Went to a show at the Doug Fir last night. The opening band was The Cabin Project. The lead singer's vocal stylings reminded me a bit of Neko Case, and there was a lot of vocal harmony. (All four members sang.) I can't say much about the songwriting, because nobody mixes vocals so you can understand them in this town. But I bought one of their CD's, so I'll find out. Then the band I came to see, which was Swan Sovereign, which used to be Dirty Martini, but they decided that they needed a new name after retooling their sound and adding a bunch of new material. Their old sound was a bit eclectic, as befits a band that started as a Songwriters in the Round show; for a while their shows were mostly just each of them singing their own songs in turn with the others backing them up. This grew more organic over time, but you could still tell a Lara song from a Stephanie song from a McKinley song. I'm not sure I like the more homogeneous sound better. They ended up on the more rocking, take no BS side of their old sound, which I liked, but also liked their other sides. I wish know for sure who wrote the new songs; I'd guess that they are mostly McKinley's, but with her characteristic songwriting quirks filed down considerably. I still enjoyed the show quite a lot, and will continue to follow the band.
New Puzzle Zapper Blog posts:

First, a little squib about 24-gons:

Which is mainly just an excuse to share the above pic, so now that you've seen it, you don't really need to see the post.

Second, an entry on topology in polyomino puzzles:

New song!

Feb. 6th, 2013 10:22 pm
The Lark was a ship of John Astor’s concern,
For cargo of peltry she sailed for Astoria,
Fine coats for the ladies of Canton and Corea,
Fair profit to take in return.

She rounded the cape troubles none to report,
But hard to the Sandwich Isles, a savage wind blew her;
A wave like a wall struck her, broke her and threw her,
Oh, that I had died in that storm!


There’s many a sailor whose fate is unknown,
And I wish’t to God above, I had been one,
Swamped and becalmed and then circled by sharks,
Oh pity the crew of the Lark.

As we struggled to save her, the boats were both lost,
We clung to the bowsprit as waves crashed and drenched us,
The spars dragged along heaved and battered against us,
When the sea calmed we counted the cost.

Without we were soaked, but within we were parched;
Our islander dove below decks to retrieve us,
A few casks of wine, all there was to relieve us,
Oh, that I had died of my thirst!

Chorus [repeating the tag]
Oh pity, oh pity the crew of the Lark.

The wind that blew fierce, well it soon became scarce;
Though we’d salvaged a jury-mast, a topsail and rigging,
We thereafter northward proceeded in limping,
For the doldrums reproved our repairs.

Then schools of great sharks round the ship took their mark,
Awaiting the feast that our deaths would present them.
The bosun’s mate fell and they tore him and rent him,
Oh, that I were food for that shark!


Canoes from Hawayee hailed to us one morn,
Our thoughts were of rescue, but theirs of predation,
For all we had left was the price of salvation:
Our clothes from our persons were torn.

Now we hear news of Astoria Fort,
By treachery sold to the damned Northwest Company.
Our object had never been more than futility,
Oh, that I had never been born!

Chorus [repeating the tag]
Oh pity, oh pity the crew of the Lark.
Back from Conflikt 6. I had a bit of a realization about filk. On the one hand, I truly loathe badfilk, but at the same time, if it weren't around, I wouldn't get nearly as much out of the filk circle experience. The filk circle that closed the con contained an unusual number of Real Musicians™. I am a very good singer, and my songwriting has flashes of adequacy, but I don't yet play an instrument. The upshot is, in a typical circle, my contributions are better than the median, and I can feel that I am improving the experiences of people around me by contributing. But in a circle with really good performers my contributions would be considerably below the median, and not worth making. Since a major part of my enjoyment of filk is getting to sing my own songs, I can only get that enjoyment in a context where most of what is being performed is worse than what I'm doing. Which would be fine if most of that was only a little worse, but there tends to be a pretty big standard deviation, so I have to spend quite a lot of the time listening to performances that I find physically painful to listen to.

The answer to my conundrum is of course to make better performances that would be acceptable even in the context of Real Musician heavy circles. That would mean either learning guitar or making friends with people with guitars who either already attend cons or would be willing to start. However, learning instruments and making friends are both areas in which I have not heretofore displayed any skill, so don't hold your breath.
Speaking of blog posts, I just posted a new one:

More Fun with Binary Words: De Bruijn Sequences

This is a sequel to the previous post, Symmetry Variations on Binary Words, which it looks like I neglected to mention here when I posted it.


Jan. 1st, 2013 10:27 pm
Last year I:

Did not get a job.

Did not get a romantic relationship. (Which is hardly surprising. I don't love myself and I wouldn't expect anyone else to love me. It still hurts though.)

Lost my apartment and had to move in with my parents.

Had no appreciable changes to my health, which is good, although I could stand to be more fit.

Did not get nearly enough done creatively. Did have a good run of math blog posts earlier in the year, and a few in the last month. Did design and have lasercut a few new puzzles, including one for Gathering for Gardner, which was one of the highlights of my year. Sold some puzzles at craft fairs, but not enough to be actually making net money off of the hobby. Wrote a couple thousand words toward a novel, which seems to be going on the back burner for a bit. I don't think I finished writing a single song this year, excepting the one I wrote for the Orycon song contest.

Sang a bunch. Danced a bunch. Read a bunch. Biked. Played board games with friends. Saw a lot of British and Australian television, and a fair number of old movie musicals.

Really though, I don't think my contribution to humanity paid for my environmental footprint last year.
I think I got my current computer in 2005 or thereabouts, and it's become abundantly clear by the slowness of the things I try to do on it that it's time for a new one.

My preference is to start with a barebones system, with motherboard and power supply already installed. This is because I feel pretty comfortable installing components into a system, but I feel a little uncomfortable starting entirely from scratch. (Also, I don't want to pay Microsoft for the privilege of running Linux, and I want to avoid Secure Boot like the plague, so a PC from a big manufacturer like HP isn't looking good.) Last time around I got a Shuttle, and since it's lasted this long, I'm inclined to get another one. (I also like the form factor: smallish, but takes standard 5" optical drives.) I'm not using the system for gaming, mostly just web browsing and word processing and such. As for my budget, I'd like to stay around the 400 - $450 range.

I really know nothing about hardware these days, so I'd appreciate it if anyone would like to critique my choices. Here's what I've come up with:

Barebones system: Shuttle SH61R4 $200. The next step up is the SH67H3 at $240. The main difference I can see is that the latter has 6 Gb/s SATA, and the former has only 3 Gb/s SATA. Is that worth $40? Is that worth more than adding more RAM and a better CPU would be for the same price?

CPU: Intel Pentium Dual-Core G860 3.0 GHz 3 MB Cache. $70. I've been an AMD guy for a long time, but I understand that the days of paying the "Nobody got fired for buying Intel" tax are at an end. There are lots of confusing choices here; I just picked one that people seemed to be using with that Shuttle box and that seemed to be at a reasonable price point.

RAM: 4GB DDR3 1333 $20. Should I go to 8GB?

SSD: 64GB SATA 6GB/s $75.

Hard drive: 500GB 7200 RPM 16MB Cache SATA 6.0Gb/s 3.5" $60 (It sounds like the thing to do these days is put the OS and programs on an SSD drive, and anything that either takes up a lot of space or will be frequently rewritten on the HD.)

Optical drive, keyboard, mouse, wifi adapter, and monitor will be scavenged from existing components. No graphics card, I'm planning on using the on-board graphics. OS will probably be Linux Mint. $0

That comes out to $425, right in the middle of my range. The prices are mostly Amazon's, except where Amazon doesn't carry something (which is only the cheaper Shuttle box.) Specific types of criticism I would like would be answers to the following: Where should I pay more to get more? Where should I pay less to get less? Should I care about which brand I get for the items where I haven't indicated a brand?
I've put up a new blog post on Crossed Stick puzzles here, with an addendum here. I've already come up with a puzzle design based on the configuration of pieces in that addendum.

Also, I'm in the process of revamping my puzzle selling page, which has three new puzzles for sale.
Okay, Ima write a novel. Just to have one thing in my life where success doesn't depend on somebody else's judgment. (Yes, writing a good novel would depend on other people's judgment. I will solve this problem by writing a crappy novel. Also, I know that the traditional time to start doing this would have been a few weeks ago. Oh well.)
Funny, I was having an unusually good week before I got the eviction notice.
I was inspired by some people's end of the year books read posts, so I started taking notes on my own books read. A bunch of non-fiction I read didn't make it onto this list because I skim around a lot when I read non-fiction, so a lot of times I end up reading 3/4 of a book and not feeling comfortable about saying that I've read the whole thing. Likewise, I tend not to read complete anthologies and short story collections, although this time I have Egan and Chiang collections as exceptions to the rule. This posts covers my readings roughly through the end of June. I'll try to keep doing these about every six months.

Carla Speed McNeil — Finder: Voice
The first volume in the Grosvenor family arc since Talisman. (I'd suggest reading this arc starting with Talisman, then continuing with Sin Eater and Voice. The other Finder volumes are all stand-alones, and can be read in any order.) Finder is an excellent, thoughtful science fiction graphic novel series. If there are any others out there, I'd like to know.

Mercedes Lackey — Changes
It's not a good sign when my strongest feeling coming out of a book is disappointment that the series isn't over. I don't know why I keep reading these.

Jo Walton — Ha'penny
I think it had to be hard to follow up on Farthing. Farthing took the forms of the cozy upper-class British mystery as its starting point, and then upended them. After that, it's hard to be as surprised again. This was still good, but I won't make you read it. I will make you read Farthing though.

The Accidental President of Brazil — Fernando Henrique Cardoso with Brian Winter
I've been negligent when it comes to reading up on modern Latin American history, which is something I really need to do something about, seeing as how I'm a product of it, having been born in Brazil with a Cuban father. If there's a moral here in the story of modern Brazil, it's that democracy isn't something you can take for granted. It can be taken away by those who would prey on people's fears. But by the same token, it can be restored if people are willing to work and fight for it. It seems to me that this is a moral that is quite applicable to the United States in 2012.

Kate Elliott — Shadow Gate
Kate Elliott — Traitors' Gate

The conclusion to the best fantasy trilogy I've read in a long time. (Possibly ever; I can think of better individual fantasy novels, but no series that holds to such a high standard for exactly three consecutive volumes. Rothfuss will probably beat this out once volume 3 of the Kingkiller Chronicle is released.)

David Graeber — Debt: The First 5000 Years
A wide spanning history of the nexus of debt, coercion, slavery, violence and morality. Sometimes it gets away from its anthropological and historical grounding and makes generalizations that are slightly questionable, but this is nevertheless essential reading for its look into where debt and the moral systems around it come from.

Lois McMaster Bujold — The Curse of Chalion
I read and loved her Miles Vorkosigan space opera novels. But I was out of those and wanted some more Bujold, and hey, there's her fantasy oeuvre. And it's good too!

Brandon Sanderson — Mistborn
The action sequences felt a bit videogamey. And the setup that one person in a million randomly gets all of the special powers is an invitation to Mary Sue-ish character building. Otherwise, I liked it.

James Gleick — The Information
If nothing else, read the bit near the beginning about the talking drums.

Kate Elliott — The King's Dragon
There are 6 more of these. This was good enough that I would gladly have signed up for two more. But 6 more? Nah, I think I'll stop here.

Seanan McGuire — Discount Armageddon
I think I'm going to like this series better than her October Daye books. There's a real sense that this was as much fun for the author as it is for the reader, which is nice to see in an urban fantasy.

Adam Troy-Castro — Emissaries from the Dead
A very good science fiction mystery.

Greg Egan — Dark Integers
Mathy SF stories.

Greg Rucka — Queen and Country Definitive Edition, Volume 3
Graphic novels about a more realistic, female James Bond. My only complaint is that every individual graphic novel (these volumes each collect two or three) has a new artist with a sufficiently individual style that I have trouble recognizing the characters from one novel to the next.

Lois McMaster Bujold — Brothers in Arms (reread)
I've been rereading the Miles Vorkosigan series on my Kindle, since you can get most of it for free.

Jane Austen — Pride and Prejudice (reread)
Jane Austen — Persuasion
There's a reason P&P is the famous one.

K. J. Parker — The Company
... I ... I can't say I wasn't warned about K. J. Parker. So now let me warn you: don't read K. J. Parker if you don't want horrible things to happen to characters.

Naomi Novik — Tongues of Serpents
Temeraire volume 6. This one got panned for not having enough happen. And I can see that, but personally, I can accept having a smaller story between the big world-changing ones. It helps that I got this one from the library instead of paying for it.

Ted Chiang — Stories of Your Life and Others
Even when Ted Chiang is doing fantasy, he's doing SF, in terms of rigorous extrapolation from a big central idea. And even when he's doing SF, it has a fantasy feel, in terms of the story serving its emotional core rather than displaying an idea for its own sake. There's a combination of poignant character moments and cool narrative distance. And occasionally, a touch of Borges.

Greg Egan: The Clockwork Rocket
More Mathy SF, in a universe with an alternate form of relativity. This is a weird book. Sometimes it feels like Egan doesn't so much even try to write believable characters as work out from first principles what sentient beings other than himself must be like. This is not as terrible as it might seem in a story about beings with biologies very different from our own.

K. J. Parker — Purple and Black
K. J. Parker does this weird thing where we're in a fantasy-historical setting (in this case alt-Byzantium) but everybody talks in modern slang, which takes some getting used to, since that's not the typical register in fantasy-historical fiction.
Here are the lyrics to a song I wrote last year. It was inspired by reading an article on an auto-appendectomy performed in Antarctica in 1961. (Which I was going to link, but the bastards put it behind a paywall.) It occurred to me that today would be the appropriate day to post this. I put the first verse in quotes to make the tense and time shift a little more excusable, and to indicate that it's meant to be an excerpt from the doctor's journal, which I in fact partially cribbed from a bit from that article. Not that you can hear that when you listen to the song! It's a bit short, but I'm not sure it needs anything more.

"Tomorrow is May Day, I'm afraid I've spoiled it,
My comrades run the autoclave to sterilize my tools,
Outside the storm that howls in the Antarctic night is
speaking for the pain I hide, acute appendicitis."

Artemev stood by with my instruments,
Teplinsky the mechanic held the mirror—

Oh! My poor assistants!
Their faces were as white as the ice.
Oh! My poor assistants!
Whiter than their surgical whites.

Two hours passed between the first incision
I made in my own abdomen, and the final stitch
And though I nearly died, I want no fuss or bother
I only did what needed done: a job like any other

But Artemev stood by with my instruments... (repeat bridge and chorus.)
One of the distinctive features of the Gathering for Gardner, a recreational mathematics conference which I will be attending next week, is the Gift Exchange. One is encouraged to provide enough copies of a gift for everyone who is participating in the exchange. Then, at the end of the conference, everyone gets a big bag containing one of each of the gifts. One may, in lieu of a physical item, write a paper to be included in a book that is printed up, and pay one's share of the printing cost. This is what I had to do last time, since I got my invitation to the conference with less than three weeks' notice. (I suspect that this was a side effect of the centrality of the gift exchange to the conference: since everyone made X gifts, it'd really suck if they didn't all get given. And when the number of attendees doesn't come up to the number of gifts, they have to scramble madly to find more attendees at the last minute.)

Anyway, this time around, I came up with a really nice idea for a puzzle to make as a gift for the exchange. And then sat on it for a while, because I was busy with grad school. And then sat on it longer, because, well, procrastination happens. And then, oops, it was seriously time to not sit on it any longer.

My exchange gift is a puzzle consisting of ten skinny rectangular pieces that slot together to make a ten pointed star. The mathematically nifty thing about it is that there are two possible positions for each slot, and the pieces can flip; effectively the slot patterns can be specified by four digit binary strings that are reversible, (so that, e.g., 0011 and 1100 are equivalent.) There are exactly ten such strings, and each of the ten is represented once in the set of puzzle pieces. (There will be a blog post about the puzzle's particulars on my puzzle blog at some point, I promise.)

I knew that I wanted to use clear acrylic for the puzzles, on account of it being cheap, shiny, and lasercuttable. It took me longer than I expected to get from the idea to a cuttable drawing. First there was some trig and algebra needed to determine the proper position and width of the slots. (High school math: actually useful!) While I have drawn up puzzles for lasercutting in Inkscape in the past, this was a case where I had a lot of parameters that I wanted to be able to tweak, so it made more sense to write a program to output the drawing. I used the Cairo vector graphics library, and Python.

I ended up going with Ponoko for the cutting. Being able to upload a file and get a quote immediately was very nice given the tight time frame I was on, as was the fact that they were in California, and therefore normal shipping would only take two days. (And there would be two shipping cycles, one for the prototype and one for the final version.) And the price looked okay, although I don't have a lot of data points there. With a Ponoko Prime membership, cutting is about 1/3 off. The break point where this starts to look good is about $100; I was way over that, so it was a gimme. (Also, Prime jobs are expedited compared to non-Prime jobs, which was nice given I was in a hurry. Earlier in the month there was a 20% off deal on non-Prime lasercutting costs; It looks to me like the best thing to do if you have something not at all urgent to make is just to wait for a sale. (Also, in the lessons learned department: remembering to cancel your Prime account after you are done with it is important. Oops. Maybe I'll make a few more things this month with it while I have it still.)

So I had the prototype made, and it came out basically perfect. Perhaps just a smidge too tight, so I tweaked one parameter very slightly for the final version, and put in the order.

Ponoko says that you can request them to have your order by a specific date and they'll see what they can do, so I did that, and they did in fact ship it on the date that I said pretty please ship it by, so go them. They even called me a bit earlier, worried that I'd wanted to receive it by that date rather than have it sent by that date, and they had only enough stock of the material on hand to do half my order. (Lesson learned: you can clear them out of a material with a large order. Good to know.) In retrospect, I should have had them send the order in two parts, which they seemed on the verge of offering to do, just to have more time for the post-processing.

When I received the final order, a number of pieces were loose, and a couple of them were broken. This appears to be entirely Ponoko's fault, rather than the shipper's, so boo them. That said, I had unknowingly set them a somewhat unreasonable task there, by ordering an odd number of sheets of a thin material with a very large number of very small pieces on each sheet. The significance of the odd number is that their P2 size appears to be half of the size of a full sized sheet, so an order of multiple P2's is shipped as a number of full sized sheets, plus, in the case of an odd order, one half sized sheet. The loose and broken pieces were all from the odd sheet out. There was a cardboard spacer on the other side of the box to balance out the odd sheet, but it apparently wasn't quite the right thickness. It really probably didn't help that my order was in 2.0 mm acrylic, which they only offer in clear, and which, apparently, isn't a big enough seller to keep a lot of stock of it on hand. It did have to be 2.0 mm, though. Any thinner would have been too fragile, and any thicker would have been prohibitive in terms of cost. (Not only would the thicker material have been more expensive to cut, but the pieces would have had to have been made wider to accommodate the wider slots.

Now all that was left was the post-processing. And here is the real lesson learned: DO NOT ASSUME ANY TASK IS TRIVIAL IF YOU HAVE TO REPEAT IT HUNDREDS OF TIMES.

The order arrived with backing film on both sides. 400 puzzles. Ten pieces per puzzle. Two sides per piece. 8000 bits of backing film that needed to be peeled off. I gave myself a day and a half for that. Not on the basis of any calculation, just a vague feeling that it shouldn't take too long. Four and a half days later, I finished making the sets and sent them off. I roped in [personal profile] algeh to put insert sheets in the bags: again, a task I thought would be trivial, but when multiplied by a few hundred, took several hours. (There was one set that was missing a piece, so she was also counting pieces in the sets to find the one with the missing piece, which mad it take longer. Another lesson learned here is that I should have started looking for the one with the missing piece immediately after I found the wayward piece, rather than allowing it to get buried in the pile.

I spot checked a few of the sets for fit as I was peeling. Most turned out perfect, only one was a little loose.

Until I got to the troublesome odd sheet out. I wondered if the pieces falling out had to to with the kerf being slightly wider on that sheet, so I spot checked a few, and they were all pretty loose. Loose fit doesn't make the puzzle any less solvable as a puzzle, but it does make the completed puzzle fall apart, (literally) as an objet d'art. I can't tell if the kerf was actually any different on that sheet, but I could see that the material was visibly thinner on that sheet than in the prototype, which has the same effect. Lesson learned: Ponoko is actually not kidding when they warn that material thicknesses can vary by ±10%. It's not that I thought that they were kidding so much as I thought they were covering their asses in the remote event of thickness variance that was actually vanishingly unlikely. In the future I should make sure that I am allowed to adjust my drawing to the material thickness if the available material varies significantly from the stated thickness.

Still, in the main, the project appears to have been a success. I only needed to use half of the problematic sheet, which works out to 4% of the puzzle copies. Hopefully, nearly all of the rest should be reasonably tight, and hopefully the other attendees will like the puzzle.


Mar. 8th, 2012 02:18 am
Last weekend was my madrigal group's annual retreat. This year we spent it at Camp Westwind, which is on a beautiful mile-long stretch of beach south of Cascade Head. It's used as a youth camp in the summer, but last weekend we were, I understand, the only group there. Since there is no other access to the beach that is both public and easy, and since it was not the tourist season, we nearly had the entire beach to ourselves. In fact, when I went out after our afternoon rehearsal and before dinner on Saturday, I was, for a while, the only person on the whole beach. I found a Japanese plastic float on the sand, which felt strange, a reminder in an empty and wild landscape that the vast ocean was connected to a human world thousands of miles away, even as its connection to the human world on this side was at its most tenuous.

I also found some agates. I do like shiny rocks!

We sang quite a bit as usual. Because we have a recording date coming up, we've been focusing on polishing the songs we're going to record. But we did break out some songs that we let slip out of our active repertoire last year, and noodled around with extra verses and original language versions that we never sing, which was a lot of fun.

I ate way too much food. I can never stop snacking at these things. And the cooks in the group outdid themselves with Saturday night dinner, delicious tamales with homemade salsas, and flan for dessert. Oh, and guava margaritas.

Saturday night folks turned in a lot earlier than usually happens, (certainly a lot earlier than on Friday night, when I lost a Scrabble game in which I managed to play HEXANE.) But I stayed up a bit longer and read a couple of stories from the free Tor.com Best of 2011 ebook.

And then -- I couldn't go to bed. Because I'd forgotten which room I'd moved my stuff to that morning. (There was some shuffling due to Saturday morning arrivals and people with CPAPs moving into the same room so as to disturb those of us without less.) And I didn't want to
have a 50% chance of disturbing people in the wrong room, so I just sat on a bench in the meeting room area all night and put my head down on the table, but I didn't actually sleep.

And I know how dumb that is, but I get in this sort of cycle, where I've done something dumb, and then I need to punish myself for it. So it wasn't just the anxiety about disturbing people, but it was also that because I'd been dumb and forgot which room I was supposed to be in, I lost my sleep privileges.

In other news, I've received the prototypes I had made of my exchange gift for Gathering for Gardner, and they turned out nearly perfect. I've put in my order for the exchange gifts themselves, and I am awaiting delivery. (I cut things a bit closer than I should have in terms of the timing of getting them made, but hopefully it shouldn't be a problem.) I still need to make the slides for my talk, but there's plenty of time for that.

Conflikt 5

Jan. 31st, 2012 02:55 am
Last weekend I went to the Seattle area to attend the filk con that I attend every year.

As I tend to do, I came up with a instafilk at the special lunch event on Saturday. They put slips of paper with words on them on each table as prompts; our words were "knight" and "dance". I went with personifying a chess knight, and interpreting its move in the game as a dance. Other people at our table wrote a Toby Daye song to the tune of "Night and Day". (Later, I had the surreal experience of having Bob Kenefsky approach me with the suggestion of encoding the knight's move into the rhyme scheme of the song, which makes me wonder what Kenefsky is putting into his own lyrics that he's not telling us about, and how he could manage to put that sort of thing in and still write things that are awesomely clever on every level that is accessible to mortals.)

Some moments I'll keep: Talis Kimberley's concert was pretty awesome. The Suttons breaking the signer, followed by the signer breaking Brenda Sutton. Char McKay's Twinkie song, with actual Twinkies raining upon the audience. The story of how the talking hotel elevators at a Worldcon hotel were surreptitiously given plaques that read "ANOTHER FINE PRODUCT OF THE SIRIUS CYBERNETICS CORPORATION" (Which was especially awesome because [personal profile] algeh and I were listening to the Hitchhiker's radio series in the car on the way up.)

At 5 p.m. on Sunday, I checked my email for the first time since I left. Before I left I had suggested meeting up with folks on IFmud on Sunday night, but I hadn't heard anything back from them, so I assumed nothing was happening. But at that moment I saw an email exchange where a meeting was set up, and fortuitously another mudder (Stacy) was also visiting from out of town, so the meeting was going to happen despite my failure to respond to the emails. So I got on the light rail, sort of taking it on faith that the meetup hadn't been canceled or moved, and Jacq and Sam were there, and Stacy showed up with a friend a bit later, and then inky showed up, and we played an epic game of Balderdash, in which I barely managed to eke out the win by guessing the definition of "perjinkities".

By the time I got back, the Dead Dog Smoked Salmon circle was winding down, and people were at the point of mostly singing their maudlin farewell songs, and I don't have any of those, so I didn't sing anything.

Songs of mine that I sang in circles: My Poor Assistants, Jar of Tang, Fine Brains for Zombies, and Slugs in Winter. I'm thinking about starting a policy of not repeating any of my songs for a couple cons after I sing them. I hope this will encourage me to write some more. My Poor Assistants is about my only new song in a very long time, and I'm sure people are getting tired of hearing some of my songs. It's funny how I can write a decent half-song in 40 minutes, but I don't manage to do anything for months before and after.

Laser Fail

Jan. 8th, 2012 10:40 am
(I tried to post this last night to lj, but my lj client appears to no longer be working. So I'm doing the socially conscious thing and crossposting to dreamwidth.)

Lessons of the day: I am an idiot, and ADX Portland's laser cutting services are... disappointing.

So it's been a while now since the last time I lasercut some puzzles, (at Portland TechShop, before it folded) and I've had a few good ideas in that time, and now I'm done with grad school and have a little time to get back to that hobby. Last week I put together some drawings for puzzles and queried ADX (a newish local makerspace) about having them cut, and I sent in the file and made an appointment to bring in some sheet acrylic and have it cut.

The laser cutting appointment started out well. ADX was using Linux with CUPS printer drivers for the Epilog laser cutter, with the result that the guy there could just fire up my SVG file in Inkscape, select all of the lines and make a quick change to the line properties to make them how the setup wanted so that they would be recognized as vectors for cutting, and hit print. This was rather nicer than the bad old setup that TechShop had of requiring a step to export from Inkscape and then import into an ancient version of Corel Draw. Since my file was so clean, and needed no more fixing up than that, laser guy waived my setup fee, which was kind of him. It did not occur to me that I should have wondered what the setup fee would have been before I got it waived, but then, I am an idiot.

So the drawing was all ready to go at that point. Well, not quite. I was using 3/16" thick acrylic, and that wasn't one of the default settings. Laser guy made a new setting for that, interpolating between the 1/8" and the 1/4" settings. The power level he picked jibed with what I recalled using at TechShop, (and this was in fact, the selfsame 45W Epilog laser cutter that TechShop used to have before it folded) so I figured it would be okay. And there I was an idiot. I had thought ahead of time that they might not have experience with 3/16" acrylic, and thought about bringing some scrap pieces from my old projects to test the setting on, and forgot to actually do so. So we loaded up a pristine sheet into the machine, and laser guy hit print, and the laser started doing its thing, quite properly to all appearances.

Twenty-five minutes later, the laser stopped doing its thing, quite properly to all appearances.

Then laser guy took out the sheet of acrylic. That indicated that something was not entirely proper. The purpose of a laser cutter is to cut things into pieces. This was not pieces. This was piece. And here is where I was really an idiot, because I could not say the thing I was desperately wanting to say which was that he should just put the sheet back and run it again at a lower power and faster speed to finish off the cut. Instead, laser guy started bending and prodding at the pieces to try to get them to come apart, and only succeeded in breaking one, which I knew would happen, because I made the same mistake with one of the TechShop projects. And even then, the rest of the puzzles could have been salvaged if I had managed to say something, but I still couldn't get the words out of my mouth, and laser guy broke apart the sheet and broke some more pieces, and by then the entire sheet was a loss.

Still, I was ready to go on with the rest of the sheets I brought, with the cutter running at a slightly higher power and slower speed.

At this point, laser guy imparted a very important piece of information. "You do know that we charge $2.50 a minute for laser time?"

Well, I did then. I didn't ask earlier, because I just assumed that it would be some amount I would find reasonable, because I was an idiot. I think I might have thought $1 a minute reasonable. I don't know if it actually is. I do know that the cost of lasercutting things at TechShop had been utterly ridiculous in my favor, on account of me getting the super cheap pre-opening promotional rate for a month of membership, and then coming in and using the cutter for hours on end. But $2.50 a minute, for maybe a half hour per sheet once the extra time to cut through properly was added, with six puzzles per sheet, works out to $12.50 per puzzle just for the cutting, which doesn't leave much room for margin at the prices I was hoping to sell the puzzles.

So at that point I bailed, and laser guy quite reasonably nullified the cost of the cutting time already spent, and I was out only one sheet of acrylic and some gas money for the day. Laser guy referred me to another place that had the power to handle thicker materials, but I looked at their website and it was all "2000W laser" and "we can cut through 1" of solid steel," so I suspect they might be overkill for my purposes.

I still want to get these puzzles done, but I don't really know whether it can be done for what I would have considered a reasonable price. A quick search of local places that might be able to do it didn't reveal much in the way of promising options, so I don't know if it will happen.

On the plus side, a couple of chunks of puzzle pieces came out in a form that might make attractive coasters. I'm thinking of donating them to the InterFilk auction at Conflikt.
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