Halloween 2017

1999 – Skeksis

have been begging to do a Dark Crystal Halloween for YEARS. I made a Skeksis costume in ’99, before I started spending way too much time on costumes, but I knew I could do it much better now. Amber always told me it would be too complicated and the boys wouldn’t be able to walk around with their faces completely covered, so we pushed it off until “eventually”.

 

Since Amber got her Wizard of Oz Halloween she had been begging for last year, she finally agreed to let me do The Dark Crystal. I knew I had to start early if I was going to make 5 (or 6) costumes and give them the detail they deserved. Not to mention how much crap I would get if I begged to do it for years, and then only half-assed it.

It was decided that Amber would be Aughra, I would be a Mystic, Ezra would be a Skeksis, Bass would be a Garthim, Dae would be Jen the Gelfling, and of course Payge would be the Crystal (since she’s mostly covered in crystals anyway)

I started in February(!), modeling a Skeksis skull in Sculptris and 3D printing it. I actually remembered to take a few pictures along the way, so I could document the build process.

But then I got lazy and only worked on it for an hour or so every couple of months.

Starting in August I realized I needed to hunker down and spend every free minute working on the costumes. And, as I have done for the last several years, I took the week before Halloween off so I could finish the costumes.

We went to Clarkdale again this year, because they shut down the streets, which made it much easier to get around with our limited vision. We definitely could not have handled the crowd in Uptown Sedona.

We decided to enter the costume contest, even though it would eat up a good portion of the trick-or-treating time. We told the boys we would buy them close-out candy the next day to make up for it. I was hesitant to enter, based on previous years’ failures, but I felt like this year’s costumes were far superior to previous years.

The contest was divided up into age categories, so each of the boys was in a separate category, with Ezra in the adult category with me. Each group walked around in a big loop past the crowd and judges over and over until they made their decision. Daemon (whose costume was arguably the worst of our group) won second place, behind a little Edward Scissorhands. Then Bass went up. They called third, second, first. No Bass. First place was a cardboard box with a plastic table cloth and a kid’s head sticking out… Everyone in the crowd was telling us we got robbed. Finally it was Ezra and I’s turn. As we went around the circle, people in the crowd kept saying “You guys are awesome! You’re so going to win! You’re totally baller! (apparently that’s a thing kids say these days)” But guess what? 3,2,1 NOTHING. People in the crowd said they couldn’t believe it. But the boys took it all in stride. They said that since Dae won his category, maybe the judges wanted to be fair and not have our family win every category.

After the contest we went trick-or-treating. Most of the houses had already run out of candy, since the contest made us so late. But at every one the boys hit, they got extra handfuls of candy because the people thought their costumes were so cool.

We got stopped every few feet with people wanting to take pictures with us. And the number of people who actually recognized what we were was amazing. The only year that was even close was Doctor Who.

Over all, this was the best year yet. I wonder how we will top it next year?

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Halloween 2015

We were all set to do Wizard of Oz this year. Amber had been begging to do it for years, and I finally gave in.
We were just coming home from a Walmart trip to get supplies, when dad called. Mom had had a “massive cardiac event”.
I spent 2 weeks in the hospital at her bedside, but she never woke up…

Needless to say I wasn’t interested in Halloween or making costumes anymore.

As we got closer to Halloween, I told the boys that they could have store-bought costumes for the first time in their lives. They were really excited. Ezra decided to make his own Teemo costume with a hat he found on Amazon. Bass chose a scary jester. Dae found a ride on dinosaur costume that he asked if I could turn into a dragon. Amber bought a broken-doll costume. I saw a scary teddy bear mask that looked kind of lame, but gave me inspiration to make my own.

Evil Toys(?)

I made the face look friendly, but when I opened the mouth, there were sharp metal teeth with blood dripping from them. It was great when kids would come up saying “Look at the cute bear!” and then I would “smile” at them and they would run away screaming.

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MathClicker

Ez has been having trouble with Math lately. He seems to have forgotten even basic concepts like addition and single digit multiplication. We tried grounding him from the computer, tv, even books until he got his grade up. None of it seemed to work.
I decided to try going the opposite direction. He’s allowed to use the computer as much as he likes, BUT, there’s a catch! I wrote a user script that intercepts every link, and requires that he complete a basic math question before it lets him continue. So far he actually likes it, and he’s getting a little faster. Sebs even requested I install it on his computer. (Don’t tell Ez, but his LITTLE brother is WAY faster than he is)
If you want to try it yourself, you can download it here: http://www.fuzzyunicorn.net/MathClicker.user.js
You will need Firefox and Greasemonkey installed. It should also work on Chrome with userscripts, but I have not tested it yet.

The Command Center

The new command center
3 workstations running off of one computer

Ezra has had his own computer for years, and lately Sebs has been begging me to build one for him. The computer room was already getting too hot just from the two computers, I couldn’t imaging adding a third. So I decided to try something I read about years ago, but had never really messed with.  My computer, which I built myself for my birthday last year, has a 6-core processor and 4GB of RAM. The only thing I ever do with it is browse the web, edit photos, and occasionally transcode videos. I have plenty of extra horsepower to spare for the boys. You see, Linux, unlike Windows, has the ability to run more than one user at the same time.

The only real tricks were trying to separate out 3 keyboards and mice so they don’t interfere with each other, and getting two X (windows) sessions running off of the two outputs on a single video card (hint, you can’t)

The keyboard thing ended up being relatively easy. It was just a matter of figuring out which physical port each device was plugged into, and then setting up each “seat” to ONLY use the ports associated with the keyboard and mouse I want to control that seat. The one bad thing about this is that I can’t just plug in a new keyboard or mouse and have it automatically detected. I don’t plan on adding new peripherals that often, but if it becomes a problem, I will write a script to add them and let me choose which seat to connect them to.

The second problem proved to be a bit trickier. Initially I was trying to use the two outputs of my Nvidia 9800GT for me and Sebastian, and an Nvidia 6200LE for Ez. The problem was that as far as the computer was concerned, the 9800 only had one big output, not two individual outputs. So there was no way to tell it that my session should be on monitor 1, and his on monitor 2. Any time I tried it, they would overlap, and end up crashing the computer.

I finally gave up on using one card for two people, and decided to put a third card in, one for each of us. Then I ran into my next problem: my motherboard only has 2 PCIe x16 slots. The only slots I had left for the third card were standard (read OLD) PCI slots. The only cards I have laying around are AGP, not PCI. I scrounged through the buckets of cards we have at work. Tons of AGP, tons of PCIe, ONE standard PCI. It was an old Nvidia FX4400. Unfortunately  Nvidia does not support this card with their current drivers, so I can not run it at the same time as my 9800. After a couple of days of searching, I finally found an old machine in storage that had a PCI Nvidia FX5500. Not much better than the 4400, but hopefully usable.  Initially it would not work at the same time as my 9800. The driver series I was using had dropped support for the 5500. BUT one series down supported both my 9800, and the 6200 and 5500.

So after couple more days of tweaking configs, I finally have a three headed computer, where both boys and I can all browse the web at the same time. And my computer is already quite a bit cooler without Ez’s old computer running.

Some projects for the future:

  • Adjust the configs so that I can take over their screens on the fly and have triple monitor running
  • Build a hinged monitor rig that will allow flipping their screens in towards me for triple monitor
  • Fix the sound so we can adjust the volumes independently. Currently all three workstations are running through one sound card.
  • Write scripts to make reconfiguration easier (you know Daemon will want his own station in a few years)

After dinner surprise

We come home from dinner last night, and as we come around the corner just before my house, we see a ton of cops in the street stopping traffic. The cop stops us, and I’m sitting there wondering if there was an accident in front of our house. I look over at the house, and see an orange truck in my driveway. Then I realize the truck is at a 45 degree angle, with it’s wheels against my bedroom wall. There is a tow truck yanking on the orange truck, trying to dislodge it from what’s left of my A/C unit.

I lean my head out the window and tell the officer in the middle of the street, “Ummm….. that’s my house!” He says, “Oh good, we’ve been trying to figure out how to get a hold of you.”

I pull in front of the house across the street and talk to the officer. Somehow the guy pulled a 90 degree turn in front of the house, went through my chain-link fence, across the driveway, over the A/C, and up into the bedroom wall. They’re not sure if he was drunk yet! He went to the hospital before the cops got there, so they didn’t have a chance to question him.

They did get all of his info, and said that his insurance should cover everything. If not, we do have homeowners insurance, but I’m sure they’ll raise the rates if we have to use it.
Our house after, having a big orange truck crash through it.
What’s left of our A/C. And it’s the middle of August in Arizona.
A/C carcass.
Amber’s side of the bed. A nice 6 inch window to the outside!
Amber's bed
My side. Not quite as big, but still some good size cracks, and at least one broken stud.
Chris's side
And the craziest thing: a few weeks ago, a storm ripped one of my trees out of the ground, and threw it across the driveway. If I hadn’t cut it up and moved it, it would probably have stopped the dude, or at least slowed him enough to keep him from hitting the house.Ripped up tree

A day for Memorex

Am’s mom came to visit this week, and after a couple of days of trying to shop with the boys running around, they decided that they needed to bring me to watch them while the girls shopped.

We went up to prescott, and the while the girls shopped for clothes at Ross, me and the boys wandered up and down the stip mall. In target, I saw their ad for 512mb flash drives for $9.99. So I drag the boys to the electronic section, but of course they are all out of the ones that are on sale. They did have a pretty cool bracelet usb drive, but it was only 256 meg. It was like a black rubber arm band, and the clasp part was the usb plug.

Next we went to the Petco, and they were having an adopt a dog sale. It must have been the humane society, but I didn’t see any indication of that. But all of the dogs were kind of “used” looking. The boys went to pet one of them, and they said “oh, don’t let them put their fingers near him, he bites, he doesn’t like kids” Then they invited us to come pet a nicer dog. As we were petting him, I noticed he only had one eye. EZ said “Dad, this dog only gots one eye! That’s Cool!!!” The lady started cracking up and said only a boy would think that.

As we walked by Officemax, I saw a bunch of flyers out front. They didn’t have any great deals, but they did have a 50 pack of dvds or 75 pack of cds for $9.99. I’ve been meaning to make some videos of the boys for relatives, so I decided to pick up a pack of dvds. I also decided to see if they had any flash drives for cheap. They were all in the $50 range though, and that was mostly for 256 or 512mb ones. I found the dvd section, but none were marked $9.99, so I had to compare skus on the flyer to the shelves. Finally I figured out it was the Memorex ones that were on sale. Not bad, I usually get the Great Quality ones at Frys, and let me tell you, that name is a misnomer. Memorex are usually $30, and every disc in the pack works, unlike GQ.

After another hour or two, the girls were finally done with Ross. We went to the mall, and the boys and I played at the play area while the girls shopped for another 2 hours. I’m surprised the mall security guys didn’t think I was some sort of weirdo, watching the little kids play for hours at a time.

After lunch and Costco, we finally get to the last store. Grandma’s favorite, K-Mart. As bad as the name sounds, this store was 100 times worse. We go in and get a shopping cart for the boys to ride in, and every single one is so dirty, I didn’t even want to touch it, let alone put the boys in it. I dig through to get the cleanest one, and we wander the store for an hour or so while the girls look at clothes. We go the the electronics section so EZ can play whatever demo video game they have out. It’s a really dirty, beat up gameboy advance, with mario pinball.

I wander over to the usb drive case, and see a 1gig drive on sale for $14.99. The 128mb one in the same brand is $20, so that’s a pretty good deal. And it’s a Memorex, not some generic junk. So I buy it, and I’m reading the package while we wait for the girls to finish trying on the clothes (more like start trying on the clothes). Under system requirements, it says Windows XP, NT, 98SE as usual. Then a little lower, Mac OS 8.6 and above, and to my surprise Linux 2.4.x. Memorex actually knows what Linux is!!! And they know enough about it to know you need a 2.4.x kernel to use usb.

Reading the package a little more, I see that the drive comes with a couple of applications that are set up to be run off the drive. One of those applications is Mozilla Thunderbird! So not only does Memorex know about Linux, but they’re also helping to spread Thunderbird. Granted, all of the applications are the Win32 versions, but still, every little bit of press helps.

Soon I would like to see them putting a full distro on the drive, so you can just buy it, boot from the usb drive, and test out a new OS. It wouldn’t be that hard, I put PClinuxOS on it this morning, and it only took about 10 minutes including the download. If they put a small distro like Puppy or DSL on there, it wouldn’t even take up much room. And it wouldn’t cost them anything. They could be helping to spread Linux, and at the same time boost the value of their drives over the other companies.

I guess it looks like I’m going to have to start supporting Memorex over the generic stuff I usually buy. I just hope I can find good deals like this every time.