Pumpkins (Part 2)

The pumpkins have grown, and after much discussion regarding their ripeness, I decided to harvest the first one.

It was partially out of fear that the neighbor’s kids would smash them, and I wanted at least one for carving.

Now my observations about pumpkin-growing:

Pumpkins are incredibly resource-hungry.  They want a lot of light, space, and nutrients.

Carving pumpkins are pretty pointless from a gardening standpoint.  They don’t taste good, and only serve as decorations for a few days.

Regardless, they were fun to grow and I should have more than enough for everyone’s carving needs–provided they escape a more violent and premature fate.  They also survived the vine borer plague, so yay–harvest win.


Red Faction: Armageddon

With the August Xbox Live Gold freebies came Red Faction: Armageddon.  It sounded ominous, and a welcome break from the crap arcade games that keep popping up.  Everyone likes some mindless shooting, after all.  But unfortunately my time with the game was brief, and while I admit that it’s rather unfair to critique a game off of 5 minutes of gameplay, game reviews are useless in general–like any art critique it’s the pretentious rambling of a pseudo-intellectual “expert”.

I knew nothing of the franchise, but surmised that it was part of a series (deduced by the “:”).  Upon loading, I was greeted with the various graphical introductions of developers/publishers–none of which I had encountered before (not a good sign).  I also didn’t know SyFy published games, and in my experience the TV and movie industry doesn’t know a damn thing about making a good video game, nor do they know how to adapt a video game into a TV show/movie.  Also, I hate when people abbreviate “Science Fiction”, and doubly so when they use a “y” instead of an “i”.  This game already had a lot of strikes against it.

Then I was presented a familiar calibration screen: adjust the brightness until some symbol is just barely visible.  Games do this for one reason alone: at some point something scary is going to pop out of the darkness and scare you, but you won’t be scared if you can see it too soon so we want it just barely visible.  There was a time when I dutifully responded to the developer’s wishes.  No more.  I adjusted the brightness until the symbol in question was comfortably visible, and not just barely visible.


The intro cinematic loaded, and through a combination of my ignorance with the franchise and the game’s bad narrative, I surmised that I was on Mars, there were general disagreements between groups of people, and I was part of one of these groups and therefore needed to shoot people in the other group.

This other group had captured the planet’s terraforming equipment, and was using it for some sort of environmental terrorism.  Approaching the target in an ATV, my team was there to shoot these people, I guess.  But my team did little to inspire confidence.  A brief discussion ensued regarding a “Pyrrhic victory” and “throwing a wrench into their plans”, to which someone on the team intelligently questioned what both of those sayings meant, and…what a wrench was.  I guess the passing standards on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test have gotten lowered over time.  We ran out of people of average intelligence and were now throwing mentally challenged soldiers into the fray, or just really uneducated people…just like Vietnam.  Ha!

But it was obvious that this dialog was for humorous intent.  I symbolically humored the developers by uttering a single “Ha!”.  What I presumed was my character (the only one who didn’t sound stupid–because who wants to play an idiot?) professionally answered queries regarding his mechanical aptitude, as it would be needed in fixing the terraformer.

Then a sandstorm enveloped the ATV, and lightening blew the rear hatch off the vehicle–I don’t understand how those physics made any sense–I’m thrown from the vehicle as it met some violent end.  Then the usual fade to black.

I awakened, standing, with some AI giving me instructions.  And thus began a familiar rendition of a popular beginning sequence–integrated controller settings.  To get my bearings, I needed look straight up at the sky.  Challenge accepted.  Then, I had to look at a series of barrels.  Whew.  What better way to test my combat-readiness than to pivot my neck and hips slightly?  Satisfied that I understood basic orientation and locomotion of my own human form, the game then let me actually walk.

Following the one direction I could go, I encountered a crumbling wall.  The AI told me to use my maul and smash it.  That’s right–standard military armament included an assault rifle and a 200 pound hammer, stored up my butt apparently, as it manifested into corporeal existence upon equipping.  Actually I think there was some sort of Star Trek-y matter replicator on my suit that created it.  Maybe it could replicate me a good video game later.

Also, it made me use the D-pad to change weapons.  I couldn’t even cycle them with the Y button, oh no.  This meant that in the heat of combat I would have to reach over with my maneuvering thumb to switch, thus momentarily becoming stationary.  Yes, that choice made sense.

Anyway, I took this giant hammer and smashed the wall.  Huzzah!  I switched back to my rifle, hoping something would appear to shoot, and… the game froze, then crashed to the dashboard.

Thus ended my first and only brief experience with the Red Faction franchise.  I subsequently went outside and picked tomatoes.


Swallowtail (Part 2)

This was likely not the pupated adult of the caterpillar I found on the dill, and it’s also a male, which means that my gardens are the social clubs for swallowtail butterflies.  Yay butterflies!

As with most sexually-reproducing species, the male wafts his pheromones to announce his presence (cologne), flaunts his colors (“Look at my clothes and car!”), and prances about to demonstrate his virility (peels out of the parking lot/plays football).  And yet, before we laugh and denounce the painfully obnoxious mating rituals of young males, remember that these behaviors only persist because females respond to them favorably.

Unlike humans, however, butterflies are minimally destructive, and to my hearing–silent.  So they can stay.  I saw this one fluttering about in the petunias in my daughter’s garden.

A male Palilio polyxenes

He seemed irritated with my presence, constantly flying away when I got close enough to get a picture.  Eventually, I got this image.  I was hoping to get a better shot of his wings, but decided to let him be after several minutes of harassment.  Good luck finding your mate, Mr. Swallowtail.



Most of the news I consume is tech news.  This is primarily because it interests me, but also because the scope of this news type tends to overlap social/political events, and therefore still exposes me to the more standard news that everyone else consumes, while remaining more esoteric and as a result–averse to the more repugnant predilections of other news (I’m looking at you, Fox).

But there’s still a gap, and I was oddly ignorant of the impending solar eclipse until just before the event.  We as a people seem very divided on how much popular interest celestial events should garner.  There’s people who don’t seem to care at all, and people who care a lot.  Me?  When I found out, I leaned towards caring a lot, though not enough to make travel plans.

I had never seen a solar eclipse before.  The last one I recall was in the 90s, but it was far to the north and not visible where I was at the time (Texas).  I assume this was the same event Liz recounted, and while in grade school she was far enough north to view it, but for the anti-litigatory reasons of school systems, she was not allowed to watch.  However, she advised me that she defied authority and snuck a peek through the window, thus watching without protective eyewear and potentially causing the problem her school was seeking to avoid–and something that would have been easy to mitigate with cheap filters, had they just let the kids watch in the first place.

And so it was that my own daughter would have been prevented from partaking, had I not already scheduled the day off for unrelated reasons.  And as she is AM kindergarten, I was able to bring her home and offer her this experience.

But, there was a problem.  How was I to record this event without any specialized photographic equipment?  We had a pair of filters, which made for a really good first-person viewing, demonstrated as follows:

Astute observers may notice interesting objects in the background–I’ll get to that

Naturally, the thought progression led to taking a photo through the filters.  That didn’t turn out so well:

Option 2: projection.  Following some instructions for the pinhole in box method, I got a decent solar projection onto white paper, which I was then able to capture:

As the eclipse began, I took a second photo:

Later, I tried again:

It worked, but left something to be desired.  So, I considered lens magnification.  I had a pair of compact binoculars.  I angled them, which in itself was difficult, and eventually I managed to get a decent image:

The image was much sharper, but still I wanted something better.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have a telescope.  But, I did have one more optic device, and it had much bigger lenses–a rifle scope!

The trouble with this method is that it’s attached to a rifle (and rather unwieldy when the objective is to point it skyward with one hand).  The scope comes off, of course, but it’s been sighted, and I wasn’t willing to have to re-sight it just for this day’s project.  No, I would simply take the entire weapon outside.  Of course, it is my own damn yard and I’ll walk around it with a high-powered rifle if I damn well feel like it, but I’m also trying to be a decent neighbor, so I did feel a little guilty about brandishing a gun, but oh well.  Maybe it’ll keep the neighbor’s kids off my lawn for all of 5 minutes.

It was difficult to hold the rifle (it’s heavy) while trying to get a photo, but eventually I was rewarded for my efforts:

Again the image was a little sharper, and after numerous attempts I was satisfied that it was as good as I was going to get.  Then the moment of maximum coverage arrived and we simply watched with our own eyes.  Despite waning attention spans, I hope the experience will make lasting memories.

Then the neighbors starting lighting firecrackers to celebrate, and I became cognizant of the fact that I was waving a gun around while explosions which sounded a lot like gunshots were echoing across the neighborhood.  I put the weapon away.  It will certainly be a memorable experience to me.



With the new house came a lot of blank walls.  And what are blank walls but blank canvases, ready for inspiration to convert them into decorative facades?  They’re also tinder boxes for countless marital arguments.

But a blank wall does not a home make, and we are forced to have these arguments.  Still, I find Liz’s tastes a little too cosey for my liking, and having a tendency to centralize on the theme of cabins in the woods.  It was such a common recurrence that I pointed it out, and turned it into a joke, mocking her quaint tastes whenever the artwork discussion resurfaced.  She responds, appropriately, with the usual round of insults and obscenities.  Ah marriage, how do they survive without these bickering matches?

Personally, I enjoy surrealist art–something that isn’t quite decipherable upon viewing, and somewhat unsettling–something by Peter Gric or Zdzisław Beksiński.  But, I get why that type of art might not make the best focal-point for a room designed to be a mental retreat from the outside world, so I haven’t pushed my preferences.

The other problem is that art is expensive.  So while in Wisconsin, we paid a visit to a local art store, Maple Marsh, hoping to find some prints on the more affordable end.  Turns out, after speaking with the proprietor, that times aren’t very good for art (unsurprisingly).  In order to stay in business and appeal to the less affluent, she had taken on the practice of acquiring reprints and sealing them in some sort of epoxy.  The result very much resembles an original, and are cheap and durable.  She’s still learning the process, as some of the prints had shadowing effects and foreign debris within the sealant, but at $8 to $25 a print (including frame), the compromise is worth it.

Eventually, we agreed on some art for the reading/sitting room, which looks out upon our shade garden and bird feeder.  This outdoor area is a haven for squirrels and various small creatures, so we decided upon some “critter” paintings to match the theme.  One day, we’ll finish decorating.  And now, we’re one room closer.