Wed, Jul 09, 2014

: The Treasure Hunt

For the past few summers, my aunt has organized “Grandkids Camp” at her sister’s farm near Salem, Oregon. The property is huge and old, so there’s room to camp out and the kids have lots of adventures. As the camp has grown (there are only three kids, but it’s the highlight of their year, so it’s gotten longer and more involved), my aunt’s gotten other family members to contribute in their areas of expertise.

Last year my cousin (who’s a movie director) and I created a short film with the kids. This year Joel couldn’t make it but suggested he contribute some video footage remotely. He suggested something along the lines of a National Treasure type hunt, with video clues.

Working with that concept, I came up with a storyline and organized an elaborate treasure hunt. Since the kids do a treasure hunt every camp, we had a fake hunt organized to fool them into thinking they’d already found their treasure (the fake hunt’s prize were chocolate “gold” coins). This helped them believe that the hunt I created was the real thing because they’d already done the hunt!

Since my goal was to make this believable, I had to come up with a plausible story as to why gold would be buried on the farm. I created a fake pirate who wasn’t from the Caribbean, but a river pirate on the Mississippi. I had him escaping to the Northwest with his gold where he died under mysterious circumstances. I had his body being found by an oddly-naked soldier, James Knickerbottom.

My aunt’s sister and her husband planted seeds early after the kids’ arrival that “Knickerbottom,” the guy they’d bought the farm from, kept calling wanting to dig more holes on the property looking for treasure. This was a key clue in making the treasure hunt believable. I purposely picked a funny name that the kids would remember and it worked to perfection!

Next, we had the kids start looking for clues. They weren’t too enthusiastic at first, thinking that the treasure hunt had been done and this wasn’t an official activity, but I pretended to be curious about this “real” treasure. The first clue we found was in the old barn: river pirate Mississippi Joe’s wanted poster:

Once we found that, I pretended to search for more information about this guy on the internet and discovered a website about Mississippi Joe. (This is a fake site I created just for this game!)

On the site was a short documentary video about Joe, which my cousin had created from my script:

It’s really awesome and makes the pirate seem like a genuine historical figure. It worked unbelievably well, particularly when the kids noticed a shot in the video of the same wanted poster they had in their hands! They were absolutely convinced that the ancient and damaged document in their hands was a priceless historical artifact.

I’d also created some fake newspaper clippings which were used in the video. These were included on the website and gave the kids something to read and explore:

To create these, I wrote the text, designed them as old-fashioned newspaper articles, and printed out low-resolution copies. Then soaked them in tea and baked them in an oven at 200 degrees. They really look old!

Next, the kids investigated the old milk house where they found James Knickerbottom’s diary. Supposedly Jame’s son Eli had found it in 1902 but his mom had burned it, worried her son would become as obsessed with hunting for the gold as her demented husband. I actually created an entire 48-page diary, printed it out, and sewed it into a little booklet (I had to learn how to operate my sewing machine). I then aged and burned it. It came out awesome:

There were lots of clues in the diary to keep the kids interested, but the real secret was the scrap of paper hidden in the pocket at the back of the diary:

Once the kids noticed and found that, they were on their way! This led them to the actual treasure map, hidden in the cellar of the original old farmhouse:

Finding the treasure itself was an adventure, for Mississippi Joe, who’d been dying, didn’t have time to did a big hole. He buried the treasure in a small hole at the base of a large tree. Of course, the kids couldn’t find this tree: that was 100 years ago and the tree had been cut down. All that was left now was a big stump. But the kids dug around the stump and discovered the gold coins hidden inside a moss-covered ceramic vase plugged with a cork. It looked amazingly real and was fully believable… until one of the boys noticed one of the coins had a 1964 date stamped on it!

The kids had a terrific time, though they were slightly disappointed that the whole thing wasn’t really real. They were fooled until the very end, however. I’m sure they’ll remember this experience for the rest of their lives!

Topic: [/personal]


Tue, Dec 20, 2011

: Fruit Bouquet

This weekend I had an interesting adventure as I attempted to create my first fruit bouquet. These are like flower arrangements, but with cut fruit on skewers, ready to eat. I read a tiny bit about these on the web and just went for it without much preparation. I didn’t have all the right equipment, which caused some issues, but the end result wasn’t too bad:

I used floral foam blocks for the base, which wasn’t the best as it was too light and I discovered that the heavier fruit skewers tended to unbalance the thing. It was tricky getting and keeping it balanced and transporting it was a nightmare. (I ended up wrapping it with plastic wrap and placing the two baskets into a large cooler, which worked.) The whole thing was far too fragile for my liking, however. Fruit fell off the skewers or slid down them to the base, the whole thing kept wanting to tip, and I couldn’t fill in all the gaps properly because I couldn’t get in between the existing skewers without damaging the whole structure.

Another issue was I used some fake moss as a sort of stuffing. Theoretically you use that to fill in the cracks between the skewers and cover up the foam block. It really brings the whole thing together and makes it look more like a floral bouquet instead of just a collection of sticks of fruit. Unfortunately, the moss I got was very flaky, like grass clippings, and since it wasn’t edible, I worried about it sticking to the fruit and people eating (it was getting everywhere, like confetti). Therefore I only used a little bit and my bouquet doesn’t look as good as it should. I later saw something about using kale for this filler and that would have been a much better approach, but I found out too late to use it on this project.

Basically, I needed a better plan for the whole thing. But it still worked and everyone at the party seemed to like it and appreciate the effort. I haven’t done any kind of project like this in a long time, so it was good to push myself into trying something new. I definitely like the concept and I’ll try it again in the future, but with better planning and execution. With the right equipment and supplies, I think I could produce some interesting arrangements. It was fun and I recommend everyone try this: you really can’t go too wrong. Even if it ends up a mess, you just have fruit salad!

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Wed, Oct 05, 2011

: Rest in Peace, Steve Jobs

Today is suddenly a very sad day. If you go to right now, this is what you see:

It’s not like his passing was totally unexpected, but the timing is always a shock. It’s even more so considering that just yesterday Apple held their big “new phone” event. People were hoping Steve might make an appearance there and were sad he didn’t. Now the drama over whether or not the new phone is called “5” or “4S” seems really silly and petty.

The world has lost a unique man. I admire Steve mostly for his bluntness. He had a way with words and a way with getting to the true heart of the matter, bypassing the BS most of the world indulges in. That occasionally made him antagonistic, especially in his younger days, but the world needs people like that.

I am very sad.

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Thu, Nov 18, 2010

: Paperback versus Kindle

I have had a fascinating experience.

The last three novels I read on my Kindle. But this week I lent my Kindle to my mom so she can see how she’d like it, and if she would use it. I was going to start a new novel on my iPad, for comparison, but then I noticed a John Grisham paperback I’d bought recently at Costco. I’d forgotten about it, but since I just finished a Grisham book, I was in the mood for another, and I picked up the paperback and started reading.

To my surprise, I have found the paperback experience to be considerably worse than the Kindle!

Here are the negatives I discovered:

  • Paperback paper is thin, so there is show-through of the text on the back of the page. It makes all the text have a grayish dropshadow behind it.
  • Paperbacks tends to curve, especially toward the spine, so the reading surface is not flat. I have never noticed this as a reading detriment before (since there wasn’t an alternative), but after reading the always-flat Kindle page, I dislike the curved surface intensely.
  • [Click to enlarge]
  • Paperback is bulkier than Kindle (though a similar weight)
  • Paperback requires I fuss with a bookmark to remember my place. (When I fell asleep while reading, the paperback closed and lost my spot. That does not happen with Kindle, as after ten minutes of inactivity it merely joins me in my slumber.)
  • Paperback requires more physical effort to turn pages.
  • Often I accidentally turn multiple pages as the thin paper allows two or more pages to stick together.
  • The paperback’s margins are narrow, so on the outside my thumbs cover up the text, requiring me to shift my hands around constantly.
  • A paperback’s paper quality is poor (not a bright white) resulting in a similar lower-contrast off-white reading experience as the Kindle. I had assumed paper would have a better contrast ratio, but that is not necessarily the case.

Possibly some of these issues are unique to this particular book or to paperbacks in general (i.e. hardbacks usually have better paper and wider margins, though of course they are bigger and heavier). Still, the results are intriguing: if after such a short time I prefer the Kindle this much more, I would guess that within a few months or a year, I shall not want to read any book in print form.

With print publishers cutting costs and using cheaper paper and manufacturing, the advantages of paper drop. (For instance, part of the reason I stopped buying hardbacks is because so many of them have unevenly untrimmed pages, which I find repugnant. This is a cost cutting method adopted a number of years ago by publishers. You used to see it only in book club editions, but now it’s in hardbacks you buy at Costco and other places. I hate that and figure the hardback’s not worth the extra money and I’m better off just waiting for the paperback.)

[Click to enlarge]

Topic: [/personal]


Fri, Jul 17, 2009

: Seattle Trip

Today I headed up to Seattle for the big soccer match tomorrow. Interesting trip: ran into horrible traffic outside of Tacoma which had me reconsidering taking the train instead of driving. A few miles from the hotel I heard my car making strange sounds but I thought maybe it was the pavement. When I got off at my exit, however, I knew something was wrong: my steering wheel was wobbling like mad and I could hear a regular thumping sound. It was only a mile to the hotel so once I got there I checked my tire and immediately saw the problem: a huge bubble the size of half a grapefruit was bulging my left front tire! The tire still had air so I thought I could make it to a nearby Costco, but on the way the tire went completely flat, so I had to change it. It’s been a long time since I’ve done that, and never on this car. Lots of fun. Long story short: made it to Costco, ended up replacing all four tires (it was time). Learned that Oregonians don’t have to pay Washington sales tax, which is really cool. I guess they do that so that we’ll go up there and buy stuff instead of waiting until we get home, which was what I’d planned to do. All told, not a bad result (except for the tire cost, but I’d have had that later this year anyway): the new tires were on by seven o’clock and the car drives much better now (it feels like I’ve got new brakes, which is scary in retrospect). It could certainly have been much, much worse, like if the tire had given way on the freeway while I was going 60 mph!

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Wed, Dec 31, 2008

: Winter Storm 2008 Photos

We’ve had crazy winter weather here in Oregon lately; I’ve posted some dramatic photos here if you’d like to take a gander!

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Thu, Nov 06, 2008

: Jury Duty

I spent the morning at the courthouse going through jury orientation. I’m on call for the rest of the month and may have to serve, but I’ll have to wait and see if I get picked for a trial. I almost served on a jury in Santa Cruz, once, but was the 15th and they settled just before me (12 jurors and two alternates). It turns out November’s a good month to serve — with the holidays in the middle, it’s more like a half-month!

Topic: [/personal]


Wed, Feb 27, 2008

: Book Pre-Interest Strong

This week I began pre-sales of my forthcoming book, Eat BIG While Eating Lean and so far the interest has been amazing; much higher than I anticipated. In just a few days I’ve already sold several dozen books!

It really makes me hopeful that the book will be of help to people. It’s always difficult to judge these things, especially when you’re so personally involved. I mean, the techniques I discuss helped me lose 75 pounds, and I find the process of learning to eat healthy interesting and not difficult, but what will others think?

The book is in the final editing stages and will be shipping in March 2008. It’ll be available in print and PDF formats; there’s lots more information about it on the Eating Big blog link above. I’m also creating a companion software program for tracking nutritional information — pre-orders of the printed book will receive a free license to the software!

Topic: [/personal]


Thu, Dec 14, 2006

: Windstorm

Today there was a huge windstorm in Oregon (winds over 100mph at the coast) and a tree in my backyard fell onto my neighbor’s house! Here’s a picture of the tree:

Fallen Tree

I don’t know what happens next — the tree people are all extremely busy as practically every road in Oregon is closed with a tree down.

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Tue, Nov 01, 2005

: Keith Visit

Today I was planning to take my mom back home and we were just getting ready to leave when Uncle Keith showed up out of the blue. That was cool. His timing was better than if he’d come on the weekend when I was gone! I set up a video chat with Uncle Lloyd in Springfield and that was cool: he and Keith chatted for over an hour. Keith only stayed the one night, however, but Grandpa sure appreciated seeing his son for a bit.

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Mon, Aug 22, 2005

: Visitors

My great-uncle and great-aunt visited this past weekend, all the way from Missouri. They mainly came to see my grandfather, my great-uncle’s brother, but we enjoyed some local sight-seeing and good eating. Now I’ve got leftovers to last me all this week!

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Fri, Nov 19, 2004

: House Buying Adventure

Today was a very good day. I got up early and finished work on my magazine. That felt good to get that done. There’ll be more to do, but that was the primary deadline. About eleven a.m. I relaxed for the first time in a while, realizing that I was finally settling in. Getting some work done helped secure that feeling. I decided I deserved a break and would go see a movie for the first time in nearly two months. For someone who normally sees two or three matinees a week, it feel like a year since I’d been in a theatre. Since this theatre was in a different part of town from where I’ve been, I took a different route there, which proved interesting. It helped me figure out an even shorter route for the future. I saw National Treasure and then came back and watched The Incredibles later. I came home for dinner, and it was nice to relax. I put together the cabinet for my bedroom, unpacked a few things, and assembled a small lamp I’d bought for the guest room. The cats are more relaxed as well. I think they’re starting to think of this as home as well.

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Wed, Sep 15, 2004

: Car Adventures

My car’s been getting old (I’ve had it for over 10 years) and it lately started acting up. The air conditioner was making noise, it was creaking and not steering properly, and other weird things. Then last week I drove to Modesto and Fresno to visit my Aunt Joann and go to the eye doctor (my first visit in over two years). I had planned to get an oil change but when I went they were closed: it was Labor Day, the morons. So I left without having my car checked out. I was nervous, but everything worked great until I got to Fresno. Suddenly the car started making weird sounds (the engine was snorting during idling), the air conditioner made screeching sounds so I had to turn it off, acceleration pooped out, and then a strange bell began dinging randomly. I thought the car was toast for sure.

That evening I headed for home. I got on the highway and the bell began ringing again. It’s the same warning bell that rings when you leave your keys in the ignition and open the door. I thought something wasn’t working right with the system. I couldn’t see any warning lights on the dash. Then I noticed that the temperature gauge, which I’ve never seen above 30%, was at max. As I watched, it went all the way to the top and the bell rang. That happened again and cleared up the bell mystery: it was telling me my car was overheating.

I got off at the next exit and went to a gas station. There I sprayed water on the engine and after a 20 minute cool-down, added water to the radiator. Then I called my Uncle Phil for advice (I know less than nothing about cars) and added some oil (it seemed low). The odd thing was that after the car was cool, just sitting and idling made it overheat! I had to cool it down a second time (after turning off the engine, of course).

Once I got on the road, the wind kept the engine cool and I made it home just fine. But idling for more than a few minutes — in a parking lot, in traffic, etc. — would make the car overheat.

I dreaded taking the car to a shop. Who knows how much I’d be charged? Probably they’d tell me the engine was dead. Except the car did work fine on the highway. I was so nervous I actually checked out the prices of new and used cars. What I found was depressing, because used ones that I could afford were in even worse shape than my Neon, and because new cars are way out of my price range (which is pretty close to zero).

Finally, I decided I at least had to know how much it would be to fix, so I took it in. The shop had given me a $108 estimate to find the trouble and called a couple hours later. “You car’s fixed!” they said.

“What? Seriously? What was wrong?”

“It was simple: the relay to the cooling fan was bad. So the fan wasn’t turning on when needed. We replaced the relay and everything works great now.”

The total bill came to $88 labor/diagnostic and $12 for the part. Not bad at all. The odd thing is the overheating seemed to be the problem all along. The air conditioner now works fine (no more weird sounds), the engine noise I’d been hearing in retrospect was water boiling, and the sluggish acceleration is cured, probably because higher RPMs generated more heat. I don’t understand why overheating would effect the steering, but it’s fixed now, so I can only assume it was also related.

Weird the way a single problem could create such a variety of symptoms.

Topic: [/personal]


Thu, Oct 23, 2003

: Bissap Baobab

A few weeks ago my aunt read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about Marco Senghor, the nephew of Leopold Senghor, the president of Senegal for many years. Marco has his own Senegalese restaurant in San Francisco and it’s getting rave reviews. My mother is in town visiting this week, so she and my aunt and my cousin and his girlfriend and I all went downtown to check out the restaurant. It was really neat! A year ago I went to a Senegalese restaurant while I was in New York; that was a more authentic experience. There my cousin and I were the only white people in the whole “Little Dakar” area. At Bissap Baobab the clientele was almost all white, for a very different atmosphere. Still, the food was excellent (the Yassa I had was spicy for me but not as spicy as it is often made in Senegal) and the desserts fantastic. We got to speak to Marco and tell him about our experiences in Senegal. He’s a really neat guy, very friendly and unassuming. We had a nice long chat before we left. We didn’t get home until midnight, so it was a long day, but well worth it for the experience. If I’m ever in the City around a meal-time, I think I’ll stop by again and try some of the other dishes.

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Sun, Aug 17, 2003

: Cousin’s Weekend Wedding

This weekend, Megan Mihm, my second cousin once removed (I think that’s right — she’s the daughter of my mother’s cousin) got married. Hordes of relatives descended on the area, so I got to see lots of family I hadn’t seen in a while. I’m not a huge fan of weddings — the formality bores me — but this one turned out to be a lot of fun. Except for the brief ceremony, which was emotional and heart-felt, there were informal dinners and gatherings at the beach. The entire affair was spread out over the whole weekend (things started Friday night with the rehearsal dinner) and capped off with a family lunch on Sunday. I really liked the way that was done because instead of the wedding being an isolated event it was part of a series. Also, there was time to actually meet the couple and talk with them, chat with distant relatives, and have a good time. Having it on the California coast was also brilliant, for many of the family came from back east and it was a terrific beach vacation for them (everyone but me, since I live here, stayed at a hotel right on the beach in Santa Cruz, so there was plenty of nearby activities for all). It was great to see everyone and I wish Megan and Tom the world.

Topic: [/personal]


Fri, Aug 08, 2003

: Marc in the News

Shameless self-plug: I’m mentioned in a Wired News article that was posted today.

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Sat, Jul 05, 2003

: Car Accident

On the way to the Earthquakes game tonight I was traveling over Highway 17, a horrible road over the Santa Cruz Mountains. It’s two lanes each way, separated by a concrete divider, and there’s rarely a shoulder on the right. The road’s winding and cars travel at ridiculous speeds and there are frequent traffic jams. I’ve often thought someone needs to make a video game of the road: Highway 17: Corridor of Death.

Anyway, I came around a corner and saw traffic slowing, so I slowed. Then I saw traffic in my left lane wasn’t just slowing but completely stopped. I put the brakes on full but was still traveling. I quickly realized I wasn’t going to make it. With only a half-second to make my decision (there was no shoulder on the left, just the concrete divider), I threw the car to the right where there was an opening. I didn’t have time to look behind me and collided with an SUV in that lane. Fortunately it wasn’t too bothered by my tiny car and there was some room on the right for it to shift over, so I missed the stopped truck I would have hit. My little Neon was badly damaged. Pretty much the whole right side, from tire to tire, was thrashed. Fortunately, no one was hurt, and the car was drivable, so once all the info was exchanged, we were able to go on to the soccer game just fine. About ten or twenty cars behind us, another accident happened at the same time (ripple effect, I guess), and that one was much worse. That car rear ended someone and looked like it was totalled, and we did see an ambulance arrive though I don’t know how seriously anyone was hurt. That’s an evil road.

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Sun, Jun 30, 2002

: Vacation/Travels

Well, tomorrow morning I head out for several weeks of vacation and traveling. Friday was my last day at the printshop — I’m now officially a full-time magazine publisher! So I’m off to Oregon to relax for a little while. I’ll get to play some golf, visit with my 87-year-old grandfather, read some books, and watch some DVDs. After that I head to New York City for the Macworld Expo where my magazine will be unveiled, and I spend a few extra days exploring the City. Then I’m back home and go to work. I’m nervous but excited. I don’t know exactly what the future will bring, but whatever it is won’t be the norm, and change is always interesting. After ten years at the same day job, I’m ready for anything different.

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Sat, Mar 10, 2001

: Weekend Movie Watching

Watched Meet the Parents on DVD and Molly again. Both were excellent, even better on second viewings. Recommended.

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Mon, Sep 04, 2000

: New Desk!

I spent Labor Day weekend destroying my office and putting it back together again. This was a massive project. With such a small room and so little storage space I first had to go through my storage boxes and consolidate and throw junk away. Once I’d made room, I was able to begin constructing my new IKEA desk, though with hardly any floor space putting it together in such cramped quarters was quite the adventure. Still, I made it, and my new office is amazing. I finally have space! Where before I literally couldn’t turn around without knocking something over, I now have a four by twelve foot clear area for walking around. Plus, my new desk not only has room for all my equipment, but tons of extra room for future stuff and/or books and other accessories. Incredible!

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Thu, Dec 23, 1999

: Too Busy

What a crazy time! Things have been very busy at work the last couple of weeks, and I’ve been spending every spare moment working on The Dilemma, my film short. This has been a major project for me — I’ve been working on it for months. Doing it with minimal equipment, zero budget, no staff, and myself as the lead actor (and camerman) was not a wise move. Still, it was tremendously educational, and I’m fully convinced that directing is somewhere in my future (though I obviously have gobs to learn). I finally got the movie completed this past weekend, but it was tight. Overall, it makes a fun Christmas present (ostensibly the purpose). On Monday, my car broke down, leaving me stranded in Santa Cruz. On Tuesday I discovered why: the car was out of gas. Turns out the “sending unit” was bad. Apparently this is the hardware that tells the fuel gauge how much gas is left. The dial was stuck at a quarter tank. Anyway, got the car fixed yesterday, and I drove to the airport and flew to Oregon this evening. (The plane flight was delayed by a similar situation: the altimeter went bad and they had to switch us to a different airplane. I didn’t arrive until early on Christmas Eve.)

Topic: [/personal]