Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Sonos Wireless HiFi – Mini-Review


About a month ago, while watching Sunday afternoon football, I saw this commercial:



Now, I had heard of Sonos before, and I knew their price-point was high, and their equipment clunky looking.  However, the equipment in the commercial looked good, and the ability to stream different music to each speaker at the same time had me totally hooked.

I started researching Sonos, and found they had a pretty good reputation and their new Play series was looking good.  Plus, at the time, they were giving away a free bridge with a Play speaker purchase.  That was always the catch for me; to make the expensive speaker work, I had to purchase another piece of expensive equipment just to make it work.  Now that it was free, I was very interested.  I just needed to hear them in real life.  Would they sound like they do in the commercial coming from my home theater system, or would they sound like tin cans, like every other portable speaker ever.

Off to Target!  Just so happens that my local Target carried Sonos equipment and had a demo display set up.  Now I could answer the last question: How do they really sound?  Short answer: Awesome.  In the big open area of Target, the sound was impressive and surprisingly immersive.  The bass response from the Play:3 and the Play:5 was above what I expected.   The Play:1 was about what I expected.  It tried, but just couldn’t make it.  However, being resistant to humidity and very small made it perfect for someplace like the kitchen.  You don’t need super audio quality while banging pots and pans together, just some background noise.Now, being the kind of person I am, I left Target after my successful trial run, and placed and order through Amazon for a Play:1, Play:3, and a Play:5.  Amazon was also providing the free bridge with purchase.  2 Days later,


The setup of this system couldn’t be much easier.  First thing you install is the Bridge unit.  It hardwires into your home network and can be placed next to your router or anywhere with a cable drop, if your house is wired for Ethernet.  Our Bridge sits on the video game storage cabinet in the living room, and you’d never notice it.

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Plug in the power and it does the rest. 

Next you need to download the Sonos app.  There are iPad, iPhone/iPod, and Android versions of the app, making it pretty universal.  Once the app installs, it asks you to press the button on the Bridge to establish a connection.  Then that’s it.  Your Bridge is ready for speakers and the app is ready to control them.

Speaker setup is just as easy.  Plug in the speaker, tap the Add Speaker button in the app, press a button on the speaker, and done. 2013-12-11 12.33.27
Sonos Play:5 in our living room.

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Sonos Play:3 in the master bedroom

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Sonos Play:1 in our kitchen.  This one also comes with me down into the basement/lab when I’m working down there.

Sonos even pushes out firmware and other updates the same way.  The app alerts you to an update and the push goes from there.  This was so simple, it’s a technology I’d consider giving to my parents.

In the store, I was impressed with the audio performance of these speakers.  At home, I was blown away.  The Play:1 has the most incredible bass response I’ve heard from such a small speaker.  The Play:3 fills a room evenly and beautifully with well balanced music.  If anything I’d say I was the least impressed with the Play:5.  To be such a large unit, the smaller two really outshine it.

The app is also really easy to use.  You can connect it to your Pandora, Amazon Cloud, Spotify, or even home media server quick and easy.

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iPad interface

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iPhone/Android interface

Q&A Time

Is the Sonos system a little pricey?  Yes, but in my opinion, it is worth every penny.

Does the Sonos system pass the spouse test?  With flying colors, yes it does.  My wife loves this system.  Once of the really cool, kind of hidden features is the sleep timer and alarm clock features in the app.  This is getting a lot of use in our house.

Would you buy more Sonos pieces?  Yes.  I really want at least a Play:1 in every room of the house, and am working toward that too.

Once you set them up, can you move the speakers?  Yes.  You just unplug the power, move it to another room, plug it in and go.  Over Thanksgiving, we moved the Play:3 into the dining room and had music as we ate.

The only true downside I can find with the Sonos system is the cost, but so far, its been well worth the investment.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Heroes of Cosplay – A Lesson in History


On Tuesday, August 13 at 10:30PM eastern, I attempted to watch the Sy-Fi channel reality TV show “Heroes of Cosplay”.  I made it about a third of the way through the episode before having to turn it off for my own health.  The show was causing a spike in my blood pressure and sent me ranting all over the house.  By the way, cats do not care about my opinions and will not listen.  Once I calmed down a little, I noticed something.  This anger that I was feeling was somehow familiar.  Like I had felt it before, but when and over what?  Then it hit me like a ton of bricks.  I had been here before.

If you would, please set your WABAC Machines for 1975.  We’re going to join in on a quiet little revolution: Skateboarding.

Skating started as a means of individual expression.  It wasn’t a team sport.  You didn’t compete against anyone.  You just rode for you.  Kids would band together in support of this idea and would ride together either down streets or in abandoned pools (or at least empty ones).  Then an observer took notice and offered a prize to the one that could pull off the sickest trick.  The skateboarding competition was born.

Kids went from being kids to being rock stars overnight.  They were touring the world on their skateboards.  Some took fame well.  Some, tragically, didn’t handle it well.  However, through them and their skating, the popularity grew and grew.  Also, keep in mind, this is before the Internet.  We learned about things via word of mouth or in print media sources.  So, the growth was slow compared to how things take off today, but for this time period, the popularity was exploding.

With all popular things, there is a group that sees it as a trend, and trends make money.  Enter the corporate sponsored competitions.  Now we could watch Big Air competitions on low level ESPN channels.  Street competitions were getting brands slapped everywhere.  Suddenly this means of individual expression had become a sport.  Skateboarding even had its own public face in the form of the great Tony Hawk.  A truly talented skater, but one that many regarded as a sell out.

Watching skating turn into a professional sport; seeing kids get into it just for the sake of making money; watching competitions become more and more cut throat was heart breaking.  It made me very angry.  This thing I loved, this punk movement, had gone and gotten a suit and tie.  It had changed into something new that I didn’t like.  Or had it?

That was the anger I was feeling from Heroes of Cosplay.  They were taking cosplay, and making it into something else.  Something ugly.  Something that does not represent cosplay’s heart and spirit.  Just like what they had done to skateboarding.  Now this is not about skating or cosplay becoming mainstream.  Please don’t think that.  I want more and more people to see and do cosplay.  Everyone should at some point.  This ager is over the perverting of the heart and spirit:  Taking forms of individual expression and turning them into high pressure competitions for fame and glory.

Alright, not set your WABAC Machines for the year 1999.  By this point, my anger had subsided, and I had just resolved myself that this was the way things are now.  I had even taken to watching the X-Games.  The 1999 X-Games is one I will never forget.  It was the best trick competition and Tony Hawk was riding.  He was putting on an amazing show and was leading up to the then Holy Grail of tricks: The 900.  In a 900, the rider spins 900 degrees around in the air.  That’s two and a half full rotations in the air.  A lot of us thought this was impossible, but you could see Tony trying it.  His timer ran out before he could pull off the 900, but he didn’t stop.  He kept trying.  The TV cameras didn’t turn off.  No other skaters went to file a protest that Hawk was taking up their camera time.  The announcers didn’t question what they were watching.  “Just let him have another try” was all that was being said.  Then it happened.  After regulation, when it technically didn’t count, Tony Hawk landed the first 900, but it didn’t count in the competition.

The celebration that came after was amazing.  Everyone had been cheering him on, not hoping he would win, but wanting to see the trick.  That’s when it hit me: Skateboarding hadn’t actually changed, at least not at its heart.  Sure it had corporate sponsorship now and a cleaner haircut, but that spirit was still there.  Skateboarding hadn’t really changed at all.  So, if skateboarding can survive, so can cosplay.

Ultimately, the entire geek universe and culture is going through a really long growing pain.  We’ve won mainstream support.  We’re getting big flood lights pointed into our shadier areas.  A lot of things are changing; some even for the better.  Evolution can be painful, but we will survive.  Stuff like Heroes of Cosplay has happened many times before and it will happen again and again.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Harley Quinn’s Hammer–The Batsmasher


It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog update.  I’ve been busy, I promise.  Just too busy to sit and write a build log.  So, in the spirit of playing catch up, here is The Batsmasher.

This is the second of, what I hope to be, many commissions from the talented ~RedxHarlxoxo.  Harley has many weapons, and one of my personal favorites has always been her huge hammer.

When I was asked if I could build that, well of course I said yes (I always do, don’t I).  How hard could it be?

The core construction was easy enough.  A large concrete forming tube and a section of pipe running through the middle.  This pipe was to guide and secure the wooden handle.


The handle slid right in and simply screwed onto a bolt at the top.

This kept the whole thing light. 

I sealed the whole tube with a few coats of fiberglass resin.  This helped to hide the spiral running down the tube.

There was some confusion with the paint, that led to the first of several set backs.

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Please not the color says Kona Brown.

Opening the can revealed:
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Turned out this was one of those voodoo/witchcraft paints that goes on purple and dries brown.

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To cap the ends, I used EVA foam that I carved a wood like pattern into and glued them in place.

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Now for more purple/brown paint.


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And I now have a giant Tootsie Roll.  Great.

Several hours with the airbrush later, I was getting something that looked more wood and less candy.

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After a while, I finally got the paint right, only to screw up parts of it later.

Next we have the tension bands and rivets to hold it in place.  This was a fun little trick that turned out better than I expected, but the glue ruined some of the paint.

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Some touch up and repaint, and it looked much better.

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And I really need to get a better shop camera.  Sorry.

The next set back came for the ^$%@&$*$%^!!! handle.  It was too long to ship in one piece.  Making a sectional wooden handle is not something I’m good at, and proved again when I busted the wooden handle trying to fix it.

I didn’t want to, for various reasons, but I had to go back to my old friend PVC pipe.  It could be sectional easily, but I had to keep it from looking like pipe.

I took one section and permanently installed it inside the hammer, leaving a coupling section out for the rest of the handle.  The other two pieces were also joined with a coupling…a heavily modified coupling.




In the end, I am really pleased with how this turned out.  Yeah, I’d do some things differently if I built it again, but that’s true of almost everything I build.



Did I mention I came in just under 6 feet tall?

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Tribute to Rudy

Back in August of 2004, while Melinda was shopping in other stores, I went into Petsmart to look at their adoptable dogs.  There were a couple of different rescue groups there that Saturday and they had several dogs.  Now, I have a soft spot in my heart for Akitas, and there was an Akita there that day.  He seemed pretty even tempered and had beautiful markings.  The dog in the pen next to him though was very outgoing and happy looking.  He was just a big orange fuzzball.  Nothing too special looking if I’m honest.
I went and got Melinda and we stood back from the crowd and looked at the Akita together.  While we were looking at the Akita, the big orange dog played a very risky move.  He let lose and just hosed down his crate.  I mean he filled it up.  I have no idea how long he had been holding it, but they had to let him out of his crate to mop up the mess he just made.  As they were letting him out, he went into phase two of his plan and gave them the slip.  He ran past several other people, and made a line straight for Melinda and I.  We were kneeling down looking at the Akita when we were pounced by this big orange dog that immediately began licking us.  The rescue people came over and apologized and made sure we were OK, and Melinda answered with “I think we were just adopted”.
That’s how Rudy came into our lives on August 28th 2004.  We learned that he was part Mastiff and part Golden Retriever and that as a puppy he had been chained to pole for so long that the chain had grown into his neck.  Now, he was almost a year old, house trained and crate trained.  Truly a perfect first dog for us.
These are some pictures from those first few days home with us.  We tried to teach him to play fetch, but being Rudy, he changed the game.  He made it into Chase, stomp, pickup, runaway.  This was our first exposure to just how stubborn his personality was.
He was also not a fan of the camera.  He wasn’t sure what it was, but he was convinced it was evil.  Oh, and that glass looking stuff in the one picture is just plastic.  Rudy had several enemies in this world:
Cardboard boxed
Gutter down spouts
Garden edging
Squeaky balls
Water hoses
We learned about each at very odd times.  We learned about gutter down spouts after a big storm.  We had just let him out after the storm to use the bathroom when we heard something rip off the house.  I ran outside to find him pulling the guttering down spout off the house.  We figured out later that it was the dripping noise that drove him nuts.
This dog had the ability to melt your heart and drive you to fits of insane rage.  Having to try to figure out how to repair guttering at night as a second storm is coming is a good example of the latter.
The he would just do something so adorable like this, that all was forgiven.
Rudy vs. Flower bed edging.  All of this had been buried to edge the flower beds.  Rudy didn’t like it.  We’re not really sure who won, but this provided hours of entertainment.
To be as big as he was, he was very gentle.  Most of the time.  If he didn’t like you, he would let you know.  Also we learned he was claustrophobic.  The only times he ever snapped at people was when he felt trapped and who could really blame him there?
Shortly after we got Rudy, our young God-daughter came over to see him and we learned a new game.  Rudy was fine with kids as long as he could play this game.  He would charge at them full speed across the yard and then at the last second turn to avoid hitting them, but cause them to fall over.  He would then come back and pick them help with his head.  Once he thought they were stable, he would run away and charge again.  This was a great game for him, but the first few passes were terrifying to our God-daughter, but the she got into it too.
This is all Rudy vs. Camera.  Like I said, he wasn’t sure what it was, but that didn’t matter.
At our old house we had a raised section of the deck and that was Rudy’s favorite place in the world.
Oh, yeah, I forgot the plastic bottle threat.  Rudy didn’t believe in recycling pure concentrated evil.
We did intend for Rudy to be an outside only dog, but when we saw he would never use a dog house, we knew that plan would have to change.  Fortunately he was already crate trained.
After a while though, we learned he didn’t need the crate.  He would just stay on his bed.
We went trough a lot of different beds.  The raised cot with a pad on it seemed to be his favorite.  That and just the kitchen floor.
For all his strengths, Rudy did have two weaknesses:
Thunder and Cats.  Fortunately he never met the Thundercats.  I’m sure that would have been just Hell on earth.
Anytime it would storm, Rudy would leave his bed and just roam to the hallway.  In both our houses with him, the hallway was the safe spot.  Now, if we were still up when it was storming, he would walk to the room we were in and just look in as pitifully as he could and whimper until we gave him the OK and he’d just flop down in front of us and be fine.
Cats were another thing all together.  It didn’t help that we are also a big cat family, but Rudy just could never figure them out.  They were bigger than a squirrel, but smaller than any dog he’d ever seen.  One night we heard him whimpering and went to check on him.  We found him in his crate staring straight up at our kitten Ty.  Ty had perched on top of his crate right at the door and Rudy didn’t know what to do.  This 3 pound kitty had incapacitated the 100 pound dog.
Rudy did end up making one cat friend.  Leo and Rudy were good friends.  Leo would welcome Rudy in each night.  We’re not 100% sure that Rudy was as fond of Leo as Leo was of him, but it was adorable.
When we moved to Knoxville, taking Rudy out for a walk on the street became an issue.  There are too many cars for that.  Melinda ended up teaching him how to walk on the treadmill.  She would work out on her elliptical and he would walk along on the treadmill.  This is something that we kept saying we needed video of, but never got.
Sometime in 2011, we were giving Rudy a bath when we noticed a lump in his armpit area.  At first I thought it might have been a tick, but it was under the skin and solid.  The vets removed it and sent it off to be checked.  The results came back as cancer.  Thus began our adventures in animal cancer treatments.
The first vet that we talked to, honestly, was horrible.  She had no bedside manner and no personality.  Just cold and hard and quite honestly after we talked to her, we were so turned off that we may have done more harm in not looking into the treatments that she suggested just out of spite.  I mean she was one of these vets you run into with the attitude of “I got into veterinary medicine so I wouldn’t have to deal with people” and had the people skills of a rusty cheese grater.
So we worked with Dr. Reichla Kendrick at Asheville Highway Animal Hospital on a couple of surgeries to try and remove not just the tumor, but some of the surrounding tissue in order to try for clean margins. 
We would put Rudy in a t-shirt to protect the bandages and surgery area.  Yeah, some got peed on, tore up, and stained to death, but he looked super cute and really seemed to like them too.
We thought we were out of the worst of it, but later in 2011 early 2012 the lump came back.  Same spot as before.
Dr. Reichla referred us to the Animal Emergency and Specialty Hospital and Dr. Phillips.  We were a little leery of a new specialist but Dr. Phillips is amazing.  He gave us all the options and more information than we could ever handle.  He said the first and best way to try would be more surgery.  The idea was like a mastectomy.  If there is cancer here, let’s just try to remove as much as we can.  They ended up removing a lot more of him than they thought they would have to.
The Cone of Shame was eventually replaced with the T-Shirt of Cozy.
Eventually the tumor came back again.  There were no more surgeries possible unless we took out his whole leg.  This wasn’t an option for us, so we went on to chemotherapy.
Rudy seemed to react to the chemo really well.  There was only one time that he actually got sick from the treatments.  That allowed him a “drug holiday” to let his system balance and we started on a different kind of chemo.
The chemo treatments went on for a long time and we thought we were making good progress.  Until…Rudy started having a hard time breathing and would cough and choke like he needed to vomit, but would never vomit.  We took him to see the vets, and he had fluid built up around his chest and lungs.  This was not a good sign.  They drained what fluid they could and treated him with meds to try and dry him out.  By that weekend, he was swollen and bloated again.  We took him to the Emergency Center where they drained off two and a half liters of fluid.  He also got a last ditch effort chemo treatment.  The fluid was checked and filled with cancer cells.  His chest x-ray showed a mass around his heart and lung and that was the source of the fluid.  The cancer had hit his lymph nodes and spread very quickly.  By Wednesday, Rudy had more fluid back on his chest and it wasn’t just in his chest.  It had spread to just behind his skin too.  He was also breaking out in sores.  Blisters would appear and just burst.  His spirit was still strong, but his body just couldn’t take anymore.  Nearly three years of fighting had taken its toll.
No, its not fair.  He was taken too soon.  He was taken by a disease that has been around for far too long.
On Thursday, May 16th 2013 lost our best friend of 9 years.  He would have been 10 years old in September.
We were some of the last pictures we got of him.  You can see how swollen his chest is.  The paw that he is hiding was also severely swollen.  He had to be carried to the back where they examined him and Dr. Reichla broke the news that it was time.
The staff at Asheville Highway is so awesome and loving.  They heard that Rudy hadn’t eaten that morning, so they started bringing him food to see if he would eat.  They didn’t want him to go hungry.
They started with some dog food and that didn’t work at all.  Next was some cat food.  All dogs love cat food.  Rudy was having none of it.  Next came chocolate and bits of food from everyone’s lunches.  He was a stubborn dog holding out for the people food.  Being a cheese fan, he ate some cheesy queso dip.  Until he hit a spicy bit.  Then he ate a little broccoli cheese soup.  Until he hit a piece of broccoli.
His breathing became more labored at this point.  He had been breathing through his nose, but he had to start breathing through his mouth.  It was time.
We said our goodbyes.
We hugged him close.
We loved on his soft puppy ears.
We stayed with him until the end.
We are having his body cremated.  We asked that his t-shirt be left on him.  Those stupid shirts became such a part of him, it felt right.  I plan on paying homage to him by using one in an upcoming costume too.

Rudy was my constant companion.  He was my best friend.  He was the biggest mama’s boy I’ve ever known.  Seriously.  He’d refuse to do something for me, but the second Melinda asked, it was done. 
He had a rough first year of his life, and a rough last few months, but the time in between was better than any of us could have ever hoped for.
I’m going to miss my friend.
I can’t end on a note this sad.  Have some more happy pictures!
We did try a winter coat for him.  He seemed to like it, but his cousin Delta tore it off him and destroyed it.