Thursday, November 06, 2014

Halloween 2014: Speed Hump Ahead

My Speed Hump Halloween costume this year.

The Inspiration
I came up with my Halloween costume idea early in October. I don't know if most people have a favorite traffic sign, but for me, it's Speed Hump.

The Preparation
I figured that building the sign itself would be pretty straightforward. But I had some trouble figuring out how to mount it. I wanted to wear it on my head, but decided that if I couldn't come up with a way to mount it and make it see-through, I would just wear it on my chest. So I started the build.

The Build
The sign itself is a piece of 20"x30" 3/16" foam core board, cut down to 20"x20" and with the corners rounded off. I wasn't sure if paint would melt the foam core, so originally I planned on getting the color by gluing on colored paper or vinyl sheets. But after some research, I figured the foam core could handle the paint (which was good, since otherwise it would have been hard to match the color of the eye screen).

I prepped the foam core by spraying it with two coats of clear polyurethane. Then, I hit it with two coats of yellow acrylic spray paint. It held up fine.

For the lettering, I used alphabet stickers from Michael's, which were a good-enough generic sans seriff font.  In a pleasant coincidence, the letters also happened to be the same width as the black electrical tape I used for the border (3/4").

I left about two inches of separation between the rows of letters (more than in real life) for the eye hole, which I cut out with a utility knife (even though I was still being optimistic, since I still hadn't figured out the head mount).

After some research, I decided to use buckram fabric, a stiff cotton mesh, for the eye screen.

Closeup of the white buckram fabric that would cover the eye hole.

I spray-painted it yellow.

The white buckram and the spray-painted fabric.

Then, I did a practice run on a scrap piece of foam core. I cut out the eye hole, then cut a plus-sign-shaped piece of buckram to match. After I ironed creases into it, I hot-glued it to the inside and back of the eye hole.

Buckram fabric glued into the eye hole and viewed from the back.

As you can see on the front side, being neat with the hot glue gun counts for a lot (I'm glad this was only practice):

Front view of the practice eye screen.

The Mount
After I did the real eye hole, it was time to figure out the mount. After fiddling with a bunch of headlamp mounts, bike helmets, and even my CERT helmet, I figured it out (though I didn't take any pictures in-progress).

All you need is a bike helmet that's still in its box (if you don't have a box, or it's not completely square, you can make one out of cardboard. But that's extra work):
  1. Take the bike helmet out of the box. 
  2. Fold and tape the flaps in.
  3. Pad the inside of the box with crumpled newspaper.
  4. Put the helmet inside the box (dome side in, open side facing out, so when you put on the helmet, the box is on top).
  5. Use additional newspaper to center the helmet inside the box and keep it from moving around too much.
  6. Then, use a shitload of duct tape to secure the box to the helmet.
After a test fit, I wrapped outside of the box in duct tape. Then, I spray painted the duct tape black. (Why not just spray paint the box? Because shut up, that's why.) I also used black magic marker to color in any other exposed spots of duct tape.

For the actual mount, I used Velcro adhesive tape, sticking a few patches of loop-side onto the box, and some hook-side to the sign. (Actually, I hot-glued some thin cardboard onto the back of the foam core, and stuck the hook-side Velcro onto that. I didn't want the paper to peel away if I needed to make adjustments, which is why I chose Velcro in the first place.)

When it's all done, it looks like you're wearing a box with a chin strap.

Then it was time for the finishing details. Looking up specs for mounting traffic signs, I punched two holes 2" from the top and bottom of the sign, threading 5/16" bolts, washers, and nuts through them and hand-tightening them.

This is actually the spare post that I made. The top hole has a washer inside, so I could thread it onto the bottom bolt of the sign.

For the "post", I took two strips of silver duct tape (about four feet long), and taped them back-to-back (sticky side to sticky side). Then I used the same hole punch to punch a row of 3/8" holes down the center, an inch apart. (Actually, the spec is an inch apart on center, so my post isn't to spec. Darn.)

I also taped a few pennies to the bottom for some weight, ironed it flat, and used more duct tape to stick it to the bottom of the sign.

The Tweaking
The rest of it was just black pants, shirt, shoes, socks, and gloves, as well as a black balaclava on my head, so you couldn't see me from the side.

For my first outing, I discovered that the balaclava didn't work out so well -- not only were my glasses fogging up, but the way eye screen works, the "inside" has to be darker than the outside.  Because the back of the sign was open, there was no real "inside." So it was really hard to see out.

As for drinking while wearing it, I borrowed a crazy straw, which kind of worked. But after a while, between the inability to see, hear, or drink, I took off the helmet and wore it backwards (so the sign was behind me).

Without the sign, it's almost halfway to a Dark Helmet costume:

The tape on my chest is just to cover a reflective logo.

For the second outing, I ditched the balaclava, and taped some black weed barrier fabric around the box, forming a kind of veil. That worked slightly better. You can see it above, and here in the side view:


However, another problem became apparent when I went into a dark, crowded bar: Not only is it hard to see, but you're either bumping into people with the side of the sign, or they're bumping into you.

Anyway, that's the costume. I'll probably detach the sign and use the box for a future head mount.


I'm happy with the final product; it looks just like I pictured it. However, it's kind of annoying to wear, especially in crowded places.

Pluses: Relatively easy to make, looks good, got a lot of compliments.

Minuses: Hard to see, hard to talk, hard to drink, hard to move around, people bump into it.


(Most of the crafty items were bought at Michael's craft store, using a 40% off regular-priced items coupon)

One 20"x30" piece of 3/16" foam core board$3
Black adhesive alphabet stickers$7
Yellow acrylic spray paint$5
Clear polyurethane sprayOn-hand
Black acrylic spray paintOn-hand
Silver duct tapeOn-hand
Black 3/4" electrical tapeOn-hand
Two 5/16" bolts; two 5/16" nuts; four 5/16" washers$1
Bike helmet in boxOn-hand
White buckram fabric$1
Black weed barrier fabricOn-hand
Velcro tapeOn-hand
Hot glueOn-hand
Black magic markerOn-hand

Tools Used
Scissors, utility knife, iron, hot glue gun, yardstick, hollow punch set

Incidentally, you can buy a real 24"x24" Speed Hump traffic sign online for about $50.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

This Driver Is About to Have a Bad Time

This is a Google Maps street view of I-66 heading west, just past the Teddy Roosevelt Bridge and immediately after the "Lane Ends Merge Left" sign.

You see that dark Honda in the left lane about to drive over that dark line?

That driver is about to have a boneshakingly bad time.

A closer look shows why:

See that ridge in the road patch that looks like a very badly designed speed bump in the middle of the highway? That's exactly what it is.

It's been around for at least a few months. I first discovered it at night, coming back from a concert in DC. Since I don't drive into DC as much as I used to, I'd forget about it for a while, and then the next time BAM.

If I can figure out who to complain to, I'm hoping they can fix it; if not, we'll need to come up with a nickname for it, like Toronto's former "Humber Hump."

Friday, October 10, 2014

Requiem for a Mirror Snake

One of the characteristics of hoarders is the tendency to attach deep historical and emotional meaning to any object, no matter how mundane. It's why they can't throw anything out.

I'm not that bad (I think), but I'm a sentimentalist and keep a lot of useless stuff around because of history.


Case in point: My mirror snake.

It's a cheap stuffed animal I won from a crane machine during a high school Key Club leadership convention in the Poconos in 1988 or '89. Ever since then, it's been wrapped around the rear-view mirror arm of every car I've owned.

Yesterday, I had to move it ("it," since I never named it) to check the serial number on my EZ pass transponder. (FYI: The serial number is 11 digits. The number you get when you check your online account is a 7-digit transponder number, with a 3-digit agency code that's actually a prefix, even though it displays after the transponder number. The clever among you will note that this only makes 10 digits. You need to add a leading zero to the 7-digit transponder number to get to 11. None of this is mentioned on the web site.)

After 20+ years of temperature extremes and direct sunlight, it fell apart, splitting in four places.

I'm not that much of a sentimentalist that I didn't throw it out.

But not before taking a picture, and memorializing it in a blog post.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Back on My Back

I jacked up my back again last week. It's happened before, though I guess my recovery time has gotten longer. I was mostly flat on my back and chewing through Advil for about four days, and only for the past few days have I been able to walk around, albeit twisted up like a scoliosis sufferer.

The proximate cause was deadlifts, which is (*double-checks definition of irony*) ironic because I do deadlifts to try to strengthen my back to keep from throwing out my back. This sounds like a not-unmanly reason, though the weight was low and a previous occurrence was caused by coughing too hard.

Other causes:

* Generally poor posture:

* Wallet too fat: Seriously, this is a 3D-printed statuette from a scan of me and my dad (that my sister gave me -- we were visiting a makerspace at NYU she's part of).

We're sitting on a rotating platform and I'm leaning on him, trying not to wobble off. I noticed in the scan and on the statue that you can see my wallet bulging.


I have since switched to a bi-fold, but I might have to go for something even thinner and combine it with in a front pocket money clip. I don't see total front pocket wallet carry happening -- small frame = small pockets.

* General stupidity: My back was already sore before I went to the gym, but I went anyway, mostly because I needed to work my shoulder (which I just ended therapy for, but I still need to work). I should have listened to my body.

Anyway, while I was incapacitated, I couldn't really work sitting up, and I'm just not that productive on a tablet. Fortunately, my cable provider was doing a week-long free promotion for on-demand viewing of premium TV shows, which is great since I don't get HBO, so in about 2.5 days, I binge-watched:

* True Detective, Season 1

* All three seasons of Game of Thrones. (So I finally get the references everyone's making.)

It was great since I didn't have to get up from the sofa to change discs -- shifting positions was really challenging the first few days. (Seriously, hobbling around the house, I was leaning on walls and even using a jury-rigged cane made from 3/4" PVC.)

Yes, it would have been perfect, save for the increasing pollen count -- pent-up demand from the long winter. Every sneeze was... agonizing. And the anticipation made it worse -- there's only so many times you can avert a sneeze. It was kind of bad.

I'm mostly moving around now. I guess I should drop deadlifts and squats for a good long time and look into yoga and kettlebells.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

MILFs, Banal Action, and Two Other Things About Turning 42

1. I have now been of legal drinking age longer than I have not

2. MILF porn is now "Age Appropriate Porn"

Nina Hartley - 2013 AVN Awards
Nina Hartley, famous porn actress. Photo by Michael Dorausch, used under Creative Commons.
3. Career paths that are closed to me, in some cases by law (and by several years) include:

I can still become a redhead, though.
* Secret Service Agent
* US Military (all branches)
* FBI Special Agent
* Air Traffic Controller

Technically, I can still become an astronaut, though my degree is in the wrong kind of science, and the end of the Space Shuttle program means no more Payload Specialist opportunities. (Of course, there's always the hope that SpaceX or Virgin Galactic are hiring Orbital Social Media Specialists.)

4. The first page of search results for "Thoughts on Turning 42" turns up articles that are incredibly banal. And this entry does not appear to be a C-C-C-C-Combo breaker.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Al Qaeda Wants to Car Bomb Your Favorite Arlington Bar

This week, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula released the 12th and latest edition of Inspire, their magazine for instructing homegrown jihadis in the West:

Their "Open Source Jihad" feature provides technical how-to's and tactics for using improvised explosives and other methods to inflict damage on the West. (Remember how people laughed at their first effort, "Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom"? We stopped laughing after we found the Tsarnaev brothers may have used it to build their pressure cooker bomb.)

This latest edition is all about making car bombs, with detailed instructions on using propane and oxygen containers and Christmas lights.

For targeting, they including the following guidance: Target bars and restaurants in Arlington and Alexandria (as well as M Street), because they are frequented by high-profile personalities:

Apparently, Adams Morgan and the U Street Corridor do not yet rate as targets. Adjust your nightlife planning accordingly.

Also of note, apparently AQAP does not recognize the legitimacy of renaming the Sears Tower to the Willis Tower, and thinks the Air Force is based in Chicago.

Inspire is available as a PDF if you search for it; if your search skills suck, I would also expect Public Intelligence to post it soon.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

If I Were President, by Joseph Loong [Age 12]

A recent visit to the deep archives at the Loong ancestral estate uncovered this document: a handwritten essay on the topic If I Were President, written by my 12-year-old, 7th-grade self in 1984.

It shows that I was basically a neocon with futurist tendencies. Essentially Newt Gingrich with fewer divorces:

If I Were President - 1984

If I Were President, by Joseph Loong

My pool pass from 1985
My pool pass from a year later, 1985.
If I were President of the United States, I would first build up the nation's defenses with modern weapons. I would then phase out the mail system with computer mail and use electronic credit cards to replace cash and change transactions, with no money involved. I would make a space-ground laser defense system to protect the U.S. from missile attack. I would also try to clean up the enviorment [sic] by planting thousands of trees and stop factories from polluting the air. I would install moving sidewalks and promote electric cars with built-in computers and cruise control, and also create American "bullet trains." Large, all weather, indoor farms would be built if I were President. I would also tear down all cities and towns, except for historical areas and build new, modern, fireproof, bombproof, and weatherproof houses and apartments. And, I would get the CIA and FBI to infiltrate the Communist countries, and eliminate them from the inside. Last, but not least, I would try to improve American health, diet, and state of living, and the economy, and eliminate criminals, radicals, and treasonous people.

[Teacher's remarks: "This piece of writing is very well done, gramatically correct, and well thought out. I am impressed with the [illegible] structure and use of words.]


My teacher's remarks to the contrary, I'm chagrined by the structure of the essay, which is a pile of unrelated items with no paragraph breaks. Also, I cringe at the awkward shift to the passive voice I used to an attempt to take a break from all the "I woulds" I'm throwing around. (Had I known about bulleted lists in 1984, I would have been all over that.)

I also see three major influences:

1. Concepts lifted wholesale from the "World of the Future" books published by the UK's Usborne Hayes in 1981 (also published as an omnibus edition, "World of the Future", which you can see in its full PDF glory), and that I probably bought at a school book fair and subsequently devoured.


2. Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, aka the "Star Wars" program. It came out a year earlier, and I read every article about it that Time and Newsweek had to offer.

3. The House Un-American Activities Committee. Seriously, where did the bit about eliminating radicals and treasonous people come from? I sound like a John Bircher. Though I especially like that it's in the same sentence as improving American health and diet.

Actually, if you take the last two sentences and replace "Communist" with "Muslim extremist," I'm pretty sure it would fit in pretty well as a typical Free Republic post, and perhaps be featured in a speech at CPAC.

Ultimately, I'm disappointed because I thought I was further along by age 12. Then again, I was 12. Then again, that's how old Grover Norquist was when he says he came up with the idea for his "no tax" pledge. Go figure.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Thank You Racist Texans, for Further Ruining an Already-Ruined Night

It wasn't bad enough that I was at a local bar watching Duke blow a late-second-half lead to UNC (during the Snowchi-rescheduled game at Chapel Hill).

No, going out to the patio during a break in the action, I get to experience this:

The tail end of some anecdote, told by two visiting, self-declared Texans (who may have been friends-of-a-friend-of-a-friend, or merely random bar loudmouths), of a female acquaintance getting hit, with the abuser subsequently getting beat down (all wording paraphrased):

"There's two things down in Texas we don't stand for...

Men hitting women, and..."

Long, exaggerated look over left shoulder...

 [Oh, no...]

Long, exaggerated look over right shoulder...

"...Black guys with [at this point, I'd already started bailing for the door, so I missed the exact wording, though he clearly meant "white women"]..."

 "...which seems to be a thing down here..."

Seriously, I'm glad (not) I passed your philosophical paper bag test, but FUCK YOU, ASSHOLE.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

If You Don't Hate Me Yet, The Next 90 Seconds Will Change That

Found this in my archives. It's an AOL jingle/song -- not sure if it was ever used anywhere. The style is equal bits Instructional Video Soundtrack and Bible Camp Singalong. Feels like it could have been the background music for a promotional video or the warmup for an all-hands meeting. [Update: A smob claiming knowledge of the particulars said on a Facebook comment, "That was from some message board group back in 1995 - it wasn't AOL sanctioned/created. eWorld was somehow involved but forget why."]

How long do you think you can last? The lyrics are really bad. Trust me, I had to listen in order to transcribe them:

Take your time, go online
Come around and join the party
Take the key, and you will see
That it's fun to hang around.
Go America…
Go America…
Go America Online

Hurry up and check the system
And meet the people and start chatting.
Come on board, come to the show.
Let this family grooooow.


[Keytar solo?]

You need some info so show you've got it
The World Wide Web will make it.
We're all waiting for new friends to be known to
And we hope it will be youuuuuuuu.


Doesn't matter what problems you will get.
Our family will help you.
Doesn't matter how much time it will take.
Take your hands and break through.

[Chorus x 2, ends abruptly.]

If you've got ideas as to when the song was made or how it was used, leave a comment. Take your time, go online...

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

In a Post-Apocalyptic World, the Proof Is in the Pudding

[Mild spoilers for The Walking Dead season 4, episode 9, "After."]

In this episode, sullen Carl needs a haircut and eats roof pudding:

Photo: AMCTV. Pudding: Roof, chocolate.
How much pudding does Carl eat? 112 ounces. Seven pounds of chocolate pudding. (3.17 kg in non-Imperial units, also known in modern America as a "small.")

Here is the Amazon listing for a similar pudding offering. It contains 140 calories per 1/2 cup serving (actually 140 kilocalories, since an American calorie is larger than other nations' calories, which makes sense when you see modern Americans), or 3920 calories for the 28 servings in the can, otherwise known as a "snack."

It's still a lot of pudding. Put in the context of modern competitive eating, the Guinness World Record for custard/pudding eating is 2 pounds, 15 ounces (1.34 kg) in three minutes, set by American Donald Cunningham in 2010.

The International Federation of Competitive Eating (aka Major League Eating) does not appear to have a record for pudding, though records for  similar substances include:

11 pounds (176 ounces)
9 minutes/Sept. 26, 2004
Sonya Thomas

Cranberry Sauce, Jellied
13.23 lbs (211.68 ounces)
8 Minutes/Nov. 22, 2007
Juliet Lee

21 lbs (336 ounces)
10 minutes/Sept. 29, 2007
Patrick Bertoletti

Ice Cream (Vanilla)
1 gallon, 9 ounces (137 ounces)
12 minutes
Cookie Jarvis

Although in this landscape, 112 ounces with no time limit wouldn't appear to be competition-worthy, keep in mind that Carl's character is 14 years old, and has devoted little to no time to the training regimen necessary to be a contender at this level of competitive eating