Sunday, October 28, 2007 at 1:40 PM | Filed under , ,

A few weeks ago, my sister Stephanie asked me to make invitations to a Halloween party that she was planning. And she gave one of the invitations to me! The party was last night, and Stephanie called it a Halo-Wii-n party, because she was planning for us to play Halo 3 and Wii games. But first, we had to watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and Stephanie decided that we would watch it outside. In 35-to-40-degree weather. So it was cold. She decided that we would participate with the movie like people did in the '70s, so she handed out rice, newspapers, toast, etc., and told us what to do and roughly when to do it. I got cold and went in near the end of the movie.

Kevin had brought over his Xbox 360 the night before to ensure that we could hook up everything successfully. This allowed me a little time to practice playing Halo, but it wasn't enough to make me anywhere near good enough to beat some of Stephanie's friends. My battle strategy is to run up at people, shooting continuously at them until I get close enough to hit them with my gun. But they usually managed to kill me before I could reach them.

While some of us were playing Halo, Stephanie and the rest were sitting on the floor, decorating cookies. At Safeway, we had found ghost- and jack-o'-lantern-shaped chocolate cookies that came with frosting, sprinkles, and small candy. After I was done losing at Halo, I sat down to decorate one. I was uninspired and came up with a very dull pumpkin that had globs of frosting for eyes, a mouth, and a nose. Each of the four globs had different-colored sprinkles. It's not my best work, and since chocolate isn't really my favorite, I don't know if I'll ever eat this. It's probably hard, dry, and stale. (Actually, I just took a little bite. It reminds me of Cocoa Krispies.)

Stephanie's friend Madison started complaining that nobody was playing Wii, so I set up Mario Party 8 for everyone. They started getting mad at me for starting the board game mode because they secretly wanted to play only minigames. They played one game, Shake It Up, repeatedly, because they thought the inadvertently suggestive animation of how to shake the Wii Remote was funny.

Remember, everyone, that It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown airs this Tuesday at 8/7c on ABC. (I told you earlier this month that it would air tonight, but that was a lie.) Immediately following it is another special, You're Not Elected, Charlie Brown, which is about Linus running for class president. The title is a little odd, since Charlie Brown isn't running at all for president. It has only a little bit to do with the Great Pumpkin episode.

Storm Ball

Friday, October 19, 2007 at 11:17 PM | Filed under ,

Yesterday, we had a windstorm that was super-duper hyped up by the local media. It was really windy, but it was also really fun, too.

I first went outside after I heard the wind knock the recycle bin over and spill all the junk in the yard. Then I went outside with a little wooden propeller toy that I got last year at the Museum of Flight. It's a little propeller on a dowel that you spin really fast between your palms and release into the air. I was able to make it go a hundred feet or so. Jesse and Alyssa, my neighbors, tried a few times, but they couldn't really make it go up in the air.

Then, I got a beach ball four feet in diameter, and while I started blowing that up, my dad tried to fly a kite. It worked okay for a little while, but the wind was blowing it down too much. He stopped when he hit the neighbor's new car.

After I finished blowing up the ball, Dad and I tried to play catch with it. I would throw the ball one way, and the wind would pick it up and push it back to me. It was difficult not only because the wind was messing around with it, but also because it's hard to catch such a big ball. We also tried kicking it over the roof, but even with the wind's assistance, it was really difficult.

My neighbor Harold was returning from work, and thought it was funny to see us playing with the big ball in the windstorm. While he was talking to Dad, I got some bubbles out from the garage. As soon as I would pull the bubbly wand out of the giant bottle, countless bubbles would stream from the end of the wand and float quickly up and away. Dad and Harold seemed to use the bubbles to find how they should kick the ball. Dad held the ball in place, and Harold ran up and kicked it, and it flew up onto the roof. It lingered a little on our side of the roof, but then another gust of wind carried it all the way over to the other side.

I decided it would be fun to release a smaller beach ball into the wild to see how far it could go. Jesse and Alyssa were very excited about this project. I blew up the ball and wrote my e-mail address in permanent marker, along with a request to e-mail me about the ball if found after the storm. Jesse took the ball and threw it down the street.

This morning, I received an e-mail from someone who had found the ball. I was a litle disappointed that the intersection she had given me was only a block away from here, but the interesting thing was that it wound up a block uphill (and it's a steep hill). I only just recently replied to the e-mail, so I'll update here if I get any new information.

New Web Site

Wednesday, October 17, 2007 at 7:57 PM | Filed under ,

I thought I would take some time to point out more Halloween decorations I've put up around the house.

This is a ghost I found at Value Village for the very affordable price of $5. The fabric ghosts hangs freely from the rusty-looking structure, and it blows in the wind, which is totally awesome. What's kinda sucky is that the ghost sometimes loops over the top and gets stuck, so I regularly have to unravel it.

Speaking of ghosts, I noticed a few days ago that the garbage bag ghost the neighbors and I put up has fallen down. It looks like the string ripped itself from the bag. This probably happened during a wind storm we had. I took the ghost and hid it in my yard so that hooligans don't run off with it.

This is something new I made this year. I got the idea online, and I have dubbed these cut-up garbage bags "Spooky Streamers". (I want to point out that I have a habit of using the word "spooky" as an adjective to describe things having to do with Halloween, such as Spooky Cat. I think I use "spooky" like this because the Halloween items in one of my favorite video games, Animal Crossing, were prefixed with "spooky".) The Spooky Streamers look really good when a fan blows on them, or when someone passes by them, because they swoosh around, and the light glimmers on them.

And what have we got here? Spooky Lights. Last year, we had three strings of Halloween lights: one in orange, one in green, and one in purple. We had them taped up in three different windows, which looked great from outside, but I decided to do something different this year. I pulled all the bulbs from the strings, and combined them into three strings each with all three colors in a pattern. It's very colorful, and for some reason, this color combination reminds me of candy. I've strung these strings around the living room. This is in lieu of a Spooky Chain, which is what I made last year. The Spooky Chain was a chain made by stapling orange and black construction paper links together.

Here, we have the leaf garlands. Garth is playing in them! He kept trying to eat the plastic coiled stems. These decorations are unique because they also stay out through November—they match the Thanksgiving decorations too. For the longest time, these decorations seemed to be lost in the garage, but I finally found them. They were in an unmarked paper grocery bag, shoved in with the sports equipment. I chanced upon them by accident this afternoon, which is really annoying, because I must have spent more than an hour determinedly searching for them earlier this month.

In celebration of the Halloween spirit, a spider has set up a new web site outside the window near the back porch. Not that I'm really afraid of spiders, but I don't think I would ever have gotten this close to a spider without a pane of glass between us.

I noticed today that my digital cable's Music Choice channel, Sounds of the Seasons, has finally begun playing Halloween music. Up until recently, they've been playing Oktoberfest music, which is a real letdown when what you really want is Halloween tunes. Last year, Music Choice made the decision of ending the Halloween music at the unfortunate time of 9:30 PM on Halloween (it was 12:30 AM the next day on the East Coast, where Music Choice is based). It was a little aggravating to suddenly hear the Jackson 5 sing Santa Claus is Coming to Town—it ruined the Halloween spirit. Seriously, do they expect people to crank up the Christmas music at 12:30 AM on November 1st? I hope Music Choice heeds the advice I gave them and holds off on the Christmas music for a few hours more.

Night Experiment

Saturday, October 13, 2007 at 12:12 PM | Filed under ,

In my Light and Color class, we learned about the rods and cones in the eyes. The cones are good for seeing colors, but they don't work well in the dark. The cones work much better in dark environments, but they can't distinguish colors. I decided it would be fun to test this.

Last night, my cousins Kevin and Daniel came over to participate. My mom and sister also wanted to participate. After it was dark outside (and there wasn't much moonlight because we just had a new moon), we turned off the lights. We had to wait a short while for the rods in our eyes to warm up, and Mom and Stephanie fell asleep before we got to the actual experiment. The original plan was to play a game of checkers, which I assumed would be difficult because we would be unable to tell the red and black checkers apart, but it so dark that I couldn't even tell the checkers apart from the checkerboard. So we settled with my backup plan: Uno.

The lighting was just right so that we could make out the numbers on the cards without too much trouble, but the difficulty lay in a frustrating inability to easily tell the cards' colors apart. Yellow appeared to be the lightest-colored card, but I couldn't be very confident what color any of the other cards might have been.

The picture is a comparison of a simulation of what the cards look like in night vision and normal vision.

Of the 49 cards we set down before Daniel won, about a third of them were illegal moves, many of which were played one after the other. Here is a table of the illegal plays.

Card on top of discard pile  Card played on discard pile
Green 2Blue Reverse
Blue 7Green 3
Green 3Red 1
Red 1Blue Skip
Green 6Blue Skip
Blue SkipGreen 9
Green 9Blue 1
Blue 7Green Skip
Green SkipBlue 5
Blue 3Yellow 6
Yellow 6Green 9
Red Draw 2Green 1
Blue 0Green 6
Green 6Blue 2
Blue 2Green Skip
Green SkipBlue Draw 2
Blue Draw 2Red 5

A simpler experiment to try in the future might be to just sort the cards by color into piles, rather than incorporate the experiment into a game, but the point was to have fun. Other activities we did not attempt included putting together a puzzle, solving a Rubik's Cube, and eating different-colored jelly beans.

I want nobody to forget: Drew Carey begins hosting The Price is Right on Monday.

Magenta Pencils

Wednesday, October 10, 2007 at 2:10 PM | Filed under

Want to see what I got in the mail today?

Two magenta colored pencils?? You're probably wondering why Crayola sent me these. It's an interesting story.

I decided that I needed some colored pencils to enhance the notes for my Light and Color class. We already have a huge bin of colored pencils downstairs, but I decided that a nice, crisp new box would be neater and easier to carry in my backpack. Mom was shopping at Target, and I realized that I could ask if she would buy me a box. Since magenta is such an important color (it's a subtractive primary, after all), I decided that I would look up on Crayola's website what the smallest box containing magenta is. I looked at the picture of the 12-pack, and it looked like it had a magenta in it, so I asked Mom to get that.

When she got home and presented the box of pencils to me, I was a little surprised to see no magenta in it! This wasn't really a huge calamity: I was able to find an okay magenta pencil in the bin downstairs, and I replaced the 12-pack's stupid redundant light brown pencil (why do you need light brown when you can just use brown and not push so hard?) with it, but I was a little disappointed that Crayola's website lied to me.

I mean, look at this picture. Wouldn't you assume that magenta (or at least, a similar enough color) is in there? See it? To the left of the orange, and to the right of the pink. Hey, wait, there's no pink in my box of pencils, either! My box contains red, red orange, orange, yellow, yellow green, green, sky blue, blue, violet, light brown, brown, and black. No pink, and no magenta!

Of course, I fired off a complaint letter to Crayola. I wish I had saved what I had written; it contained an explanation of the above story, as well as a suggestion that they correct the image on their website, and perhaps even post a list of what colors are in what boxes, so that it's obvious to people what they are buying.

Jo Ellen at Crayola e-mailed me a reply. She said she was while she isn't exactly sure where I was on the website (it was the products section, lady!), she was sorry to learn that I was misled. She also said, "As a complimentary gesture, I have placed in the mail to you two magenta colored pencils." So that's how I got these colored pencils. Anyone need a magenta pencil?

Microsoft Surface

Tuesday, October 9, 2007 at 2:34 PM | Filed under

Last night, my aunt sent me a link to a news story about Microsoft Surface, asking if I had heard of it before. I have heard of it before, but in case you don't know what it is, I suppose I ought to explain briefly. Microsoft Surface is like a table, and the surface is like a screen, and it's like a touch screen, so you can interact with the table by touching it. You can set a digital camera on top of the table, and it knows the camera is there because the table has cameras inside. It downloads the pictures from the digital camera, and displays them on the surface, and you can interact with the pictures by moving them around or resizing them by grabbing two points on the picture and stretching them apart. You can also set a cell phone on top of the surface, and drag one of the pictures to it to put the picture on the phone. That's just a few examples.

Microsoft says the Surface isn't really ready for home use yet, but they will be appearing some time next month in businesses, especially those in the hospitality business. I'm really interested in the restaurant applications. You can flip through menu choices, and see pictures, descriptions, price, and perhaps even ratings from other restaurant patrons. Then when you see what you want, you drag it to a spot in the center of the table labeled "order". Then after the meal, people set down their credit cards, and decide how they want to pay. If each person wants to pay only for the food they got, then they can drag the pictures of their food to their own credit cards to pay for them.

My cousin Kevin and I have had lengthy discussions about other uses the table could have in restaurants. I think there should be a button that appears near your glass (and the table knows it's a glass because of the camera inside). When your drink is running low, you can press the button, labelled "refill", and someone from the wait staff will know that you want a refill and promptly run over to pour more beverage into your glass. I think it's better than what we have now, where you have to wait for someone to notice your empty glass. Kevin said that the table itself should be able to see if the glass is getting empty. Then, he said a nozzle in the ceiling should automatically squirt the beverage into your glass. It can't miss the glass because the table knows exactly where it is. Same kinda thing happens when you're running out of garlic bread.

I personally can't wait until it's available and affordable enough for home use. Can you imagine if you had a Surface table as a coffee table, and it had a built-in remote control function? You would never lose your remote! (Unless you're stupid enough to lose a table...) You could change the channel by poking the virtual buttons on the table. What I think would be cooler is if it would display a program guide (a grid showing when shows come on, and on what channel) on the surface of the table. All you would have to do is touch the show you want to watch, and the table would tell the TV to turn it to that channel! If you happened to have a glass or a magazine on the table, it would kinda wrap the guide around it so that these things wouldn't obscure the guide. I dunno, I think this is getting a little silly.

Crazy Christmas Decorations

Saturday, October 6, 2007 at 11:56 PM | Filed under , ,

Can you believe that Lowe's already has Christmas stuff out? I guess it's not that surprising, but some of the decorations they had there were pretty odd.

What have we got here? A barking Christmas dog? He is singing Up on the House Top, except he is ruining the song by barking through half the lyrics, making the whole thing nonsensical. But still, it's practically adorable, especially with him flapping his ears with every little bark.

Oh, and what's this? A lovely Christmas tree that creepily extends and contracts its height and sings Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree. This one freaks me out a little bit.

I didn't buy the dog or the tree. But there were a few decorations that called out to me, and I had no choice but to buy them. (Warning, the volume of this clip is a tad louder than the previous ones.)

It's Charlie Brown and Snoopy! Actually, this is one of two Snoopys that were available at Lowe's, but this one had a better-looking outfit. They also had Woodstock available, but why would anybody waste their money on Woodstock? Snoopy plays Jingle Bells, and Charlie plays Jolly Old St. Nicholas. I really like the riff in the background. It's similar to the one in Linus and Lucy. I think that during the off-season (any time but December), they'll be staying in my room instead of heading out to the garage.

His smile still lets through a hint of bleakness, but the fact that he's willing himself to smile warms my heart. It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown airs on the 28th on ABC. Mark your calendars!

The Worst Witch

Friday, October 5, 2007 at 8:16 PM | Filed under

"Tim Curry" isn't really a name I throw around every day. He's had a rather eclectic career. I really liked his work as Wadsworth in Clue, and Long John Silver in Muppet Treasure Island. I'm sure that others liked his role as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, the Sweet Transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania, in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. If you thought, however, that Dr. Frank-N-Furter was the strangest possible role to Tim Curry to act, then I think I must inform you of Mr. Curry's role in the 1986 made-for-TV movie The Worst Witch.

I'm not at all ashamed to admit that I'm not at all familiar with the plot of The Worst Witch. A quick look on the IMDB shows me something about a little girl at a witch academy. But really, I'm sure that the audience completely forgot about the plot anyway when they began watching this scene starring Tim Curry as the "Grand Wizard", singing Anything Can Happen on Halloween near the end of the film:

I came across the music video when I was looking up the lyrics (because the song itself is pretty corny too). At first, I was a little repelled, but then I continued watching to see how much worse it could get. I could continue to make fun of the video and its atrocious and incessant special effects, but I don't think I could do it as much justice as Matt Caracappa did in one of his articles on X-Entertainment.

Garbage Ghost and Candy Crime

Tuesday, October 2, 2007 at 5:47 PM | Filed under , , ,

I stepped outside today to check the mailbox. There were a bunch of neighbors outside, and one of them suggested that we make a ghost, like we've done in the past. Years ago, we would craft a ghost out of a white trash bag (it's waterproof) and hang it with fishing line from the street light in the cul-de-sac. A bunch of the neighbor kids wanted to help make it. I got some supplies out, and Jesse, Jeanina, Patrick, and I started to make a ghost. We made a ball of paper and stuffed it in the bag to make the head. I went inside to find some fishing line to hang the ghost up with, and when I came back outside, they had already finished the ghost, including tying the neck and drawing the face in permanent marker.

The hard part has always been getting the fishing line over the street light. I tied one end of the fishing line to the ghost, and Jesse tied the other end to a rock. Jesse had to throw several times to get the rock over the light. Every time he missed, the line got tangled up in the big, prickly bushes underneath the light, and every time, it was a hassle to untangle it. And we had to do that half a dozen times. When Jesse finally got the rock over, we pulled to get the ghost up, and Jesse and Jeanina tied the ghost to the basketball hoop underneath.

After we got the ghost up, I went inside. Not too long after that, they came to the porch, rang the bell, and said, "Trick or Treat!" when I opened the door. They had remembered a promise I made to them last year. They could come to the door in costume once a day during October and claim some candy. The candy is hardly ever anything very special, so I'm usually pretty lenient as to what counts as a costume.

Today, I gave them Baskin-Robbins hard candy flavored like mint chocolate chip ice cream. Then they came back a little later in different costumes to get more candy. I had to tell them that the candy is a once-a-day deal, but they got really aggressive about it. Jesse would keep his foot in the door so I couldn't close it, and they would try to push themselves past me to reach the candy dish located on the nearby table. I acquiesced, offering them a few jelly beans. A few jalapeƱo jelly beans! But they weren't satisfied with that. They kept pushing. Jesse reached in and stole a lollipop, and then Jeanina started crying because she didn't get as much candy as Jesse. So I had to give everyone a lollipop. Wish me better luck tomorrow.

Leftover Italian Food

Monday, October 1, 2007 at 10:29 PM | Filed under ,

Our fridge is chock full of leftover pizza, lasagna, and birthday cake. Stephanie had a birthday party Saturday night at Spiro's, which is a restaurant I had never heard of a month ago. It's an Italian food place. A week before the party, we went to the restaurant to try the food. Stephanie didn't want it to be just a "pizza party", so she thought she would try the lasagna. I was a little surprised when the server told us that the lasagna has broccoli in it; Mom told me I should try it, but I was having my first ever calzone. Awww, baby Brandon's first calzone.

Stephanie's party seemed to be fun for everybody. I really liked the Caesar salad, so I ate a lot of it. The garlic bread at Spiro's really is uninspired and not very garlicky. Mom and Stephanie ordered three pizzas and a big hundred-dollar tray of lasagna. I was right in hypothesizing that the pizza would be much more popular than the lasagna, so now we have several boxes of lasagna in our fridge. We also have pizza, but the only pizza we have leftover now is the Hawaiian pizza, which has pineapple in it, and I can't eat that. It's just too weird having the juicy fruit in the pizza. We also have lots of cake, but I don't think it's healthy to gorge on that.

Stephanie asked me to take pictures at the party, including a group shot. I set up the timer on my camera, and told it to take ten pictures. The guests at first were a little agitated, but then they started getting silly for the camera. After I got home, I used a new program created by Microsoft, Group Shot. It's pretty cool. It's designed to take care of situations when at least one person in every picture is blinking. You tell the program what portions of what picture to include in a composition. I created one good picture and one silly one. Can you tell which is which?

I could go through and reduce the red eyes, but I don't feel like it. Now that I think about it, maybe it would have been funny to have the camera do its red-eye-reducing flashes, but that would certainly have blinded everyone at the party.

I've done some other weird pictures with this Group Shot program:

Admittedly, I could easily have done this in Photoshop, but it was really easy with Group Shot.