120 laser-cut acrylic RepTiles, mounted to wall with small pins

I had Angus Hines make these for me—thirty in each of four colors. Three of the colors are fluorescent and one is not; all are transparent. The choice of colors in this tiling is purely random.

I modified my earlier vector art by the addition of a 1/16″ diameter pinhole in the tiling center of each lizard, which allows it to be secured to the wall with a #18 x 3/4″ brass-plated escutcheon pin (Crown Bolt #45304), pushed in with a brad driver rather than hammered. The pinhole version of the vector art has now been uploaded to Thingiverse, as well.

By far the most tedious part of this process was peeling the protective film from both sides of each tile. The side with the raster etching was particularly obnoxious, because the film came off in little bits, strips, and pieces around the areas that had been etched away. There’s probably some straightforward process I didn’t think of to remove it without all the manual fingernail work. Mild heat, perhaps? A hairdryer?

Bass drum button for drumcycle

My idea of mounting a digital drum controller on a stationary bike didn’t make much of a splash when I recently posted it on Make: Projects, but for me, at least, it has been absolutely revolutionary. It makes the 30-45 minutes I spend on the bike five days a week, now, not only bearable, but actually enjoyable. It’s a step beyond “gamification” of the workout chore (or “exergaming,” if you like), because I feel like I’m not just jumping through arbitrary hoops in a game to distract myself—I’m learning an instrument. Or re-learning, anyway. I was a pretty fair drummer, in high school, and it feels great to be dusting off those skills again.

And I just upgraded it, a bit. The Yamaha DR-55c controller comes with two 1/4″ phono plugs for foot switches for “hi-hat” and “bass drum” pedals. The box included one such switch, and there’s a second port for an aftermarket add-on. Unlike the dynamically-sensitive percussion pads on the controller itself, the foot switches are simple momentary switches that do not respond with louder or softer sounds depending on how hard you hit them.

Because I’m using my feet to operate the bike pedals, however, they are not free to operate foot-switches, so I wired up a simple arcade cabinet momentary switch (the odd member of the pair I bought for my secret garage door opener project) to a 1/4″ phono plug and mounted it inside a screw-top black plastic vitamin powder container. There’s a “large” size broom clip on the bottom of the container, as well, which secures it to the bike’s handlebar. I went all out and installed a rubber grommet on the cord exit hole, too.

In practice, the arcade cabinet button is no more difficult to strike than the pads themselves, and the static volume isn’t much of an issue since the dynamic sensitivity on the pads is not all that great to begin with, especially when you’re playing without drumsticks (as I do) using the DD-55c’s “hand percussion” setting. It is mechanically much louder than the pads, however, due to the button’s “clicking” action, which detracts the system’s “quiet mode” operation: Playing just on the pads, wearing headphones, I can exercise at 3AM and not disturb anyone in the house, rocking out all the while. Add in the arcade cabinet button on the pedal trigger switch, though, and the noise could start to be a problem.

Still, it’s worked out well enough that I will probably build another one ,to almost exactly the same plan, to mount on the left handlebar. Just need to score another arcade cabinet button. Since I’ll probably have to buy one, this time, I may opt for a pair, and look for buttons that are specifically designed to operate quietly.

Bike rack shaped like a bike

I tend to share the trendy distaste for Wal-Mart and all things Wal-Mart, but this orange bike-shaped bike rack I just saw outside store #2133 here in Austin is certainly a win. I like anything orange or yellow for visibility, and it’s another good example of functional pseudomorphism, where a thing looks like something what-it-ain’t in order to unambiguously identify its function. I’m beginning to learn something about my own taste, which is that I look for functional excuses/justifications for features that are also childishly delightful, like a bright orange paint job or a shape that imitates a familiar form.

Valentine’s Day 2012

A nice surprise on the kitchen counter, this morning, from my roommate Jennifer.

We talk about “Platonic” relationships, a lot, but sometimes forget the connotation: “Ideal.” In a Platonic relationship, neither party really needs anything of the other, and chooses the association for its own sake. Little or no diplomacy is required, whereas with more “serious” relationships, sooner or later, both sides have to set up embassies and start thinking like ambassadors.

Book Review: The Beardless Warriors

On Friday, I finished a book. It’s a tragically rare occurrence, these days. Even more unusually, it was a novel—Richard Matheson’s The Beardless Warriors, an autobiographical bildungsroman set among U.S. infantryman fighting the Second World War in Europe.

The main character, Hackermeyer, is one of several “beardless” teenage soldiers in an infantry squad under thirty-something Sergeant Cooley, who becomes, inevitably, a father figure to the “kids” that fight and die under his command. “Hack,” whose own family background is abusive and neglectful, forms a very close bond with Sergeant Cooley, and essentially the novel is about Hack finally coming to understand love and familial belonging against the horrific backdrop of war. It’s a cliché, now, though I don’t really know enough about the genre to say whether that arc was quite so tired when The Beardless Warriors was originally published.

Cliché or no, it works for me, and I did enjoy the book. While reading, I assumed that it was Matheson’s first novel, and that he’d written it shortly after coming back from his own tour in Europe, sometime in the late ’40s. Though that may well be the case, The Beardless Warriors was not actually published until 1960. But, in any case, it reads like a first novel, to me. The prose, pacing, and dialogue are often clunky, though there are undoubtedly some very effective—almost brilliant—moments.

As an example of the former, here’s an especially clumsy paragraph from near the end of the book, during the climatic assault on Saarbach:

Hackermeyer started shooting as Guthrie and Tremont ran around the rubble heap and into the square, picking up impetus as they ran. He noticed that Tremont kept his eyes on Guthrie. The moment Guthrie buckled his knees and fell, Tremont did the same. Guthrie started firing at the building; Tremont lay shivering in the snow.

Here’s how I would edit/rewrite it:

Hack started shooting as Guthrie and Tremont bolted into the square, picking up speed as they ran. Tremont followed Guthrie’s lead, falling and covering when he did. But when Guthrie opened fire on the building, Tremont just lay there, shivering in the snow.

Some of these edits could be boiled down to stylistic differences, but I don’t think there’s any denying that some of Matheson’s original prose is just sloppy. He favors a “brutalistic,” vaguely Hemingwayesque style, but that doesn’t justify awkward, inefficient, wordy phrases like “He noticed Tremont kept his eyes on Guthrie.” The entire novel is told from Hackermeyer’s POV, after all, so “He noticed” is pretty much always going to be unnecessary verbiage. It’s no more necessary to mention Hack’s “noticing” Tremont keeping his eyes on Guthrie than it is later, in the same paragraph, to say “he noticed Guthrie started firing at the building” or, “he noticed that Tremont lay shivering in the snow.”

Here’s another paragraph, from the same scene, that could’ve benefited from some attentive editing:

Shells exploded all around. They rocked the earth and detonated Schu mines, jetted murky clouds of mud into the snow-filled air. Razor-edged cleavers of shrapnel shot in all directions, walls of concussion slammed against them. Hackermeyer trembled, helpless, cleaving to the mud as if gravity had lost its hold and he resisted being sucked into the sky. Thought was gone again. He was a mindless clump of flesh and bone, welded to the floundering earth.

My version:

Shells exploded all around. They rocked the earth, detonating buried landmines and blasting jets of mud into the freezing air. Razor-edged shrapnel cleavers shrieked in all directions. Walls of concussion slammed against them. Hack trembled, helpless, clinging to the ground as if the sky were an abyss into which he might fall. Thought and mind were gone, again, and he was just a clump of quivering flesh, welded to the floundering earth.

Again, stylistic choices. But consider, particularly, Matheson’s evocative but awkwardly-phrases simile: “Hackermeyer trembled, helpless, cleaving to the mud as if gravity had lost its hold and he resisted being sucked into the sky.” First, the homonym verb “cleaving” coming right on the heels of the noun “cleaver” (just used to describe the flying shrapnel), is repetitious, as is the reappearance of “mud,” which is both the object to which Hackermeyer clings and the substance “jetted” into the air two sentences before. Then there’s the mess at the end: “as if gravity had lost its hold and he resisted being sucked into the sky.” It is a nice image, but there has to be a more eloquent way of expressing it.

I also marked some passages that I liked. This exchange between Hackermeyer and “sad clown” squad-mate Guthrie actually works pretty well, for me, unlike much of Guthrie’s humor, which tends to fall flat (though very often, in fairness, it is supposed to):

“You’ve heard about our good Sergeant Wadley>” said Guthrie.
“Was he killed?”
“No such luck,” said Guthrie. “He ran off.”
“Yesterday during Nazi artillery practice.”
Hackermeyer frowned. “How come?”
“He was alarmed,” said Guthrie. “Threw down his gear and scooted off like Chicken Little. Claimed the sky was falling down.”

He was alarmed. Comic understatement for the win. Here’s another good Guthrie moment:

Machine-gun fire started ripping close above and Hackermeyer scrabbled for the nearest shell hole. MacFarland followed.
“What the hell is happening?” raged MacFarland.
Hackermeyer started to reply when a body came crashing down on top of them.
“Sorry, men!” said Guthrie, scrambling off them. He saluted with his left hand, his face contorted, smeared with mud. “It is a good war, men, a true war!”
“Go screw yourself!” MacFarland shouted at him.
“It is an ill-advised project, father!” Guthrie shouted back.

During the assault on Saarbach, Hackermeyer and his squad fight their way past a statue of Christ on the Cross that had earlier been identified to them, during operational planning, as a tactical landmark. In fact, Matheson does not belabor the symbol of Christ crucified amongst the desolation and horror of war, which is all for the best, as far as I am concerned, because it is not exactly subtle. The image only stuck in my mind because it reminded me of an essentially identical scene in Samuel Fuller’s 1980 movie The Big Red One, which is also an autobiographical story of infantry combat in WWII Europe. In Fuller’s movie, the crucifixion image is rather overplayed, I think, but at least visually it is quite striking: The wood of Christ’s face is bleached, weathered, and cracked, and is covered with crawling red ants. Matheson also explicitly mentions the “weather-worn face and body on the cross,” and I was led to wonder if A) the similar imagery is purely coincidental B) the crucifix in The Big Red One was borrowed, consciously or not, from Matheson’s chronologically earler work, or C) both Matheson and Fuller independently encountered a weatherbeaten statue of Christ crucified while they were actually on the ground, in combat, in Europe, and the experience made such an impression on each of them that it later, independently, found its way into each man’s art. Case (C), of course, is the most interesting, and if I had time for idle scholarship I think it’d be fun to try to run down an answer. Did they both see the same statue? Is it still standing?

Anyway. I’m going on to read more Matheson, I think. The same friend who recommended The Beardless Warriors just loaned me her copy of Matheson’s short story collection Duel. Will be interesting to compare.

60 days of face exercises

Though skeptical, I decided to experiment with adding a facial exercise routine to my regimen back in November, and took a “before” picture (left), so I could compare later on and decide if it was worth keeping up with. The photo on the right was taken 60 calendar days later, having done the exercises five days out of every seven, about ten minutes each morning and evening, during the intervening time.

There’s no doubt my face looks stronger and better defined, but I would not characterize it as “younger.” In fact, I’d say it’s aged me, most noticeably by deepening my “smile lines.”

Of course, Xmas happened between the first picture and the last, and it at least feels like I do 80% of my aging, each year, over the holidays.

My first 3D print

This is the first full print off my MakerGear Mosaic FFF 3D printer. A shot glass is the traditional “maiden” print among RepRappers—it’s a quick, simple object and the libation-tightness of the finished print is a pretty good test/demonstration of the printer’s abilities. In fact, the traditional file is minimug.stl, which I elected to forego in favor of this slightly larger and more impressive shot glass, which is Thing #11944 from user raldrich. It is teardrop-shaped in honor of the RepRap project logo. It was printed from red 1.75mm polylactic acid (PLA) filament on the evening of Tuesday, January 17, at a small party my friends and I had to celebrate the event. We each independently verified its Glenfiddich-tightness. The traditional playing of Daft Punk’s Human After All album, during the printing, was also observed. The rhytmic, protomusical whines of the Cartesian robot’s stepper motors are a good complement to most Daft Punk songs.