Lego Cruise Ship

So as I was saying, one day last week I came home from work and Lizzy greeted me with a copy of the new Lego magazine, and showed me a contest they’re having where you can win a weeklong cruise for your family by building a Lego cruise ship. While the idea of cruise doesn’t particularly appeal to me, it seemed like a great challenge, so we spent some time over the weekend building ships out of Legos.

A few years back I gave Lizzy most of the my Legos I had from when I was younger, so we have alot of bricks, but they’re pretty random: lots of spaceship parts and some medieval and other themed pieces, plus a few sets she got as presents. Still, there always seems to a shortage of big generic bricks, and you always have to mix colors and make the best of what’s on hand.

We started by making a hull. We had made a boat once before using her house set, so we had an approach that we knew would work. But this one would be bigger and better. The boat would be scaled it for minifigs, so we started stacking on decks. Soon the ship started taking shape, but it was kind of tall and not-so-sleek compared to a real, modern cruse ship. The design of the hull makes the ship a bit wobbly in a good, authentic-feeling way. More than anything it reminds me of the boat from Peter Jackson’s King Kong.

Lizzy started to figure out where things would go: the first class cabin, the restaurant, the pool, etc., and started making furniture. Meanwhile I added a bridge and a crow’s nest, and radio and radar gear and lights and flags and stuff. I guess I got carried away.   When I was done she took one look and pronounced it “too pirate-y”.  She also said the monkey would have to go.

The pictures you see are from this incarnation of the boat, but then the crow’s nest came down and was replaced with a princess-pink forecastle. I’m sure other improvements on the way, as she want to give the whole thing a makeover. She has until the end of October to submit her entry for the contest, so I’ll be posting an update sometime soon.  Meanwhile, enjoy the gallery.

Subterranean Home Repair Blues

One day last week I came home from work and Lizzy greeted me with a copy of the new Lego magazine, and showed me a contest they’re having where you can win a weeklong cruise for your family by building a Lego cruise ship. This post is not the story about that, since that story involves pictures. Instead, it’s more boring stuff about home repairs.  Friday evening I got started on patching the hole in my ceiling, the aftermath of the leaky pipe. My friend Peter gave me a scrap of sheetrock, which was nice of him. I prepped the hole and put some plywood up in there to screw into, and cut the piece to size, only to discover that piece was too thick: it was 5/8″ and I needed 1/2″. So I declared we were S.O.L. and we were done for the day, and would figure out what to do the next day.

Lizzy: What’s “S.O.L.” Daddy?
Me: It means we’re out of luck, honey.
Lizzy: Oh. Hey – wait, wouldn’t that be O.O.L.? What does the S stand for?
Me: Uh, nevermind. Do you wanna play Legos?
Lizzy: Ya!

Later that very night Jeannie and I were playing D&D online with some friends online (yes we’re total geeks I know, but the campaign has gotten really interesting. She’s a Sorceress with some pretty kickass spells, and I’m a Barbarian with an axe who can deal ludicrous amounts of damage, and our party includes another fighter specializing in whirling two swords around at once, and a Cleric who is the Prophet of Holy Mysteries, the motivating McGuffin for the whole quest. Anyway, we’ve been in the castle fighting wave after wave of nasty undead, and then we found a magic blue key, and — oh, yeah I’m getting off topic here. I’ll probably blog about it again soon, as we’re coming up on the end of a major chapter.)

Getting back to the home fixit thread, I left the garage door open a few inches because earlier I had patched a few holes and rough spots on our garage floor with the leftover patching cement from the foundation project, and the biggest of these was under where the door came down. So at the end of the night I went down to shut the door and I hear a noise in the garage. Critter trouble! I spotted a skunk in the corner, hiding behind a pile of stuff. He looked pretty scared and didn’t want to come out of his hiding spot, so it took a while to *very* carefully unstack the things around him until I could get a broom in there and coax him to make a run for the outside. Whew!

Saturday we spent a good part of the day running around on errands including looking for a piece of 1/2″ thick sheet rock. We went to the dreaded Home Depot, which was a complete and utter zoo. They refused to cut a piece of sheet rock for me, even thought I was willing to buy a whole piece just to take home a bit. So we left without buying anything. Went to our neighborhood True Value to get paint, even though we knew they wouldn’t have sheet rock. They recommended a place called Pelham Lumber, who were fantastic. They wouldn’t sell me less than a full panel either, but would be happy to cut it. Better still, when I got there, they said I could take a look around the yard and if I found a piece of scrap I could use I could just have it. So problem solved, and I put the piece up there and did the whole tape and joint compound thing.

Sunday I sanded it and put on another layer of joint compound, and took the rest of day off to do stuff like go mountain biking, have one last barbecue and play legos with my kids. Last night it was time to paint over the patch. The paint matched perfectly cuz we brought a piece of the old ceiling to the hardware store and they matched it with a machine. Amazing what they can do lasers or spectrographs or whatever they use these day. While I was at it, there was a spot in the hall I thought I’d touch up. It was then I realized that the ceiling of the laundry room is the same color as its walls, not the rest of the ceilings. Everything in our house is shades of white and off-white, you understand, except the ones that are bluescreen blue. The bad news is we’re gonna need to paint the ceiling of our bathroom after we do the tiles in there, and it would’ve been good to have a match on that paint.

The good news is that it’s the same color as our family room, so I suddenly was able to touch up the spot where there was water damage from a crazy thunderstorm once, and where the futon crashed into the wall as someone was opening up into a bed once, and the place where my nieces drew on the wall once, and so on. One thing kind of led to another and I ended up doing a substantial amount of touch up, a random task that’s been on my todo list for a long time. Finished that up tonight and am enjoying a well-earned beer. Next up: lego cruise ships!

Angel Or Alien: Rough Mix

Okay, here it is, my new song:

Thanks to John Neumann for rendering out the midi of my synth solo on his Nord Lead synthesizer, providing an extra dimension of analog wow. It’s mixed in with my software simulated Moog.

Still have to do the actual mixing — you know, the faders and pans and most of the effects, but the arrangement is there and the idea certainly comes across. I will probably add some vocal harmonies in the chorus and some percussion in the second half of the synth solo, and possibly a few scifi synth effects. Other than that I’m not sure if the song needs much else.


New Recording: Angel or Alien

Well it’s not all been home improvement projects of late, so shifting gears here: My new song, Angel or Alien, is getting close to done. It’s a quasi-autobiographical number, a sort of sci-fi reverie based on contemplating the wonder of the night sky, combined with some speculation about things that can be seen but not readily explained.

As mentioned before, it features an analog-style synthesizer solo in the middle section. Now in the old days I would have played this on a real synthesizer and twiddled the knobs live. I’m particularly keen on sweeping some lowpass filters and adding some big FLO here as an effect here and there. But my setup has gone all digital and fully computerized, so I ended up using a software synthesizer inside proTools for the patch, and the keyboard I played has only the basic pitch wheel and modulation control. So I’m hoping I can map some continuous controllers to the software synth model and either perform these moves as essential an overdub, or just pencil them in.

More importantly, I finalized the lyrics in the last week and laid down a vocal track just the other night. I normally do several takes on my vocals and edit them together to form a master lead vocal track. As soon as this is done, I’ll post a rough mix. Still to do is possible backing vocals and sweetening instruments (backing synths, etc.), and the aforementioned lead synth knob twiddling. But I want to listen to the song a few times before I get to that, so it won’t stop me from posting the first rough mix.

Meanwhile, you can meditate on the lyrics.

Angel or Alien
by John Szinger

Walking home alone the other night
When looking up the sky ahead I saw a light
I quickly identified it at as a UFO
But what it really was I don’t know
Was it an angel or an alien ?
Or was it something else again ?

Hover above the world we weave with our machines
One giant step or small leap it’s of our means
For what could be more human than to
Make a thing to do the thing you do?
But is it a demon or is it a dinosaur ?
Is it something more?

Walk on said the man in the moon
Why do the stars in the sky ?
Walk on said the man in the moon
Moonchild teach me to fly
They know you’ve walked miles alone
All that has shone upon soon will be shown
Walk on said the man in the moon
Go home, go home yeah

Twelve thousand years that they’ve been gone
An outer orbit on that big wheel one time ’round
But they’re on their way now, yeah they’re coming home
The stars are aligned man in the moon will leave his light on
All night long

And do they come to enlighten and set us free ?
Or to blind us with bling and enslave us with TV ?
And will they bring death to the world of illusions
Ideas categories ambitions confusions
A shooting star is a sign in the sky calling
So is it a meteor or just a metaphor falling?

Look up said the man in the moon
How can the stars in their turn?
Look up said the man in the moon
Moonchild teach me to learn
They know you’ve walked dark years in dreams
Look deeper and see that it’s not what it seems
Look up said the man in the moon
Go home, go home yeah

Plumbing the Depths

The leak in our laundry room ceiling was getting larger and damper until we decided ignoring it and hoping it would go away on its own was not a good strategy. I was really dreading having to work in it, since I didn’t really know how to diagnose the problem, or quite possibly fix it, plus I just came off a rather large unexpected home improvement project. Luckily for us, help was at hand. Lizzy has a friend at school, Hannah, and as luck would have, Hannah’s dad Peter is a plumber, and was happy to help us out. Thank you Peter!

He came over and cut a hole in our ceiling and had a look. He knew just what he was doing and had the tools, and so pretty quickly he spotted the problem and fixed it, so that was just great. It turned out to be the toilet — a slow intermittent leak because the main seal was starting to go. So whew. My big fear was that it would turn out to be the bathtub and we’d have to tear out the whole tub surround. We’re planning on tiling out bathroom this fall, so now would be a good time to know about it any event, but luckily that turned out not be the case. Everything else up in the space between the floor and the ceiling looked nice and dry and clean.

As it turns out, Peter is from Liverpool, UK, so I get I by with a little help from my friends. Now all I have left to do is fixing a hole. Sheet rock, taping and painting. From this point on there’s nothing I can do that can’t be done, even if it’ll take another weekend or two. I feel like I’m in a ever-widening circle of projects like this, so hopefully I can finish getting things fixed before something new breaks. But then tomorrow never knows.

Dirty Work

So this weekend I finished off my fixing-up-the-side-yard project by re-grading the area where the foundation had cracked to avoid water from pooling there again. I made a trip to home depot one evening last week (can’t stand that store, but they’re the only place around open after 6 for that kind of stuff) to get supplies. I got as much dirt as I thought I’d need, which also turned out to be about as much as I could haul, 18 cu. ft., which was 720 pounds, plus some stones and grass seed. Once I started it was clear I’d need more dirt, so Jeannie went to our local Ace Hardware (a much nicer store: smaller, well stocked, helpful and great service), for another load. She called ahead and they loaded up her car for her. In the end I used about 36 cubic feet (1.33 cubic yards) of dirt.

While I was at it I added some stepping stones for a little footpath, and re-seeded the area for new grass. I used a product we call “the blue stuff”:  it’s a combination of grass seed mulch and fertilizer, and it works great. We ought to have new grass in just a couple of weeks.

Here are some pics of how it turned out. Thank goodness that job is done. We want to move on to tiling our bathroom this fall, but another fixit project has emerged that will have to come first, and it promises to be even less fun than this one: The other day we noticed a damp spot on the ceiling of our laundry room, directly beneath our bathroom. Oy!

Chippy With Legos

Tonight we have a guest blogger. Elizabeth wants to talk about her new Lego project.

“I have two littlest pet shop hamsters Chippy and Chipply and I wanted them to have a place to sleep. I built them a Lego bunk bed with a canopy on the top bunk. Here are some pictures. I hope you like it. And one more thing: Chippy is my favorite Pet Shop pet. He was a birthday present from my Unlce Martin.”

Life’s a Beach

Today is the first day of school again for the kids, but we ended the summer on a high note. We spent the better part of last week in Ocean City, MD. It was a great trip: fun and relaxing and action-packed and low-key all at once. The town of OC is very nice, and family friendly. Not so crazy and built-up as say Virginia Beach or Daytona, but nicer than places I’ve been to on the Jersey Shore. We went swimming in the ocean every day right outside our front door, visited the wild horses on Assateague Island, spent a whole day at a great water park, checked out the amusement pier, went out to some breakfasts and nice seafood dinners, ate funnel cake and lemonade on the board walk, and even had a shot of having a shot of Tequila with Jeannie to celebrate our twennyversary. I’ll be putting up a full photo album sometime, but for now here are some of the pics: