Monthly Archives: January 2009

LEGO Creator: The Race to Build It Board Game

Several years ago, a friend from church graciously gave me a trunk load of her son’s toys. He was turning 13 and I guess that means some sort right of passage by ditching all of his kid toys. One of the things in the stash was LEGO Creator: The Race to Build It Board Game and it has languished on the shelf in Eli’s closet for several years. The recommended playing age is 7-10 so I didn’t think we could really do much with it for at least another year. The past week Eli has asked multiple times to play the game. Today he wore me down and I took it off the shelf.

This game is so cute! And because Eli is reading now, it totally works for us. It is exactly what you would imagine a LEGO game would be. You race around the board collecting pieces and the first to finish the project from his/her card wins.

I thought when I first looked at the board, it would be too simple and the game play portion is very easy. Roll a die, move around the Monopoly-like board and follow the directions on each square. The squares tell you how many and what kind of bricks you can pick up.

The project cards are the real fun though. There’s about 20 cards and they are color coded for difficulty. One half of the card shows the kind of bricks you need. They are drawn actual size so as you are collecting you can place them on your card to remember what you’ve picked. The other half are the standard LEGO instructions for building your project. We had an awesome time building our projects and Eli did very well following the directions. He did better than I expected given our previous attempts with Lego instructions.

I think this is a great boy game and I am sad that they don’t make it any longer. (Did you catch the $260 price tag at I think we’ll be playing it again tomorrow.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot: There were extra LEGOs and another book in the game box. I sorted out the pieces and bagged them separately from the game. When I started looking at the book, I realized it was a LEGO robot kit. It’s 86 tiny robots to make. Any questions about what Eli and I will be doing for the next couple of days?

What Should I Talk About at Dragon*Con?

Hey, look who’s a confirmed guest at Dragon*Con. Now I guess I should come up with things to talk about.

Actually, that’s not my problem. My real problem is that I have too much I’d like to talk about. I’m going to be doing a live WhatTheCast episode (right, Brian?) and be on the Evil Geniuses for a Better Tomorrow panel (note to self: come up with a new funny way to take over the world), so I only have two or three more slots I can fill lest I fall over dead some time around Sunday morning.

So, dear readers, tell me what I should talk about! I’ve got several options already, though I’m always open to more.

Quantum Encryption. Did you know you can encrypt information using simple quantum tools like superposition and entanglement? Sadly it won’t be useful any time soon, but it’s a swifty thing to talk about.

Dark Matter, aka “dude, where’s my mass?” There hasn’t been a lot of new solid data on this, but there are a lot of interesting bits of speculation, and this is something I’ve wanted to learn more about. That’s how I choose my science talks anyway — pick something I’m interested in but don’t know a lot about. Good thing I have an advanced degree in faking the funk.

The Pioneer Anomaly. Pioneer 10 and 11 are headed out of the solar system after slingshot maneuvers around Jupiter and Saturn, respectively. The sun’s gravity is slowing them down. However, they’re slowing down more than they should. Why are they doing this? Who knows!

The Physics of Better Gas Mileage. This would be an expansion of the rough calculations I did last year. This was really timely when I first started thinking about it last year!

What I’ve Been Working On

If you’ve been following me on Twitter, then you know all I’ve talked about lately is the work I’ve been doing. Working from home as I do and doing zero self promotion as I do, the work tends to come and go in waves. Lately it’s been a bit of tsunami and I am completely not complaining. I wanted to stop briefly though and show off some of my recently completed graphic design work.

Working for friends is awesome!
My friend Geof just bought a professional grade camera. To help him justify spending the huge wad of cash we convinced him that he needed to go into business for himself as a concert photographer. Since he’s been doing it for several years now anyway, it didn’t take a lot of arm twisting. I knew I wanted to use one of his photographs to highlight what he does. To let the photo really shine, I thought the logo needed to be fairly simple. I made a couple of logo options and showed them to him but this one was my favorite and it’s the one I put on the card as a mock up. He was fairly blown away by it and wanted to order the business cards immediately.

Another awesome friend!
Liza recently started her own business and asked me to work on her logo and then set up some business cards. It’s such an honor to have friends think I do nice enough work that they want to use my stuff for their businesses. I just never get tired of that particular rush. Since she has a consulting company, we needed the logo to be formal. Since she does ebook software publishing, we wanted to invoke the feel of a book without the specific icon of a book. She liked the three vertical bars as they suggested books on a shelf. Originally, I wanted to use a green for the logo since ebooks are so environmentally friendly. I picked several greens and neither Liza or I liked any of them. On a whim, I choose a few blues as well. She and I both keyed on this blue and we ran with it. The vertical business card is something I always like to do as an option for a client. Very few of them ever choose the vertical. I’m proud that she did in this case because it again plays with that idea of the book standing on a shelf.

Huntsville Library Foundation Outside
Huntsville Library Foundation Inside
Amy got me hooked up with the Library Foundation and this and several other projects in progress are the bulk of what I’ve been working on lately. This is the Foundation’s end of the year mailer. It’s a bit of an annual report and preview of things to come in the new year for the library system in Madison county. Working for my local library is especially fun because I’ve worked off and on in libraries my whole life. I’m pleased with the way this piece turned out because it showcases some of the library staff and their many years of service. Bonus: Amy took all the photos.

I actually have a couple of other finished projects that I’m not showing in this post because the event hasn’t happened yet. As soon as it does, I’ll be posting it here for you to see and me to remember.

Some of My Best Friends Use Facebook

From the Washington Post’s coverage of yesterday’s Republican National Committee chairman debate:

“We have to do it in the Facebook, with the Twittering, the different technology that young people are using today,” Duncan ventured.

“Let me just say that I have 4,000 friends on Facebook,” contributed Blackwell, putting his hand on Dawson’s and Anuzis’s knees. “That’s probably more than these two guys put together, but who’s counting, you know?” Acknowledged Saltsman: “I’m not sure all of us combined Twitter as much as Saul.”

Anuzis claimed he had “somewhere between 2- and 3,000” Facebook friends, which prompted Blackwell to remind the audience that he has 4,000 friends on the social networking site by waving four fingers behind Anuzis’s head.

While doing it in the Facebook and with the Twittering may become this year’s series of tubes, current RNC chair Mike Duncan sounding like someone’s out-of-touch grandmother isn’t the underlying issue. What is key is the candidates’ view of technology as magic pixie dust that, when scattered over their political aspirations, will give rise to unicorns that reliably vote Republican.

It’s not the technology that counts. This isn’t buzzword bingo, where every mention of a social networking site gets you closer to winning. It’s what you do with the tech. These guys expecting a couple of 140-word messages to make a huge difference is like the CEO requesting that someone in the company make one of those web logs which he’s heard so much about.

Obama’s campaign make remarkable use of social applications and networking. Campaign staffers created an iPhone app that would sort a user’s contacts by location, with those in swing states at the top, and then encourage the user to call those people. Obama announced his VP choice via text message, allowing him to amass a huge database of cell phone numbers. The Obama campaign used technology to collect information, identify people to campaign to, and enlist people to help them with that campaigning.

If I were quizzing the RNC chairman candidates on technology, I’d be asking them what they wanted to do with that technology, not if they’ve ever Plurked.

Fortunately, there were questions the candidates were much more comfortable answering.

When moderator Grover Norquist asked how many firearms the candidates own, the current RNC chairman, Mike Duncan, who despite presiding over his party’s 2008 electoral trouncing is reapplying for his job, noted proudly that he claims four handguns and two rifles.

Rival Katon Dawson, chairman of the South Carolina GOP, said that he has “too many to count.”

Former OH Secretary of State Ken Blackwell was willing to count. Seven, he said, adding: “And I’m good.”

MI GOP chairman Saul Anuzis said he has two guns, but in case the RNC’s 168 committee members, who will vote this month for the next party chairman, wanted to verify his stash, Anuzis said, perhaps only half jokingly, that he is not allowed to carry them in Washington.

“Besides, I even have the word ‘uzi’ in my name,” Anuzis added, pointing at his nametag. “See? Right there.”

Grandpa Joe

The past six weeks have slid by in a blur of work and travel and gray days. Winter arrived with too many cloudy days to count and it has oppressed me more than I can remember since my Emo high school days. I have sat down to write about the passing of my grandpa half a dozen times and instead of getting easier, I find it harder and harder to call up the memories and then the words to express them. He died at the beginning of December and while I am glad he is free from his suffering, the days since then have all been tinged with a melancholy that I never expected to feel. Each day I get up and think that if the sun will only shine I will start to feel better, and each night I go to bed feeling as if I have spent the day swimming too slowly through my life. And so I have come to understand that this is grief.

My earliest memory of my Grandpa Joe is talking to him on the police radio. He was a county sheriff in southern Missouri for eight years. The radio in his bedroom was how I let him know that I’d made it to his house after our three hour drive from Arkansas. The last half hour of the drive, all I could talk about was calling him on the radio. I was so excited to hear his voice come over the radio and know that he was coming home to see me. I’m sure all the police personnel hated hearing a squeaky-voiced girl on the radio, but there was never any denying the pleasure in my grandpa’s voice.

Another early memory of my grandpa was giving him my dog. My dad bought me a bloodhound puppy. That puppy grew to be a giant dog that I was afraid of, so I gladly gave the dog and his excellent name, Mr. Magoo, to my grandpa. After all, what better company for a sheriff than a bloodhound? After Grandpa trained Mr. Magoo for a while, he had my dad and uncle take me way out into the woods on their farm. He gave the dog my favorite stuffed animal and the dog found me in record time. He was so proud of that dog and what he could do.

He only spoke to me once about his time in the Marines. I had a class project in junior high and we were supposed to interview an elderly person–specifically, someone who had contributed to society in some way. I asked him about his time in the service in World War II and he spoke briefly about landing in Hiroshima after the end of the war. It was hard for him to talk about, and he didn’t want to tell me about what he saw or even remember what he witnessed, I think. This past summer while we walked around the rebuilt city, my thoughts often turned to him having walked the same ground after the bomb. It was an emotional day, one that in retrospect was made more so by his only question about our travels in Japan:  “Did you visit Hiroshima?” An odd connection, but one that I feel very strongly anyway.

I have so many memories of roaming the hills and valleys of his farm. Fishing in the pond. Hiding in his shop. Playing in the mud of the newly built lake when they moved to Arkansas. “Helping” with the cows. Watching him build things. Treasuring the things he built for me over the years. Visiting their house during my Sunday afternoons off from Governor’s school and doing my laundry. His pride in my graduating college. Seeing him care for my ailing grandmother. Watching him enjoy my children.

Grandpa Joe, Kate (my mom), and a very young Liza

I remember his constant presence in my life, with me always knowing of his love and support, and how he treated so many people that same way. When I was younger, I thought everyone had a grandfather like that. I know now as an adult how lucky and loved I was. I already miss him so much.

Chester Faye “Joe” Hawkins
May 13, 1922-December 9, 2008

Liza Versus the Milkshake

While we were back in Arkansas, we had lunch at The Purple Cow, a burger-and-shake restaurant in Little Rock that Misty loved when she lived there. Because we are Americans who love our calories like we love our guns and unregulated financial systems, we ordered two milkshakes, one for me and Misty, and the other for Eli and Liza.

Eli took one sip and said, “That’s enough for me.” Liza, on the other hand….

Liza hugging her milkshake while she slurps it down.

Notice how she has her hands wrapped around the glass, making sure that it doesn’t go anywhere. A few times we would take it away so that she’d remember to breathe, and immediately she would point at the glass and fervently make the sign for “more”.

Of course, that’s a lot of milk for such a small kid, and eventually she became milk-drunk. She was so tired, she laid her head to one side. That didn’t mean she stopped drinking, though.

Liza, tired yet still drinking on her milkshake

If milkshakes came in brown paper bags, she’d be ready for the street.