps “candid shots” out his car window with his ancient iPhone, and those pictures tend to be pretty nice.) Although it’s difficult to get a decent shot at 70mph, every now and then I get lucky.

An example of a cool car-window shot is last week’s low-hanging clouds. I dredged up a few others from recent excursions.

I love how the sunlight is dappled across this hilltop in Idaho:

Or the moody clouds hanging over the mountains near Missoula:

How about these late afternoon clouds, shot from the highway overlooking Flathead Lake:

Or this fiery sunset from exactly the same spot, a few months earlier:

I guess I need to keep watching the scenery as we’re zooming along the highway, and I should probably bring my good camera more often…

Low clouds

Lately, as fall firmly takes hold in the Flathead Valley, we’ve seen all sorts of interesting cloud formations. There’s low-lying fog almost every day– sometimes over the water, and other times just in fields and lowlands. I assume it has something to do with the ground being warm and the air being cool. Here’s a shot of the Mission Mountains in the distance, with all kinds of low clouds looking like white smoke coming up from the ground:

Solar powered

After a lot of thought and planning, we pulled the trigger on a solar system. We’ve had various power outages over the past year, as well as sky-high electric bills, so we thought it would be cool to generate some of our own power. We worked with a local company to design a system of solar panels that will provide more electricity than we need in the summer (for which the utility company will pay us). Those sixteen-hour days are sure nice, so even though we’re up in almost-Canada, we can take advantage of all that sunlight. Winter won’t be quite as good, but we’ll be able to generate a portion of our power, even on the cloudy days.

The crew– actually just a guy named Mike– started the installation today. It’s not much to look at right now, though: just some mount points on the roof where the panels will be placed.

Of course this is the week when the first snowfall hit, and that’ll probably slow down the process a bit. The panels are sitting in a warehouse in Billings, with an unknown ETA. Hopefully they’ll show up soon, and within a few weeks we’ll be a little more “green”.


We had a four-day weekend (seminary is our new part-time job) so Pepper and I decided to truck down to Utah to visit our kids and some family. It’s a little over nine hours from here to there, which is a healthy day’s drive but not too bad.

It turned out to be a grand old time. On Thursday we were at Kyra’s apartment, which is actually quite nice and a huge step up from last year’s hovel. Her roommate Aspen is a ton of fun.

While we were sitting around talking about where to go for lunch, Thom texted and mentioned that he was cruising through Provo on his way to Wyoming (as part of their 5,000-mile #vanlife road trip). I invited him to join us for lunch, and he said he already had plans: there’s an In-n-Out Burger in Provo, and apparently it’s the last one on their route north. Since there aren’t any near them in Washington, it was super important that they eat there. Kyra can’t stand burgers, and my experience with Thom at In-n-Out eight years ago was decidedly “meh”. So we agreed that he and his family would enjoy the culinary highlights of In-n-Out while my family and I enjoyed some pizza at Nico’s (which Kyra insists is the best pizza in town). But we couldn’t pass up an opportunity to see each other, so we swung by the In-n-Out to say hi.

So awesome to “run into” them at exactly the right time! We even got a tour (from Sefton) of the finished Sprinter van. After 3,000 miles it’s officially “broken in”, and they’ve been having a great time living in it for a few weeks. We parted ways, and they headed to Wyoming while we headed to Alex’s. He’d been working, and Kaitlyn had class, so we made sure to show up later in the day after they were finished. We enjoyed an afternoon together, had steaks at Outback, and called it a day.

Friday’s weather was gorgeous, but Kyra had to work so we hung out with Alex and Kaitlyn. We took a walk over to the nearby Provo Temple.

Dinner at Olive Garden seems to be kind of a tradition when we visit Provo, and that night was no exception. It was good to see Alex and Kaitlyn, but Alex had two mid-terms to finish by midnight so we headed north to Peter’s. He, Ryan, and Josh– my nephews– had all agreed to playtest Hexteria with me. They’re huge board gamers, so their input was really good.

A few hours later we headed north to Tara’s house, where we’d been staying each night. She has a new place up on a hill overlooking the Salt Lake Valley. The view is magnificent, although I don’t think I’m biased when I say it’s not as good a view as ours. Nonetheless, it was great to hang out with her and the fam.

And on Saturday we were trucking back to Montana. The 60- and 70-degree weather of Utah gave way to snow, and up in Montana it was coming down hard. Here’s the view outside our window on Sunday morning:

As our friend Amy remarked, “Well, we’ve had our week of fall, and now winter is here”. I guess so. The forecast calls for rain, snow, and cold for a while, so I guess we’ll hunker down a bit. But it was great to get out and see so many people over the weekend.