I put the bird feeders back out in the yard to keep my bird house company. I also found one that had been left behind by the previous owner of our house. It seemed to be designed for squirrels, so I made some alterations. Then the squirrels got into it and spilled the seed all over the ground! The feeders also attracted attention from birds right away, but I haven't seen any prospective dormers checking out the house yet.
Since it's vacant, I dug up the bird house and buried it deeper, now that the ground's not so frozen. Then I filled the hole with rocks. I think it's going to stay put. I made sure to avoid the wire this time! I exposed something else that could have been another wire but which I choose to believe was a thick, uniformly yellow, root.
At landfills, most of the trash is smashed and buried into the landscape, but some of it escapes and becomes a problem known as "blowing trash." Our neighborhood is also affected by this phenomenon. If I go through our yard in the morning and clean up all the half-empty bottles, Star Crunch wrappers, and Styrofoam packaging I can find, a new assortment of garbage will have found its way to our lot by the end of the day.
As a homeowner, it sucks. As a junk collector, it was very handy, for a while. Unfortunately, there are already more flattened cans in my basement than I can possibly paint in the immediate future. I had to give up bringing them home. I guess I could still recycle them, but the novelty of picking up dirty trash has started to wear off.
The cookbook Vegan With a Vengeance has the most awesome tempeh reuben recipe. When I make it, it tastes almost as good as the sandwich at Riverwest Cooperative in Milwaukee. Almost. I wish I knew their crazy cooking secrets. I'm heading off to get some vegan tips right now, because I just found episodes of Post Punk Kitchen on Google Video! (The host of this show, Isa Chandra Moskowitz, wrote Vegan With a Vengeance.)
Oh, p.s. the pink skull logo is from Herbivore clothing. I like their shirts but there is almost nothing better in this world than a pair of underwears that says "vegetarianism is for lovers." Sadly, that item seems to have been discontinued.
When I woke up on Saturday morning, the fog was thick as a brick. I didn't have much time, but it was too lovely out not to go letterboxing. I decided to plan a trip for the closest box I could find. This turned out to be South Valley Park in Inver Grove Heights, just south of St. Paul.
Once I found the park and headed up the trail, it quickly became my most enjoyable hike so far this year. The birds were out in force and they were loud. I saw and heard all kinds of creatures: geese, cardinals, robins, chickadees, a lone gull, and some big noisy bird that swooped overhead. I stood in one spot for just a couple of minutes and saw four or five little downy woodpeckers flitting about.
I found the hiding spot without too much trouble. The challenge was extracting the letterbox from where it was iced to the ground. This one had been discovered before by some animal and used as a chewing toy. Luckily, the contents were safe. I tried to remove a beer bottle from the ground to clean up the spot, but that one was stuck tight. Maybe the next letterboxer will take that trash out.
I picked up a pack of posters by Adam Turman. They look like this (except bigger). When my chores were done for the day, I had an Andrew Jackson burning a hole in my pocket. I saw GTA San Andreas at Target, so I thought about getting that game, and punching imaginary dudes on my PS2. Instead, bought a post at Ace Hardware to hold my bird house up.
Today I learned that:
- Buying hardware piecemeal, in this case, was only somewhat cheaper than a kit.
- The advantage is that I can buy a taller pole.
- The drawback is that it's one solid ten foot pole, instead of several, smaller, pole sections.
- My Saturn coupe is just long enough to fit a ten foot pole inside, going from one corner of the trunk to the opposite corner of the dashboard.
- I should deactivate our home security system before I bring the pole into the back yard.
- Corollary: Next time I hear an alarm going off, I will quickly make sure it isn't mine.
Thanks to my puzzle friend in mysterious land, I have a new entry in my collection of delightful time wasters. Nonograms are number-based logic puzzles that can be arranged to display a hidden picture when solved. The puzzles are known by many names. If you lived in Japan and owned a GameBoy, you might know it as Mario Picross!
The default 5x5 format is good for learning the rules. After that, you can choose from larger game boards, and it gets a bit tougher. Can you solve a 10x10 grid? 15x15?
Say hi to Poketo Artist Wallets. They are limited edition vinyl bi-fold goodness. Now on their 11th series, they've featured several artists and designers with a wide assortment of styles. I would like to get one for myself. The problem is that the good ones (like the design by Hannah Stouffer, above) always sell out too fast. The whole point of Poketo is being able to hand-pick a favorite design. So far, I've missed out on the good ones, so I am waiting until I find one that I adore.
I went through a phase when I felt that I should be growing up and doing fancy adult things, so I bought a (fake?) leather wallet. Later I changed my mind and covered it with stickers. Then I tried to peel the stickers off and destroyed it. The point is, I'm due for a new one. My next wallet will be a Poketo.
Format Magazine popped up in my "came from" page at statcounter. It's fun to see who is reading the blog. Sometimes I meet someone interesting. Some times, like in this case, I discover a site that shares some of my interests. Urban art + fashion = awesome.
I set up this blog to talk about things that I think are cool. I know that it's working when cool things find their way back to me.
It was a beautiful 32 degrees Fahrenheit day on my second successful letterboxing trip. A good day for secrets. Most of the snow is melted away, leaving mud behind, but the trails at Crosby Farm Park were mostly clear.
My clues identified two separate boxes on this trail. The first was exactly where I expected to find it. The previous finder had returned this box to its hiding spot in a root mass, and buried it well with leaves and twigs. Nobody else was around, so I took a few minutes to flip through the log book and leave my stamp. This box contained a nice hand-carved stamp and everything was sealed in Ziploc bags. I put it back the same way, and covered it completely.
The second letterbox belongs in this opening. I used that stick to dig out about two inches of hard-packed dirt from the top. I unearthed a lot of rocks, but didn't hit a letterbox. Either I needed to keep going, or the box has gone missing. I went back and pulled out the first box again to leave a note for future seekers. When I got home, I sent a note to the owner of the letterbox. I hope that it turns up again.
On my way out of the park, I picked up some garbage off the trail. Letterboxing sites encourage you to leave the area cleaner and nicer than you find it: "cache in, trash out." Check out the patina on this can of Bud. It's practically an antique. Too bad it's not flat enough to paint on. I threw it away, but my trip was a success with one new stamp in my logbook!
The Summit brewery is a St. Paul landmark, and I have been planning to visit them for a long time. This week I finally made the trip. At 1:00 on a Thursday, I was not expecting many people to show up for the scheduled tour. I walked in right as it was getting started. To my surprise, there were already over twenty people there when I arrived, and more people joined us afterward. Free beer is a powerful motivator.
Our guide asked if any of us were homebrewers. I think I was the only one to raise my hand. The older gentleman behind me was excited by this and told me that his son, who lives in Alaska, has been homebrewing beer for many years. I had to admit that I've only made cider so far, but I got to tell him about my "Alaskan Amber" pint glass--a souvenir gift from my favorite Alaskan.
The tour started with a discussion of the four basic ingredients of beer (malt, hops, water, and yeast). We got to smell and taste some different malt varieties that are used by Summit. I only tried a couple, but my favorite was the caramel malt. After the history lesson and beer-making overview, we walked through the facility. There sure is a lot of equipment involved. Most of it is modern stainless steel. Above, you can see their two-storey fermentation vats and some other fancy brewing devices. None of that newfangled machinery looked as pretty as their pair of imported copper kettles (top).
I think I was the only one in our tour who noticed this, or more likely, I was the only one nerdy enough to care. Piled against a wall in the bottling room was a stack of empty boxes. That's nothing special, but as soon as I noticed the name on the top, I snapped a photo. Who is Mark Stutrud? Why, none other than the owner of the company, the man who started Summit over 20 years ago. I figure it's a pretty successful company, so he probably needs these boxes to cart home his giant piles of money.
I've toured a few breweries (Leinenkugel's) and several wineries, but the bottling lines have always been stopped while I was there. Summit cranks out a lot of bottles, so it must be an impressive sight when the whole thing is going at full speed. I tried searching YouTube for a video, but no dice. Maybe I'll get to see it when I visit the Schell's brewery in New Ulm!
This morning I read an article about painting on smashed aluminum cans. Using recycled materials in art is always a nifty idea. You can see a bunch of Rik Catlow's paintings in this Flickr photoset. Graffiti artist Buff Monster really brings the concept full-circle by using flattened spray paint cans as his canvas.
So anyway, in the article Rik Catlow gives instructions on technique, materials, and even his favorite method of flattening the cans. "That's cool," I thought. "I would like to try doing some Darumas in that style." Then on my way home from work, I picked up four cans from the street, and they were already squashed totally flat for me. How perfect is that?
Do you have some time to kill at work? Of course you do! If you like doing things that are fun, take a shot at a Cidouri puzzle. They are not very hard. I enjoy Sudoku, personally (I liked it before it was "cool" to do so). But to solve one of those puzzles, I have to think about numbers and math, and sometimes I just want to connect the dots. Once you learn the simple rules of Cidouri, it's like a mindless kind of Zen exercise.
UPDATE: Incredibly detailed article from Kotaku. Hand-scribed notes from Will Wright's keynote speech at SXSW. This comes almost immediately after the talk, but there's still no good source for the prior presentations (TED and GDC).
UPDATE #2: There's a video from the SXSW presentation. When I view it in Linux, it has to pause every 5 seconds to rebuffer, but it plays like gravy in OS X. Your mileage may vary.
There were a couple of other presentations by Will Wright and the Spore team recently. It's probably only a matter of time before those videos hit. I'll post them here if they turn up.
Last week, I bought everything I needed to start my new hobby (a Moleskine notebook), but there was too much snow on the ground for outdoor letterboxing. I know, because I tried! I went to where a letterbox should be along the Mississippi, but the entire area was unplowed. I might have found it eventually with the help of a shovel. Instead I gave up and decided to come back later.
Then, I found a new online source for clues, and tracked down an indoor box. I don't want to give it all away, but it was very clever. The box was hidden inside a hollowed-out fake book that is checked into a local university's library system. I was the second one to stamp the visitor book in the letterbox, and their stamp became the first entry in my personal log. That's one down, and plenty to go.
With my own hands, I have constructed a house for tree swallows to inhabit. I am inordinately proud of myself for this accomplishment. One piece of advice, if you use these plans to build a tree swallow birdhouse for yourself: use screws, not nails. If you use nails as your primary fastening mechnism, it is very difficult to keep everything straight. You will end up with something resembling Homer Simpson's spice rack, and you will have to pull it apart, and start over.
So, check this out. The side of the box can be opened with pivot nails, for easy cleaning. A wily predator would figure that out sooner or later, so the door is secured with a catch nail to hold it shut. What an elegant solution. Ventilation holes are drilled into the sides so the eggs don't get fried on a hot day. In the far right photo, you can see the bottom of the house, with drainage.
I hope that some pair of mating swallows will decide to make their home in this modest box. Not all the angles are exactly right, but birds shouldn't mind too much. I'll be watching for signs of occupancy. I built the house to swallow specifications, but other than that, I don't have any particular reason to believe that swallows are what I'll get. I will be happy with anything that sees fit to move in.
(Just in case you weren't already sick of reading about this stuff.)
I was so intrigued by the Perplex City concept that I kept digging and uncovered more history on solve-a-puzzle-win-a-prize style games. Perplex City fits within the categories of two broad genres: Alternative Reality Games (ARGs) and Armchair Treasure Hunts. Masquerade is the first major armchair treasure hunt, which used clues from a children's book to point out a 22 carat gold hare buried in the real world. The book was published in 1979, and the golden hare was unearthed in 1982.
The ARG movement began after the advent of widespread Internet access, with a project code-named The Beast. If you'd like to read more about alternative reality, Gibson's Pattern Recognition explores a similar concept in novel form. G. K. Chesterton lays the foundation for a type of proto-ARG in the first chapter of The Club of Queer Trades. I mention this one because I thought the idea was clever when I came up with it as a business concept in my Entrepreneur class. Chesterton beat me to it, again.
The Isis, shown left, is described as the "hardest puzzle in history." Supposedly, only 5% of the people who own one will manage to open it (what's the success rate on Rubik's Cubes?). A few have already been cracked. I wonder how hard can it be if it has already been solved, but then again each ball has its own individual cipher and solution. It's a beautiful artifact, which it ought to be for $200. The twist is, if you do manage to crack it, inside you'll find "a uniquely coded key that will open one of several golden pyramids" that "contain silver and gold coins worth thousands of dollars." We'll see how that plays out, I suppose.
One final thought before I lay this topic to rest. I realized today that my love for puzzles is part of why I love web design so much. I enjoy the creative aspects of high-level design, but what I really like is the nitty-gritty. Poring over source code, learning a new language, figuring out how something works, or why it doesn't. And then finally, the "ah ha!" moment when all the pieces click together, and I solve whatever problem I'm working on. It's not called HTML "code" for nothing!
I'd like to expand on the ideas in yesterday's post with a discussion of the Beale Ciphers. There are two documents, published in 1885, that contain encrypted clues for finding buried treasure. Lots of people have spent lots of time trying to figure out the code, but it has yet to be deciphered. The prevailing notion nowadays is that it cannot be broken, because the story, and the documents, are a hoax.
This is all very interesting, and by following the links above you can learn a fair bit about cryptanalysis, ciphers, and marketing scams. It brings me back to my first thought when I originally came across the Perplex City concept: what if there is no Cube? I'm a skeptic by nature, and I wondered how we would know if no one ever found the grand prize object. It was, in fact, devilishly hidden, but it did exist, and it was located.
So, the concept of selling clues to eager treasure hunters is nothing new. The Beale Ciphers were fake, but the publishers made a profit, at the expense of their customers. Perplex City is the real deal: they gave out a prize and stand to make more money by selling another round of products. Their second "season" began this month, and they're even branching out the franchise into board games. Ironically, Mind Candy (the company behind Perplex City) stands to make a lot more money than the perpetrators of the Beale Papers. But will people still be talking about them in a hundred years?
Every so often, I find out a hobby exists that seems pulled straight from my imagination. Letterboxing is a search for secrets hidden by fellow hobbyists. Geocaching brings this pastime into the 21st century by incorporating the use of a GPS. Both of them get you walking around outside and let you pretend to be a pirate who is hunting for treasure. Needless to say, I think that this is awesome!
I lack the proper technology for geocaching, but I plan to track down my first letterbox when the snow clears out this spring. This intriguing hobby dovetails with the discovery of the Perplex City "Receda Cube," which I read about in an article by the winner. I'm intrigued by the idea of "alternate reality" competitions like this one. From a business standpoint, it's very clever. The winner got $200,000, but how much do you think they earned?
They make money by selling packs of 6 cards for $5 a pack. Players use the cards to solve clues, move the game forward, and eventually locate the Cube. With 256 cards total, an individual player would have to spend at least $213 to collect them all. The company would break even on the prize money with less than 1,000 hardcore players. That's a really simplified calculation, but anyway, I'm more intrigued by the possibilities of the game itself. The play's the thing, and why pay money when I can go letterboxing for free?
For your viewing enjoyment and my narcissistic pleasure, here are some of my favorite posts from the previous year. I seem to recall doing something like this for '05. To see my picks from '06, read on, friends.
- We started 2006 by meeting Gary Baseman at Robot Love. This post kicked off a discussion about the merits of tattoos versus clothes. I advocate for a tribal sort of situation, in a perfect world where my skin doesn't burn and the tattoo ink flows like wine.
- I was very excited to get my hands on a gorgeous, blue, Smith-Corona portable manual typewriter in January. I still love this thing. I need more excuses to break it out for correspondence.
- Our first Craftstravaganza application for our first Craftstravaganza arrived in February. Hard to believe that the second one is almost here. Note to blog stalkers: I no longer live at that address, but I do still have that gun.
- Next up: a mini-vacation to Milwaukee and more epicurean blogging. It bears repeating: Riverwest Cooperative's Tempeh Reuben sandwich has yet to be beat.
- I enjoyed compiling a list of my favorite restaurants in St. Paul. Where do you like to eat?
- In March, I was riding the bus from St. Paul to work at my temp job in Minneapolis, and reading lots of books at the same time.
- April was a crazy busy month. First, my niece was born. That stupid little post got more comments than almost any other one this year! A week after that, we went to see the RollerGirls, and I got a great job (which I'm still doing, and still enjoy). We capped the month by buying a house. I started at my new position on the same day as the closing. It's no wonder I only had enough energy to write four posts in May.
- The Lake Pepin 3-Speed Tour was awesome. I am trying to decide what to do with the 1972 Raleigh Superbe I rode on that bummel. It's a beautiful bike, but my single-speed gets all the love these days.
- June was all about prepping for the first annual Craftstravaganza. I made my own crafts, we hung posters everywhere, and I gushed about our vendors. We were really nervous that it was going to flop.
- But there was still time for Back to the 50's. And for a very important lesson.
- I went post-crazy in July. That was the month of the Craftstravaganza! (part two) (part three) We did lots of other stuff besides. Okay, we did three things:
- I was stoked to print some color copies of my comic strip. Bob the Golfer was a hit.
- I finally ate at the Hard Times. It was delicious.
- My scooter was stolen. That sucked.
- Midway through August, I was done with the craft fair and needed a new project. I got the crazy idea to illustrate a deck of Hanafuda playing cards. I did one every day for the rest of the month, and completed the last card in September. This was a really enjoyable challenge and I felt like a superstar when I finished. Fun fact: I have yet to print them.
- I won wine in October. At this point, only two bottles remain.
- This Microcosm Tour event was fun and weird. I didn't like the food very much. I kind of wish I had purchased a documentary DVD.
- With November comes NaNoWriMo, but last year it also brought the double deuce of death to my computer. I "won," despite all odds. In the meantime, I installed Ubuntu Linux and raced an Alleycat. Both of these were awesome, and both did not receive proper blog treatment.
- December came around and I was looking for something new to try. I bought some supplies and started brewing cider. Since I just did the racking a week ago, this seems like a great place to wrap it up.
Hey astrono-nerds! Do you want to see something that is pretty cool? The next lunar eclipse is scheduled for Saturday, March 3.
I'm sort of interested in astronomy, but not so much in the science parts. Mostly, I just enjoy looking at the pretty pictures. Check out that Flickr page for more great astrophotography and nature shots. Better, try to be outside at moonrise on Saturday evening. It might be too overcast on account of the snow clouds they forecasted, but it's worth a shot. Look to the east.
In the USA, the eclipse will already be underway when the moon rises on Saturday evening [NOTE: My fans in Japan might be able to view this phenomenon at moonset]. Observing tip: Find a place with a clear view of the eastern horizon and station yourself there at sunset. As the sun goes down behind you, a red moon will rise before your eyes.Rising moons are often reddened by clouds or pollution, but this moon will be the deep, extraordinary red only seen during a lunar eclipse.