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Lego Designer

A few months ago I saw a post on Reddit about something I really wish I had heard about before; the Lego Digital Designer. Imagine a free version of Autocad that lets you build with Lego bricks. Any brick you can think of, any brick that’s been used, all in a fully 3d environment. Naturally I downloaded and installed it but the sheer amount of parts available was intimidating. It’s just like the library effect, when you go to the library you know you like books, you know you like authors, but both of those are gone from your mind the second you walk in. The selection is so vast you forget what you know. The designer did just that, I forgot what I knew.

Instead I built in the program what I had put together for myself, learning how it worked from that point of view. I’ve been using Lego to build phone stands of varying styles for the last few years, with each iteration becoming a little bit better than that last until I came up with the one pictured here. I recreated that in the designer. The instructions for it can be exported, but step by step it generated for my project is a little bit odd. I’ve tossed those instructions up here for anyone to use. The .lxf builder file is here that you can load in the designer to modify my build.

They also have a full gallery online. When you use your Lego account (you do have one, right?) you can upload your creations. The gallery lets you look at the builds that everyone else has uploaded as well. You can also use the Pick-a-Brick service and the Bill of Materials the designer generates to order the parts needed but I haven’t tried that yet.

Happy building! (and sorry for any lost productivity)

Overwhelmed

It’s amazing how things can change over the course of two hours.

We expected to have a relaxing Family Day long weekend (a BC thing), maybe a couple of days up Big White, breakfast out with friends, watch a movie. That kind of thing, but right at the start of the weekend, Friday at 5:30pm, everything changed.

I was finishing off my workout on the xbox, just starting a Yoga routine, when Iris came home. Apparently she got off work early and was able to get her workout in and get home sooner than I expected. We chatted a bit as she grabbed her laptop and on a whim looked at the website our realtor had setup for early listings. We had both looked at it hours before and there were no new listings.

She clicked away for a minute and then said “Wow”.

I looked over while in a warrior 2. “What is it?”

“Six new listings. Look at this one.”

I stopped the game and went over to look. She had a pic of the living room up and clicked through a few images until we saw the kitchen.

That was enough for me. “Call Trever, lets get in there right away.”

We texted him just before 6pm asking for a viewing, today if possible, and I took a quick shower. Iris called her parents and let them know of the listing, asking if they wanted to come along to take a look. We started dinner, Iris disappeared to do some studying, and we waited.

At 6:20pm Trever let us know that we could view it at 7:20pm. The next 40 minutes took forever to pass. I played Minecraft and Iris continued to study, but neither of us were really engrossed. Based on the photos and description this seemed like the house for us and after a few earlier failures we knew not to wait to make a decision. At 7pm we headed out and hit every single light on the way, arriving just before 7:20pm. The home was lit up as we got out of the car and headed in.

“Welcome home!”. Trever was there at the top of the stairs, arms opened up in a welcoming gesture. He’s been working with us for 18 months, selling both our condos and searching for a house. He knew this was the one.

After a slow walk through, Iris’ parents coming a little later, and some discussion, we put in an offer.

It took two hours for a quiet weekend to become something completely different.

Today the subjects were removed and we have effectively bought a house. Now the overwhelming part of that two hours is hitting us as we figure out flooring, paint, appliances, and everything else that goes with home ownership.

Crazy.

Plane Plague

We flew to Orlando on November 30th and that is the day I must have come into contact with something or someone who infected me with a head cold. We wouldn’t know about that infection until Wednesday when my scratchy throat had to be from something other than screaming like a little girl on the roller-coasters at Disney. By Thursday Iris had a slight cough and I had a full on head cold, but as we were going to Kennedy Space Centre that day we were able to cope fine.

Friday and Saturday were tough for me with Iris only having the cough, but I manned up, picked up some cold meds, and we went out and enjoyed both days. Honestly I’d had worse colds and if you are going to be sick doing it in 30°C 70% humidity Florida air is the place to do it. Sunday was the travel home day and I was dreading it.

We needed to be up at 2am EST to catch the bus and make the flight to Toronto so we only had 3 hours of sleep, and that was the only sleep I was able to get until we were back home at 11pm PST that night. I’m pretty much convinced that somewhere along that day we both caught something extra to go along with our colds. Some strain that was different from what we had contracted on the way down.

I was completely destroyed by those flights and spent Monday in misery, staying in bed all day watching YouTube and napping. I ended up taking two days off work before I felt human enough to head into the office on Thursday. By Friday Iris was fully into the space that I had hit that Sunday and only now is she starting to feel better. We’ve spent over a week recovering from what we caught on this trip.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the worst part of traveling is the actual travel itself. The destination is all that matters.

Packing for Lego

We’ll be leaving for Disney World on Saturday at way-too-damn-early AM. I’m looking forward to a week away but I have to say the idea of traveling just after US thanksgiving is leaving me a little nervous. Our flights should avoid any congestion; we are flying to Calgary first and then right to Orlando from there. Hopefully we will be enjoying dinner on the 30th right where and when we expect, but I’m leaving that nugget of doubt in my mind just in case.

A couple of weeks ago Iris suggested that I take my large suitcase so I can pack all the Lego I’ll be getting. I just laughed it off, my small case is way to small to load up for a week away and I planned on using the big one anyway, even though it will be empty with just t-shirts and shorts in it. The idea of buying Lego never really entered my mind, but Iris knew that I was looking forward to the Lego store at Disney World.

My recent desire for Lego is my sisters fault.

Last year my brother and I drove our Dad and all his stuff out to Julie’s place on Vancouver Island. Iris made sure that I picked up a gift for my nephew, Nigel.

“An uncle should never arrive empty-handed,” she told me.

I had no idea what in the world to get so I just settled on a Lego dumptruck kit, figuring that would be something I would want. Little did I know how right I was.

We reached my sisters and helped my Dad into his new place, spending the next day visiting before heading back to the mainland. I gave Nigel the Lego, not realizing that the ages listed on the box should probably be listened to. He was three and a half, the Lego kit was 6+. He asked Julie if she would help him put it together but she had him come to me instead. Of course I said yes.

We laid out the parts on the coffee table, opened up the little manual and started to work. I showed Nigel how the instructions would list the bits that were needed for each step, let him put on the bigger pieces, and took care of the small ones myself. Part by part the it came together and he ran off with the truck to play. I sat there watching him and wanting more to put together.

The Lego itch was definitely back. Eight months later on the return from our Alaskan Cruise I bought a “Grand Prix Racer” (read: non licensed F1 car) and spent two days putting it together. Walking through Toys R Us I would see other Technic kits I could use, modifications I wanted to make, ideas running rampant.

Iris has been working out our schedule getting us both excited for Disney. We have enough time to hit all the parks, some twice, enjoy the nightlife and generally have a great time. Last night I pulled out my big suitcase to pre-pack a few items, tossed in a dozen geekshirts, shorts, socks, underwear. The basic stuff you need for a week-long trip, leaving space for the last-minute stuff, toiletries, electronics and the like. I stood back and looked at it. It was just about half full.

All I could see was empty space to fill up with boxes of Lego.

Aging Gameplay

The new console launches and recent debates over 1080p and 720p reminded me of this little conversation from the summer.


I was at Toys R Us killing some time, doing my normal walk through the Lego aisle and then to the gaming section to see if there are any deals. The Technic Lego grabbed me but I knew that blowing $250 on a new kit would probably annoy Iris and hell, it would give me buyer’s remorse big time, so I walked on by like I always do.

I continued to the gaming section, through the little security gate, and over to the 360 games. The area was almost empty with just me, one other customer, and the kid running the till. Nothing was grabbing me and the bargain bin was mostly games I had picked up with the last online sale so I moved over the DS wall.

“Looking for something specific?”

It was the sales kid, the other customer had left and it was just me and him. Since I was in front of the DS games I asked for a couple I had been hunting for on friend’s recommendations.

“Civilization or Age of Empires for the DS?”

He laughed. “We don’t have those anymore, try out ebay or something.”

I think he had figured me for a gamer type (whatever that may be) as asking for old games like that must have clued him into some knowledge of the industry.

“Do you have the DS or the 3DS?” he asked.

“My girlfriend has a DS she got from work that I’ve been using, but I’m just killing time right now, seeing if you had anything I wanted for the 360 as well.”

“Cool, are you going to preorder a PS4 or One?”

At that point I was firmly in the wait for it camp. I didn’t see anything coming out (besides Forza 5) that would make me get the console on day one. That and I still had a pile of games left on the 360 to get through. I told him as much.

“What?! They are going to be so much better!” he said excitedly, “Just think of playing Forza with high-resolution and the detail in the cars. Call of Duty with much better graphics, Dead Rising with hundreds of zombies at once. It’s gonna be amazing!”

“Well,” I started, “as I’ve gotten older I’ve noticed that I just don’t care much about that kind of detail. Think about Forza. You’re flying down a straight passing cars at 200kph concentrating on the next corner. You won’t notice any of the extra detail; all you’ll care about is how the game handles that corner. How it handles the AI cars so they don’t slam into you. The extra horsepower the new console gives won’t make a difference if the gameplay isn’t good.”

The next few minutes were a back and forth debating how the shiny gloss makes a game good versus the actual gameplay itself. An age gap of 20 years showed itself as we discussed the games we first started playing and how they obviously affected what we consider good now. There was no common ground when this kid had started with Mario and hand helds and I had started with Zork and arcade machines. Then it dawned on me the one popular game that shows how gameplay trumps graphics.

“I can name one game that will convince you how right I am about this.”

Doubt came over his face; obviously he didn’t think one game could change his opinion about the need for flashy graphics.

“Okay, what?”

“Minecraft,” I said as I made my way towards the exit.

He laughed, “Okay, okay. I’ll give you that. Have a good one.”

“You too.”


I do believe that graphics are important but it’s a path of diminishing returns, if the game itself is not fun then no amount of amazing textures, high resolutions, and fast framerates is going to rescue it. Having been playing games since the very old days I think I have a stronger footing in this idea.

Yikes. I’d continue on this train of thought but I just know it will turn into a “git off ma lawn” moment and I going to avoid that.

Housing Emotion

We started looking for a home shortly after we moved into the rental place, sorting online lists and filtering them down to the places we wanted to see. Last week was the first batch of viewings and the last one of the evening seemed to be the perfect place. Right location, right size, great condition. Everything was good.

We made an offer and after a week of back and forth reached an agreeable price. Right then, when it was basically done, we started to have doubts. Neither of us could figure out just what was bugging us, but it was there. We did what we do naturally, opened spreadsheets and crunched numbers. Everything still looked good. Nothing seemed out-of-place.

It was when I started thinking about the future in that home that it hit me; we had missed the what/if’s. What if a job is lost? What if a baby is born? What if unexpected repairs are needed? Somehow the emotion of finding the right place for right now blinded us to a unsure future. We had forgotten to think about it being the right place from a long-term financial standpoint.

We did the math and the answers were not exactly what we wanted but somehow it was exactly what we expected. With any blip we would go from being comfortable to house poor; still able to afford the place with no issues but limited it what we could do away from home.

Emotion had trumped logic, and for us that was a shock.

We’ve stepped away from the offer and it’s made us feel like complete crap for wasting people’s time, but it has given us a clarity that will let us narrow our focus much better.


I showed this to Iris before I was going to post it as I wanted her opinion and ok before letting the world read this (hah!). She gave me another reason why this was difficult.

We are both the type of people who will gladly pay for the better version of something if we intend to use it and keep it for the long-term. Quality costs money and we are aware of that fact. Realizing that in this instance, for something this important, we will have to settle for “good enough” was a blow that was bugging her a lot more than she expected.

But we’ve scheduled more viewings so the search goes on!

No One

The saga of the Xbox One came to an odd end yesterday.

When it was confirmed that I was able to get this deal we were still living in my condo just before we were to move. I quickly put the pre-order in thinking that in a few weeks I could easily change the shipping address and have it directed to where I would be on release day.

Last Monday (on Oct 28th) I called the Microsoft Store to get the address changed to my office. I ended up with a rep who could not get my name, email, phone number, or order number correct. A coworker was laughing the entire time as I spelled my name over and over again. Eventually he enters my details and tells me they need to escalate this as he does not have the rights to change an address (what?). I’m told that I would have a senior person call me back within 72 hours.

Thursday comes along with not a peep and I call back in. New rep this time who quickly escalated me and I was called back within an hour. I start to think this will be done, I’ll get the One at the office and not miss the shipment.

Instead I’m told that the order needs to be canceled, recreated with my new shipping address, and then pre-authorized to my credit card that was already pre-authorized. Ok, odd, but Ok. I sit listening to her tap away on the keyboard for a few minutes, she confirms the address, and then says “Hmm, that’s odd. Can I call you back rather than keep you on hold?”

Seems fine with me. I hung up and worked while I waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

Friday comes and goes with nothing. Now I’m worried, did my order get canceled and not recreated? What happened?

On Monday I call in again, this time with a 30 minute hold before I get a rep who transfers me. They pull up my data, look at what was done previously, and start the process all over again. When we get to the point of the credit card pre-authorization I’m told my card doesn’t work. Which is odd as I had just ordered a TeeFury shirt earlier that morning. He insists I call my bank to ensure my card is still valid.

So I humour him, make the call. My bank says everything is fine and they see the four (wtf?) successful attempts Microsoft had made.

An hour later the Microsoft rep calls me back and we try my card and again. He says it doesn’t work.

“Do you have a valid credit card?” was his next question.

And that’s when I decided it’s just not worth it. Politely as possible I let the guy know how disappointed I was with this process, how an address change should not take a week. How a card they had already pre-authorized 3 weeks before and is good according to my bank shows a problem on there end and not with my card. I let him know that on two occasions I had not had a call back or email even though it was promised.

Then I canceled the order.

I’ve done a lot of online ordering and I’ve had to call in for support on numerous times including address changes and redirects. This is the first time I’ve ever been so disgusted with not only the process but how I was treated during it.

It looks like I will still get the free bonus items, those are separate from the pre-order itself, but I won’t have anything to play it on. For now I will just pick it up from Futureshop or it’s ilk with gift cards from my very valid Visa when I find a need to upgrade.

Pommes Frites

Last week Iris planned a special dinner out for Friday night. My calendar event simply said “Surprise” and since I wasn’t packing a bag I assumed we weren’t headed to Arizona. French Fries was the only hint she gave me and that narrowed it down to just about every single restaurant in Kelowna. There’s an Indian place we go on a regular basis that has curly fries in one of the vegetable dishes so I’m serious when I say that it removed almost nothing from the list of choices.

We were celebrating the closing of my condo sale and the first night of a couple working towards a future together. Our weekend was full of plans like opening a shared bank account and getting a contents insurance plan with both of our names on it. Thrilling! Having a night out would be a welcome pleasure.

During the week Iris asked if I had any guesses on where we were going but I was stumped. I joked that I hoped we were going to Arby’s because curly fries rock. I didn’t really want to know though, waiting and finding out would be much more enjoyable.

Friday evening came along. Iris drove, naturally, and we headed downtown. A turn here, a corner there, and the choices were narrowed down to one; it was Bouchons Bisto. We had tried to walk in without a reservation a few weeks prior with no luck, but this time she had planned ahead. As we got out of the car I looked at her with some confusion. French Fries? I still didn’t understand what an upscale restaurant had to do with fries. The smirk she gave me said it all; even though we had reached our destination she was still able to keep me in the dark.

We were seated in a quiet corner beside the wine cellar, a neat little room with glass windows that let us look in and see the rare and expensive bottles we couldn’t afford. Wine was ordered and we were given our menus. Iris waited until I looked at mine before she pointed out one corner with a grin on her face. I laughed and shook my head. I would never have guessed Bouchons would serve what was under her finger.

 

All entrees are served with our famous hand cut “pommes frites”

Wires

I’ve been a tech geek my entire life. Memories from childhood always included a computer or console of some variety. Given my age that’s something hard to do, I was born in 1973 just before all this technology took off, so it’s a little surprising to me that even though I love technology I tend to be a bit of a luddite.

I rarely jump on the latest new tech. I sit, wait, and figure out how it will fit in my life; whether or not it’s something that I even need. I’ve never owned a DVD player. When we made the switch from VHS to DVD I built a home theatre computer to play them. Why buy a standalone player when I could build a computer to play and record? And it worked. Sort of. This was in 2000 just as dedicated PC’s started to be used in that role. Things were kludged together and made to work.

I didn’t have surround sound until my addiction to racing games forced me to. I think the problem was, in my opinion, badly setup systems. I would watch a movie at friends and the dialogue would be at a good level but anything actiony would be deafening.

“Isn’t this awesome,” they would yell at me over the roar. I would politely smile and nod; not really hearing what was said from the noise.

I had assumed this was just bad technology as every system I heard was the same. When I finally picked one up I ignored the base configuration and set the center channel at a higher level than all the others; instant legible voices, non-deafening explosions. Of course that is all in a storage locker right now, setting it up after every move is not going to happen. TV speakers and headphones work well enough until we get a house.

On computer networks I have stayed the hell away from WiFi. Putting my data in the air for any h4x0r w4r dr!v!ng jerk to see? Nope, keeping my computers on happy little cat5 cables because that is how it’s done. Git off ma lawn!

With my first smartphone I begrudgingly picked up a wireless router and promptly forced it onto a 1 megabit/second limit and didn’t let it see my wired network. PARANOIA! Years later I picked up my first laptop as I was moving in with Iris for the “trial run” to make sure we could tolerate each other (spoiler: we can). With that purchase I was forced to open up the WiFi so the laptop could see the network. I started down the road that led to this last weekend.

Whenever I setup the tech stuff I always, and I mean ALWAYS, use cat5 for the network when possible. It’s just the way I do it. Stable and more secure. But every install ends up with cable spaghetti that needs to be hidden. I could easily make my own cable lengths and do it right but every install for the last 2 years has been with the knowledge that a move will happen at any time. Rather than possibly waste cable I hide the mess in the TV stand behind a row of Xbox game cases. But it’s there, and as a telecom guy I can hear it hidden away, mocking me.

With the latest move into the rental condo I ran into a problem. Where the TV and cable modem were going was on opposite ends of the room. I looked at solutions, running cable along the wall being the easiest, but I didn’t like any of them. On Monday I did what had to be done.

My buddy Mike loaned me a WiFi module for the Xbox. I grabbed the dongle for the TV. I setup the cable modem and router tucked up against the wall behind the chair.

I went wireless.

On Wednesday I picked up a USB WiFi stick for Opus, the desktop PC I built in 2007. He’s old but I built him strong so he’s still very capable. He’s always had cat5 running into him, but being in the second bedroom right now cat5 is just not going to happen. So I did what I had to do and made him wireless. He seems ok with it, but this morning I found him quietly locked up needing a reboot. He does that from time to time, old age and all. I’ll assume its normal and not a tantrum from the WiFi setup.

The worst thing with all these changes is that it’s quite simply the prettiest install I have done in the last few years. Everything is nicely tucked away out of site. It’s the beauty of the gear on display without wires. I wonder if cat5 will show its head again.

The luddite died a little bit more this week.

Getting One

I received the email from Microsoft on Tuesday and we are getting the Xbox One deal that Iris was offered through her work. Suddenly getting excited. All I need now is MadCatz to announce pricing and details on their racing wheel for the One and I will be completely ready.

Karma and Renting

My condo finally sold at the end of September and we’ll be moving this coming weekend. The process was fairly easy and we can now look forward to buying a house, but there was something that caught us completely off guard. Finding an apartment was a total bitch.

We expected that we would be able to just make a couple of calls and find a place near Iris’ office. We could sell my car, she would walk to work, life would be grand. The universe had other plans.

We live in Kelowna. Like all cities we have that area of town that even though it’s decent it ends up with a bad reputation. For here that would be Rutland. Over my years living in Kelowna I’ve made my (large and continued) share of jokes about the area.

I can only assume that karma is behind the fact that the only place we could find is in Rutland.

I’m not going to stop making jokes though.

Hubbard Glacier

This spring Iris and I went on our first cruise, a 7 day Alaskan Adventure on the Celebrity Millennium. Over all it was just about a perfect trip and it has certainly put the cruising bug into us. Amazingly it was my first real vacation.

The itinerary included a 4 hour stop at the Hubbard Glacier which is the stop I brought along my contour helmet camera for. Bringing a helmet camera for something like a glacier seemed a little odd to the people I mentioned it to. It’s a camera for action shots doing jumps and crashing into trees, not a Glacier. Really, what can have less action going on than a giant ice sheet dropping into the ocean?

My plan was pretty simple. I knew that we were going to have a balcony and balconies typically come with rails (good in this case, long drop to the ocean otherwise). One of the mounts I have lets me strap my contour to basically anything, like a rail. Maybe you see my thought process now. Knowing that this was a 4 hour stop meant I had to do a quick work around with an external battery to get the runtime needed. A few tests at home and I knew I was ready.

On May 21st we arrived at the Yakutat Bay. Iris and I found a nice spot to camp out on the top deck as the ship slowly cruised towards the glacier. The view was staggering, seriously, words are hard to find to describe just how amazing this was. We came within 1.6km (1 mile) from the glacier face and the ship came to a stop. This was when I became worried. I was up on deck snapping photo after photo, knowing that 5 decks below me on the starboard side of the ship was my helmet camera busy recording the entire thing.

My worry was this: Which way would the ship turn?

If we turned to the right I would miss recording the entire thing. All the prep work and testing time would be for nothing. Go left and I would have something. I remember tense moments, looking forward and aft, trying to gauge which way the ship would go.

A deep hum as the thrusters under the ship kicked in, a small shudder as it responded. We turned left. I was happy, and I shot the below video. Enjoy.