Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wearing My Homemade Blackjack Dealer Costumer (Part 2 of 2)

I built a wearable blackjack table for Halloween. [See Part 1, the build.] Then I got to wear it:

Me, behind the finished product.

I already owned the tuxedo shirt and bow tie. Same with the red vest. (I'd originally sized the harness for a black vest I had, but the red one was wider and hid the harness better, and besides, when you're wearing a 3.5" wide green table, restraint should not be the objective.)

The Wearing
I met a bunch of friends to pre-party before we headed over to Carpool in Herndon, for the Fairfax Athletics Midseason/Halloween Party.

This was actually the first time I'd actually worn the entire, completed costume. It seemed to work okay, once I made it in the door: At about three-and-a-half feet wide, you have to go through sideways (and carefully).

This also makes navigating crowded rooms interesting. The padded rail and a firm voice helps. And when you order a drink, it's best if someone can pass your drink from the bartender.

* My costume was very well received. People wanted to know where I'd gotten it. (It was only later -- like, today -- that I found you can buy a cardboard version for $40, but mine was much cooler.)

* Since the harness is almost completely hidden, folks asked how it was held up -- since the platform is at waist level, there's a built-in "I'm just happy to see you" joke.

* Wearing a blackjack table is a good icebreaker -- everyone wants to play:

Hey, sailor, new in town?

I dealt a lot of hands to random people over the course of the night, though as time went on, my counting skills (with both chips and cards) deteriorated.

Oh, and to keep things simple, I didn't do insurance, and I was paying blackjack 2-to-1. We weren't playing for real money (didn't want to have to deal with that headache), so who cares?

* It's not really heavy, especially at first, but I definitely started feeling it in my back (I'm still recovering from a mild strain from a few weeks ago). I was a little sore the next day.

* It's pretty easy to take off and put on again, which is an important consideration since I wouldn't want to try taking a leak while wearing it. It would be... messy.

* Initially, I was concerned about sturdiness, but it's pretty solid. The pipe clamps were tight, and the triangle frame supported the platform pretty well. And no one tried leaning on it, thankfully.

* People (myself included) will want to set their drinks down on it:

Dealing to Harem Girl Michelle

Since the platform is attached and moves with my body, being a drink tray is a potentially dicey situation. I'd thought about adding cupholders, but besides being extra work and having to work around the frame -- hey, people can hold their own drinks.

There were a couple of minor spills, nothing too bad.

* Minor design flaw: If you have short arms, it can be hard to pick up cards at the edge of the platform.

* Happily, even though I'd pre-emptively written off the chips (I only brought half from the set), I didn't lose a single card or chip.

* Lastly, remember: The house always wins:

Jeremy "Cobra Kai Johnny" preparing to sweep my leg.

Enhancements and Conclusions
I had a lot of fun with this costume, primarily because it's interactive and fully functional. Oh, and with it, I also won $100 in the costume contest. (Which basically covers my material and tool costs.)

Unfortunately, outside of a party this Halloween night (and maybe Saturday), there doesn't seem like I'll have any excuse to wear it, which is a shame.

I guess I could rent myself out to be a roaming blackjack dealer at parties.

Last week was something of a dry run. In preparation for this weekend's Halloween activities, and after seeing some of the photos, I decided to spray paint black the exposed bits of the frame, because the bare wood looked pretty cheesy. (Incidentally, I found my black spray paint -- it was next to the laundry detergent. No idea why).

I also painted the lower part of the PVC harness -- against black pants, it should be even harder to see. (You can see the PVC poking out in a few of the photos. Well, it's PVC, as far as you know.)

Other enhancements I'm considering -- cutting in a casino-style money drop slot, and painting more decorations on the felt ("Joe's Casino" and such). Though I'll probably just leave it be. I might still extend the bumper around to the back of the frame -- it'd be a quick fix.

You can see the full photo sets here: Halloween Costume Build 2008 and Fairfax Athletics Halloween Party, 10/25/08.

Lastly, thanks to's Rob Cockerham for the inspiration and instructions on how to build the harness and platform.

Building My Blackjack Dealer Halloween Costume (Part 1 of 2)

Unlike most previous years, I actually had an idea for a Halloween costume this time around, with enough time to actually follow through on it. [If you want to skip the build and go straight to the finished costume, well, I pity you.]

The Inspiration
A few weeks ago, listening to Zydeco music at an Oktoberfest celebration in Reston (note there are several things not quite right with that statement), I got to idly thinking about Texas Hold'em (I don't play Texas Hold'em -- I was probably being thankful that the fad is dying out), when I had a flash of inspiration: "Poker table Texas Hold em costume." (Oct. 11, 9:40pm -- I texted myself so I wouldn't forget.)

The idea was informed by (alright, stolen wholesale from)'s Rob Cockerham's American Idol Judges Costume -- I'd been revisiting the site looking for costume ideas, since he usually manages to put together some great ones, and I wanted to make something wearable.

The Preparation
The very next day, I started gathering materials. In a fortuitous coincidence, Michael's had sheets of green felt and fabric paint on sale. (I also bought some foam core board, though I didn't end up using it.) Then, I went to Home Depot, and got some 1/2" PVC pipe, plywood and hardware.

Only after starting my shopping, did I decide I needed to plan out my concept. For design inspiration, I did some searching for poker and card table images:


The red vest photo figured in pretty heavily -- I actually own a red vest I never wear (it makes me look like an Ace Hardware employee), but it was colorful and wide enough to cover a harness.

I also switched from poker to blackjack, since I know the rules better and it's less involved to play (this was going to be a functional costume).

IMG_0266I followed up with very precise technical drawings.

I'd started with a donut-half platform, but after looking at the photos, switched to the easier half-circle, supported on a triangular frame:

IMG_0267Then, following Rob Cockerham's lead, I sketched out the PVC harness. Originally, I thought I could bend the PVC arms underneath the platform to support it, but I couldn't see that working too well with the frame, so I'd connect the PVC to the back of the frame using pipe straps:

The Build
IMG_0180Over the next few days, I started building the frame and platform. One of the good things about having so much clutter around is having building materials and tools on hand. I built the frame out of some spare 1"x3" boards (left over from making bed slats):

IMG_0179 Then, I used my Rotozip to cut the plywood in an arc (first drawing a circle with a pencil on a string).

I'd originally used a 2'x4' sheet of 3/8" MDF, but switched to 3/16" plywood to save weight.

It was my first time using the Rotozip as a plunge cutter (I've used it with the flex shaft as a big Dremel tool), and it was pretty easy to control.

IMG_0181After that, I bent the PVC. I'd bought a heat gun and welding gloves just for the occasion:

IMG_0178The bending went a lot smoother than I'd expected. Granted, it wasn't perfect and you can see a few scorch marks, but it didn't kink and it was close enough for a first try:

IMG_0269After that was just assembly. I didn't feel like hammering, so I just used wood screws to finish the triangle frame and mount the plywood to it (using a stud finder) -- I did a rough miter box cut to get the angles (This photo is from this week, when I decided to paint some of the exposed parts of the frame. Also, you can see the PVC harness is a little crooked):

The Embellishment
IMG_0183I glued and cut the felt directly to the plywood without any problems.

One thing that I had been concerned about was how to build a cushioned bumper -- I'd been going around to hardware and auto supply stores looking for vinyl to make cushions, with no luck.

But then I remembered I had some extra foam pipe insulation sleeves -- they're long tubes, split down the middle. You wrap them around hot water pipes -- they even have self-adhesive strips, so they were perfect for the job.

In an inspired moment, I also remembered I had some electroluminescent wire (it's battery-powered and glows -- I'm always trying to find a reason to use it), which I stapled (carefully) along the edge of the new rail -- it's an eye-catching touch, especially in a darker room.

The most annoying part was masking and painting the card outlines. I used the fabric paint I'd bought, but my first try using the glow in the dark paint looked pretty bad in the light. I ended up mixing in some white paint, though it still glows a little bit.

The first cards were easy, but for the second cards (which touched the first cards), I ended up taping off the outside edge, then using a shiny business card to mask the inside edge. It worked well enough.

IMG_0182I wanted to do a sunken chip tray, but I would have had to cut into the board and frame, so I ended up using some shoe molding (also laying around) to build a frame. (I'd bought a 300-chip poker set at Target for 20 bucks -- the flimsy plastic chip tray lifted right out of the case, and I built the frame around it.)

I couldn't find my black paint, so I spray painted it navy blue (close enough) and glued it to the felt.

So, that was the build. Stay tuned for Part 2, to see how it all worked out. While you're waiting, here are the materials and tools used:

One 2'x4' sheet of 3/16" plywood [tabletop]
Four 1'x3' boards (max length 3.5') [frame]
On hand
One 1/2" PVC pipe, 8' [harness]
Two 1/2" PVC end caps (for neatness)$0.49 each
Pack of 20 1/2" 2-hole pipe straps [I used six]
Two 1-1/2" Angle brackets [frame]
$.51 each
Assorted wood screws [all over]
On hand
One 8' 1/2" pipe sleeve [bumper rail]
On hand
Six sheets of 12"x18" felt [playing surface]
$0.33 each
Fabric paint [playing surface]
$0.99 each
Shoe molding [chip tray]
On hand
300 chip poker set [duh, though you can get by with less]
8' battery powered EL wire from IKEA [optional]
On hand

Tools Used
Heat gun ($24.99), leather welding gloves ($9.99), Rotozip cutting tool, hacksaw (to cut the PVC pipe), cordless drill driver, stud finder, measuring tape, cross cut saw, miter box, 4-way file, staple gun, wood glue, spray paint, masking tape.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Washington Psychotronic Film Society Moves Back to Wretched Hive of Scum and Villainy

Just saw in the City Paper that the weekly Washington Psychotronic Film Society showings are moving back to DC in November (to The Meeting Place, near Farragut North Metro).

This, from its current home in a side room at the Arlington Cinema Drafthouse, which is probably a good thing. The space was okay, though a bit on the small side (especially in comparison to the entire back room of the now-demolished Dr. Dremo's), but it was not particularly convenient to Metro.

Plus, it'll snag all the DC citizens who hate crossing the river.

As for me, I used to be a fairly irregular attendee when it was at Dremo's (Tuesday nights), though I'd dropped off once it switched to Wednesdays, which are my usual Galaxy Hut nights. And it was really lineup-dependent, since as I keep whining, there's that whole "aging Gen-Xer turns against schlock" thing.

But I figure that I'll try to attend a few and see what's going on.

Oh, and as to what's going on -- the article links to the WPFS Psychotronic Zone Blog, which I had no idea existed, as it's not linked from the main WPFS site.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Joelogon Facepalm Strikes Again

The Industry Standard blogger Jordan Golson has an item today taking bigshot tech bloggers to task (or, more accurately, taking bloggers at bigshot tech blogs to task) for committing attempted journalism without actually doing any of the "journalism" bits -- "A lesson for bloggers: go to the source or look like a fool" [link via Fark].

It's about some "OMG, Congress wants teh iPhones!!!" misinformation that was primary sourced at an article on, then batted around the tech media blogosphere with lots of punditry and very nonexistant fact-checking.

Anyway, that's not the important bit. The important bit is, the article uses my facepalm photo:

D'oh! I mean, woo-hoo!

This is the first media use of it I've seen since I noticed the photo made it into Wikimedia Commons (and it's properly attributed too, at the end of the article).

Additionally, here are the Fark tie-ins: I saw the article where it was greenlighted on the Fark main page; it quotes Drew Curtis (and mentions his book); it links to Fark, and it uses the creative commons-licensed photo from (and of) a Farker. So it's like a quad-damage bonus that's worth... precisely nothing.

Oh, as to the rest of it?

BoingBoing updated with a correction, but of the other linked tech blogs -- all of whom originally reported the story with varying degrees of righteous indignation and/or wish fulfillment -- none of them did a correction or followup that I could see (from the article, Ars Technica, Wired Gadget Lab, Gizmodo, ZDnet, CNET's iPhone Atlas, The Unofficial Apple Weblog, PC Mag (via Gearlog), a quickie mention in the LA Times Technology blog, Cult of Mac, and iPod Observer).

This is just using a citation as an appeal to authority, and it's nothing new, of course: It's how things like the Super Bowl domestic violence myth perpetuated itself, and it's gone on in academia forever (who traces a citation all the way back to a primary source? If you see something cited enough, it becomes its own source, very much how a lie told enough times becomes the truth.)

Of course, me: I didn't do any fact-checking either, but I'm not a journalist, and I'm not much by the way of media -- I'm just a cat-blogger (sans cat) who just wanted to brag about one of my photos.

However, looking at some of the blogs in that list, that are either associated with "real" tech journalism or trying to make a case for legitimacy in that space -- how many of them can make that claim? Folks, if you want to play journalist, you have to act like one. Just saying "I'm just a blogger" isn't going to work unless you want blogging to forever stay the junior varsity dumping ground of media, somewhere above tabloids and below the main stream (or was that the other way around?)

I know, it sucks -- having to do all the new media stuff like transparency, authenticity, and responsiveness, then having to do more traditional media stuff like "sources," "requests for comment," "factchecking," and "ethics" (such as they are) -- that's a pain in the ass, as opposed to just snark and punditry.

But, if you're going to make it a profession, you're going to have to be more... professional.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Double Fistful of Worms

Going through the recent memory cache, here's an item I bookmarked last week (I have some interstitial time right now, waiting for some chicken to cook before I head out to a Halloween-y party): It's about the science behind worm fiddling, where people harvest worms by vibrating poles stuck in the ground, driving the worms to the surface.

Researchers figured out that it works because the worm fiddlers are imitating vibrations made by moles, scaring the worms to the surface. But that's not important. What's important, is the horrifying picture that accompanies the article.

To blunt its impact, I have taken the liberty of contextualizing it as a Lolthulhu:

"Ai! Ai! Cthulhu, Fhtagn!"

I'm not particularly squeamish when it comes to wormy things (I can bait a hook), but that's just creepy.

I'm also not particularly steeped in the Cthulhu Mythos, but I thought it was somewhat fitting. (A Flying Spaghetti Monster treatment would also have been acceptable.)

In the interests of enhancing calm, here's a "Hay guise!" pic, made from a cute-ish pic of a worm-nemesis mole also in the article:

"Hay guise! Wut's goin' on in this thread?"

The Internet. Serious business.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Men Should Wear Gym Shorts When They Work Out

My sleep schedule has been really whacked out lately -- I think I'm running on Anchorage time. So I was on the fence about going to the gym after work, but a few good traffic omens found me in the locker room, changing.

Until I realized that I'd forgotten my gym shorts.

Damned if I was going to be forced into another course of action simply because of my stupidity, though I couldn't wear jeans for a leg workout, and I wasn't going to go all the way home and come back.

Fortunately, the Fitness First in Plaza America is right next door to a Modell's, so I picked up a couple pairs of gym shorts (On sale, 2 for $12. Now, they were boys' shorts, but I'm not that tall, and kids' shorts these days are cut dress-length, anyway, so a youth medium basketball short is like an adult small soccer short, so it worked out.)

Also, I found that the Stairmaster that looks like an escalator is a lot more challenging than the other kind, since it's a lot closer to actually climbing stairs.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

An Appreciation of Sex in Mylar

Madonna's Sex book in Mylar wrapper
Flickr photo by user MikeWade. Used under Creative Commons.

The news that Madonna is getting divorced (again) gives me an excuse to tell a story that has an almost (but not entire) lack of relevance.

Back in college, Dave, a friend and dorm mate, was, for a time, pretty obsessed with Madonna's Sex book. (Dave was a man of many obsessions, though one at a time. He was a serial obsessor.)

He bought two copies of the book, at $49.95 apiece. One for, um, reading, and one to keep sealed in mint condition to save as a collector's item.

"Collectors item?!" we scorned, "it's going to be on the bargain remainder bin in a few months. You're crazy!" Dave ignored us.

Now, as I recall, I actually did see the books a few months later, heavily discounted in remainder bins. But time passed, and a funny thing happened:

They actually did turn into collectors items.

Now, searching on Madonna sex book on eBay, a sealed, mint copy will get anywhere from $150-$250 (with at least one deluded optimist setting a Buy It Now price of $499).

Dave, I don't know if you still have your sealed, mint first edition Sex, but I salute you.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Revisiting a Spectacularly Unfortunate Ad Placement, 12 Years Later

In preparation for my 1-year layoff anniversary (this Thursday), I was going through some of my old AOL files, when I came across a news item from October, 1996, that I'd saved and forgotten. It's about a 12-year-old kid who killed his mother, then himself, because he'd run up a big AOL bill.

Tragic story, of course -- even moreso, because AOL went to unlimited pricing two months later.

However, the reason I'd saved the HTML file and accompanying graphics (it's an AP story, but it was on the Washington Post), was because of the intersection between commerce and news -- check out the ad:

Erols Unlimited Internet
Home Page, Site Index, Search, Help

Go to Main Story
Go to Today's Top News

Online Bills Lead to Tragedy

Tuesday, October 1, 1996; 10:50 a.m. EDT

CALIFORNIA, Mo. (AP) -- A 12-year-old boy may have killed his mother and himself after the two fought about the boy's extensive time spent using a computer online service, investigators said.

The body of Ann Hoffman, 42, was found Thursday at her home with six gunshots in her head, Sheriff Kenny Jones said. Her son, Brad Hoffman-Parker, had a single gunshot to the head, and a .22-caliber semiautomatic pistol was found nearby.

A day earlier, Hoffman's ex-husband, David Lee Parker, visited her and his son to discuss the seventh-grader's use of an Internet access service, Jones said. The parents shared custody of the boy.

The father claimed Hoffman "was upset over the bills, because of America Online" and that the boy spent "long hours" using a personal computer in the home, Jones said.

Investigators had not determined how much time Brad spent online and the amount of his bills. California is 110 miles east of Kansas City.

© Copyright 1996 The Associated Press

Back to the top

Yes, in a story about a kid who committed a murder-suicide thanks to AOL and hourly metered Internet access, the ad is for a "Why Pay Hourly?" Erols Internet unlimited pricing plan.

The ad, which I assume was served up because Erols had targeted AOL keywords, is either spectacularly inappropriate, or spectacularly appropriate, depending on your point of view.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

So, a Rabbit Walks Into a Bike (and other events)

It's been unseasonably warm for October, so I ventured this afternoon into the weekend sunlight to skate. I preceeded this with a trip to the gym for a bonus beach muscles workout, which is a necessity if I'm going to complete my Michael Phelps Halloween costume.

(I'm not actually going as Michael Phelps. It'd be a simple costume, but I don't want to shave my bikini line. Also, I get cold easily. And, while I do have pectorals again, it's a long way from here to there. I did, however, get a costume inspiration Saturday night, so I've been shopping around for materials. Though I haven't actually, you know, formulated a plan yet, which is always a winning strategy. But I do know I need to buy a heat gun.)

Anyway, conditions on the trail were good. I started on the W&OD trail in Reston and headed east, which of course meant hitting the annoying hill at Buckthorn Lane (which features my favorite sign):

Actually taken coming back (westbound)

Nothing too eventful on the way out, and I turned around at Vienna. On the way back, I saw a bunch of vultures perched on a power tower, though the most notable thing happened back in Reston. There was an oncoming biker about 50 feet ahead of me, when all of a sudden, a rabbit darted out from the side of the trail and ran smack into the guy's back wheel.

For a bad moment, I thought the critter was going to get caught up in the works, but it just bounced off and scampered back into the brush.

I made it back without further incident. Afterwards, I went to Home Depot for some materials (did you know a 10-foot length of PVC pipe will bend just enough so I can fit it completely inside my car?), then to Harris Teeter (always a good idea, food shopping when you're ravenously hungry).

Saturday, I went to Oktoberfest Reston in Ye Olde Reston Town Center -- as noted, I didn't quite get how Zydeco music fit into the whole "Oktoberfest" thing.

Afterwards, we went to Jackson's Mighty Fine Food, which I didn't even know was there -- it was a parking lot a few months ago. It's a Great American Restaurants joint, so it's done up by the same folks who do Sweetwater Tavern and such (and looks it).

It was muy crowded -- we were surrounded by Stiflers (and the cougars who hunt them) -- though don't wear a baseball cap, else you'll be told to remove it (I suggested using it as a strategem to get a drink order in faster).

I think I packed it in before midnight, so I missed the excitement just up the street -- according to the Post, just down Sunrise Valley from me, a driver went off the road, hit a tree and flipped, killing him. Owwie. I predict more speed enforcement, and maybe another DUI checkpoint, in the neighborhood in the near future.

As to the rest of it -- the costume will involve some crafting, some engineering, and some construction, so we'll see how that goes.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

How Do Stalkers See Other Stalkers?

Saw an item today, Inside the Mind of Celebrity Stalkers (link via Fark) that resurfaced an idle question I ponder from time to time:

How do stalkers react when they hear about somebody else's stalker?

Do they say to themselves, "Man, that guy is messed up -- does he really think she's sending him secret signals through the TV that only he can see? What a total psycho..."?

Or, do they think, "Man, he's just misunderstood -- I'm sure that if she gave him a chance, things could be really cool"? [That's a callback to a Tina Fey SNL Weekend Update bit involving Courtney Love, by the way, though I remember the line differently.]

I do, truly, wonder this. And it's not just because of my own latent stalker tendencies.


Tuesday, October 07, 2008

John is NOT my friend.

Here's a freebie for the Obama campaign -- "John is NOT my friend" t-shirts:

Somewhat subtle here, but for "JOHN," I used Optima, the same font the McCain campaign uses.

It's a take-off that works on two levels -- the first, obviously, is for anyone bothered by McCain's overreliance on the phrase "My friends" (going by some versions of the presidential debate drinking game, you'd be completely hammered on this one alone).

The second, deeper level is for the MySpace-savvy (playing to younger folks, one of Obama's strengths), who would know about the "Tom is NOT my friend" parody t-shirts that came about as part of an anti-Tom Anderson/MySpace backlash (I know Busted Tees had them, though I don't know if that's where it originated. They don't carry them anymore, though. Here it is.)


I did watch (well, listen) to the debate. I giggled at Obama's "green behind the ears" comment, but I'm a fan of mixed metaphors. Especially purposefully mixed ones, though I don't think that's the case with Obama here (Especially since that kind of nuance is, at best, wasted in a debate setting. Yeah, I'm an elitist.)

Also, I was amused by Tom Brokaw having to tell a candidate (Obama, I think W0zz says it was McCain), to move because he was blocking the teleprompter during Brokaw's closing script.