Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Winds of Winter: Total Click Bait Title #ASOIAF #GOT #LEGO

I finally finished photographing various scenes from season one of Game of Thrones, in LEGO. I try my best to recreate spoilery, cliffhangery, juicy scenes with cutesy plastic minifigures every Sunday on Instagram, until I've caught up with the series. Doing so actually bides the time waiting for both the next season of Game of Thrones as well as the next book in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series.

If you haven't seen the first part of my LEGO Game of Thrones spoiler scenes, click here.

The sixth episode of the first season is called "A Golden Crown." The spoiler in this photo is Khal Drogo giving Viserys Targaryen the "golden crown" that was promised. I wish I could have had more photos with the Khal Drogo minifigure, as it is probably the most badass plastic little dude I've ever cobbled together. My signature minifigure ("sigfig") makes a cameo appearance in this scene, as one of Drogo's Dothraki bloodriders:

The next episode is "You Win or You Die." It is the scene where Ned Stark confronts Cersei Lannister about the true father of her children. I greatly simplified the elaborate godswood garden and fountain in the show:

The next episode is "The Pointy End." This photo depicts the duel between Syrio Forel and Ser Meryn Trant. Did Trant kill Forel? Did Forel knock out Trant with his broken wooden sword, then casually walk away (because "the First Sword of Braavos does not run!")? We may never know the answer:

Every time I tag the actor who portrayed Syrio Forel on the show, Miltos Yerolemou, he is gracious enough to 'like' the photo on Instagram. This time, he commented some high praise for the photo: "Bloody briliant" --

I should try to include, as much as possible, guest stars and smaller roles for these spoilers. I usually tag the actors if they have Instagram accounts. If they have a relatively small following (thousands of fans vs. millions of fans), they just might actually see the photo, get a kick out of the tribute, and interact with me for a little bit. Thank you for the compliment, Miltos!

The penultimate episode of a Game of Thrones season almost always is a jawdropper. In this spoiler, Ned Stark is about to get his smiley plastic head removed from his LEGO Wolfpack torso, courtesy of Ser Ilyn Payne, swinging Stark's own zweihander Ice:

So far, I've made minifigures for Bran Stark, Ned Stark, Arya Stark, Catelyn (Tully) Stark, and Sansa Stark. Hopefully, I'll be able to cobble together smiley/angry/scared versions of Robb Stark, Rickon Stark, and Jon Snow in a future episode.

The final episode, "Fire and Blood," takes us back to the eastern continent of Essos, where Dany has just hatched some dragon eggs. Ser Jorah Mormont kneels in reverence:

Of all the LEGO hair color types to reflect real-life hair color, blonde is the trickiest. I think the range of blonde for LEGO goes from bright yellow to yellow to tan to dark tan to medium dark flesh. The actor Iain Glen (Jorah Mormont)'s hair has this distinctive golden glow that is otherwise impossible to replicate in monochromatic plastic. I wasn't going to use a bright yellow hairpiece for Jorah because I didn't want his and Daenerys' hair to match. My yellow LEGO hairpiece was too "long" for Jorah. Tan didn't seem vibrantly golden enough, and dark tan seemed too dark. Medium dark flesh, for some odd reason, was the most reasonable match for me ... unless I'm just colorblind or something.

As far as other LEGO hair color types go, the range of red hair goes from orange to earth orange to dark earth orange to red to dark red. The range of brown hair goes from reddish brown to brown to dark brown (and perhaps to dark flesh as well). Black hair is black plastic, and there are various shades of graying hair, from white to gray to bluish gray to dark gray to dark bluish gray. There are also various hairpieces in "dyed" colors.

Since I've written myself into a tangent about LEGO "genetics," I think I should summarize the range of LEGO skin color. There is ambiguous yellow, which is the color of most of the population in my LEGO Game of Thrones photos. From relatively palest to darkest, the range of human-representative colors are glow in the dark white (which will literally glow in the dark), white, light flesh (used for the Targaryens, above), flesh (used in the Syrio Forel minifigure, above), medium dark flesh (used in my sigfig), dark flesh, reddish brown, brown, and dark brown. There are a range of other colors for supernatural, extraterrestrial, and otherwise otherworldly minifigures.

In any case, I can't wait to see what season two of my LEGO Game of Thrones spoilers will bring! All this LEGO brick and minifigure variety would not have been possible without a site called Bricklink and the various sellers who buy all kinds of LEGO sets for their inventory, so I don't have to!


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

How to Make a Bootleg #Slurpee / #Icee with a #NutriBullet: Ice, Flat Soda, and Sugar

Over the course of the summer, I have refined my technique using the NutriBullet. Keep in mind that I do not use this blender for its intended use: Healthy shakes made with fruit, vegetables, and various nutritional supplement powder. Instead, I make nice, ice-blended goodness, with booze or no booze, but definitely cold and sweet to beat the summertime heat.

The basic formula is pretty simple: Blend about 12 ounces of liquid with two "glassfuls" (see recipe below for the photo) of ice cubes to the count of 30.

For a specific example, here is how to make a root beer slushie, similar to a 7-Eleven Slurpee or a fast food Icee. I'll provide some visual aids, err, photos:

1. One can of soda, usually 12 ounces, is good enough for two slushie servings. Pour as much as you want into fridge-friendly containers, and let the soda flatten for a few hours. You could always substitute this recipe with about 12 ounces of any blend of liquids, fluids, and beverages.

2. You'll need two "glassfuls" of ice to blend two slushie servings. I use a plastic tumbler that's about the same size as a travel coffee mug. I only use refrigerator machine "cubed" ice, and I have been satisfied with the results. I don't know if ice tray cubes will have similar results. I do know that crushed ice won't do, however.

3. Pour 12 ounces of flat root beer with two "glassfuls" of ice cubes into the NutriBullet container. Sprinkle some sugar to sweeten the ice; don't go overboard, though. You just want the sweetness level to remain on par with the original drink, if you're using flat soda.

4. Close the NutriBullet container with the six-blade cover and blend to the count of 30. If the mix is correct, the container should be packed to the blade but loose enough to have space to mix and blend. A good blend will continuously blend for the entire count of 30. A bad blend will have the blades blend nothing for some part of the count of 30. These proportions are not recommended by the manufacturer, so your results may vary. In other words, don't blame me for any NutriBullet-related accidents!

5. Scoop or pour carefully into two relatively large glasses (over 12 ounces), make more if needed, and enjoy!

The end. Cheers!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Finding Fault in Every #Generation: #TriggerWarning: #Sarcasm, #Criticism, and #Facetiousness

Place tongue firmly in cheek. Every generation is to blame. For what? For everything.

The Greatest Generation (adult age during World War II) might have saved the world from fascism, but they failed to discover how to live forever. And now, they are all disappearing from the world. Save us, Captain America!

The Silent Generation (born slightly before and during World War II) and the Baby Boomers (born after the war) did an okay job at raising Generations X and Y. They brought us rock 'n roll. Unfortunately, Baby Boomers still run the world, and they are doing a piss-poor job at it.

The Baby Busters, err, Generation X (born from the early '60s to the early '80s, plus or minus a few years) brought us Nirvana and cool stuff like that. Unfortunately, something wrong happened when they became parents. More on that later.

The Post-Xers, err, Generation Y, err, the Millennials (born from the '80s to the turn of the century, plus or minus) have a chance at raising their kids better than the Baby Busters. Then again, the most noteworthy of Millennials are either shallow "celebrities" or people who sign up for scuzzy-ass websites that get hacked -- or both. The least noteworthy are either wannabe "celebrities" or people who sign up for scuzzy-ass websites that get hacked -- or both. Shame, shame, shame. And selfies.

The Post-Millennials, err, Generation Z, or whatever they're called (born from the '90s to the '00s, plus or minus) are the children of Generation X and are now around college age. They tend to be experts at mainstream social media and obscure social media that baffle us older folk. Anyhow, there are some Millennials involved with this, but mostly, it seems that Generation Z brought us the "trigger warning." Or at least they learned it in college campuses and on social media, like Tumblr.

Apparently, a lot of Generation Z people have post-traumatic stress from growing up that warrants the need for "trigger warnings" from the media they consume, especially online media. Depictions of violence or racism or sexism seem to trigger bad memories or emotions for these young adults. Now it would be easy to mock these young adults for being (overly) sensitive, but really --

Blame Generation X. You all had the opportunity to make the world a better place, but you all failed miserably. The 1990s were literally the peak of Western Civilization, except in war-torn regions of the world. The Cold War had ended. Rock music and popular music in general were awesome for a brief handful of years, before mainstream music became crappy again.

Then the Xers grew up and had children. You all did something wrong, perhaps something abusive, because your children -- the Zers -- have "trigger warnings" and post-traumatic stress whenever these "warnings" are "triggered." Oh, and Obama is the first Generation X President -- are you all happy now? I suppose some of you are happy, but others are not; it's a very divisive and contradictory time to be alive.

I suppose we can let the Boomers share the blame; after all, this is their world. All these "triggers" belong to the world order of the Boomers. Then again, would the Xers, who are slowly gaining control, do any better? The answer is no.

I suppose we can pile some of the blame onto the Millennials, with their "reality," apathy, and vanity. It's more of a crime by omission, than anything.

I suppose we can blame the Zers themselves, for with all the Wikipedia in their lives, they never bothered to Google "walking it off." Too harsh? Perhaps harsh enough to warrant, wait for it, a trigger warning.

To the Post-Zers, err, Generation A?, err, the children born recently and in the near future -- I sincerely apologize on behalf of all other generations. You don't get much of a civilization. You get obnoxious "celebrities" and anti-intellectualism and keyboard warriors (oops!). You get clunky politically-correct phrasing and assholes who don't have the time to be politically correct. Tact, politeness, manners, concessions, and refutations won't exist in your world. You get trigger warnings and censorship. You get trolls, bullies, and disinformation. You get inappropriate usage of apostrophes, confusion of homophones, and grammar Nazis who will be tactless about it. You get personal drones, photos of food, and an hourly selfie. Rest assured: We started the fire. You will find that pop culture reference to be incredibly cheesy, but only after you Google it.

In conclusion, we all suck. Ultron, Agent Smith, the Terminator and all the fictional robot antagonists were correct about humanity. Please remove tongue from cheek, and read this rant again.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

#Astrophotography: #Perseids #MeteorShower Over #SuburbanSkies and #LightPollution

A couple days ago was the peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower. It occurred on the night before the new moon, so the skies were extra dark, or less bright, depending where you live. The ideal way to watch a meteor shower is to go where the skies aren't so light-polluted by city lights, such as the mountains or the desert or an isolated beach.

I did none of the sort, trying to observe and photograph the light show over and under light-polluted suburban skies. This is my budget go-to setup for simple astrophotography, from the top down:

1. Kit zoom lens;
2. Inexpensive DSLR camera;
3. Cheap, programmable shutter release controller;
4. Decent camera mount (detachable tripod head with detachable mounting plate) to adjust camera angle;
5. Compass for Vixen Polarie, to more accurately find true north;
6. Vixen Polarie star tracking mount, to follow the skies for longer exposures;
7. Cheap, yet relatively stable tripod, with non-detachable tripod head and detachable mounting plate.

For this astrophotography session, I used the following settings:

1. Lens: 18mm, f/3.5, trying to manually focus to "infinity" without an infinity marking;
2. Camera: RAW+JPEG files, ISO 800 (I try not to go over 800 due to inexpensive DSLR noise), exposure time at BULB (a 30-second shutter would work, too);
3. Shutter release: 30-second exposure time, with a 10-second delay between shots, set to the maximum number of automatic shots;
4. Camera mount: Pointed Northeast, at the "love triangle" among the constellations Cassiopeia, Perseus, and Andromeda (mostly the Andromeda Galaxy);
5. Compass: Set for my latitude, with Magnetic North being a few degrees off True North;
6. Vixen Polarie: Star tracking mode, with Polaris (the North Star) in view of the viewfinder;
7. Tripod: All legs extended, as level as possible, pointed at the North Star.

I shot as much as I could that night, as this was mostly a "set it and forget it" deal, using a few batteries in the process. Focusing to "infinity" on a kit lens has always been a challenge. There were several awesome fireball-like meteors that were outside the camera's range -- to the West, Southwest, and Southeast. My camera was able to photograph five Perseid meteors, one (or two) unrelated "shooting stars," and a handful of airplanes flying overhead. The photo above was from a "developed" RAW file, but here are the results from unmodified (albeit cropped) JPEG files:

This is the same meteor as pictured above, the best one of the night. I could have called it a night after this one.
This is the second-best photograph of the night. You can trace the tail end of the Perseids to its radiant, which is coincidentally around the Double Cluster region in the constellation Perseus. The Double Cluster, of course, is light years away from Earth, but the Perseid radiant is just miles above us.
This faint Perseid is approaching the Andromeda Galaxy, so to speak. There is no way I could have seen this meteor as it happened.
The tripod and/or camera definitely vibrated during this shot, creating double images of stars. This meteor is pretty faint, and I did not see it with my own eyes at the time.
These two, parallel meteors are unrelated to the Perseids because their tails do not originate from the Double Cluster area of the sky, the radiant of the Perseid meteor shower.
This faint meteor is the last one photographed. The Perseid's light is virtually instantaneous in age, but the light from the Andromeda Galaxy (a little to the left of the meteor) is about 2.5 million years old.
Due to the number of "shooting stars," there were a lot of wishes to be made that night, and perhaps some of them will be granted.

Monday, August 10, 2015

You Are What You Eat, err, How You Acquire Food

Two things happened that will bear little importance to the topic I'll eventually get to: (1) the car battery died, and (2) the car is due for a smog check. A car with a new car battery will almost certainly fail a smog check, or so I've read. Apparently, removing the old battery "deletes" some important information that is relevant for a smog check, in much the same way removing the battery will reset the car radio's saved stations memory bank. But the radio is not relevant (generally speaking).

In order to let the car acquire some information in its smog check computer (the actual name of the device escapes me), one would have to drive the car around for a bit. This is a great excuse to drive for the heck of it, or to drive to places not normally visited. The car needs some smog check info, after all.

When coming up with a list of local and quasi-local destinations for these short field trips, I realized that lots of destinations involve food. Grocery? Food. Restaurant? Food. Movie theater? Food. Amusement park? Food. Friends and family? Food. Parks, beaches, and other scenic/recreational locations? It would be a good idea to bring some food.

It then dawned on me that how we describe ourselves involves food. Let's travel back in time, to the dawn of humanity:

Original recipe human beings (and some isolated populations today) were foragers who probably wandered around all the time. We call them hunter-gatherers. Hunt what? Food. Gather what? Food.

Some of those tribes of foragers decided to domesticate animals, while wandering around all the time. We call them herders. Herd what? Food.

Some of those tribes of nomadic herders decided to settle down with their domesticated animals and plant some things their ancestors taught them to gather. We call them farmers. Farm what? Food.

Some of those tribes of farmers decided that farming shouldn't be for everyone, and that there should be villages and cities and kingdoms and empires that are supported by farms. Some of the people would be herders, gardeners, and farmers. Some of them would have a different trade. Some of them would do grunt work. Only a few of them would be kings. Everyone was expected to obey their king. Virtually all of them would have some role directly or indirectly related to producing things to be consumed, and all of them would consume many of the things produced.

We should call some of them producers. Produce what? Food (and other stuff). However, we should call all of us consumers. Consume what? Food (and other stuff).

As biological machines, of course we have to eat. I just find it amusing that we chose to describe our ancestors, as well as various populations in the world today, in terms of how they acquired food. It's something to think about, especially the next time you or I post a photo of food on Instagram.

When I'm not posting a photo of my dog Kate, a cutesy scene depicted with LEGO minifigures, or celestial bodies -- I'm definitely guilty of photographing and posting what I eat.

If I am what I eat, then I am most certainly ... delicious.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Simple #Wiring for a #GuitarEffects #Pedalboard #LED #LightShow

I'm at that stage in life in which I feel that music should be played live (as much as possible) with a full sound (as much as possible). It's a difficult task to bring together a band of two or more people, to fill the roles of "melody" (lead vocal), "harmony" (backing vocal), "accompaniment" (guitar and/or keyboard), "low-end" (bass), and "beats" (drums/percussion). For the past few years, through trial and error, I set out to fill out those roles with as few people as possible -- one person, usually.

Singing through a microphone plugged into a Boss VE-2 harmonizer pedal will ably fill the roles of lead vocal and backing vocal(s). Nice harmonies add so much to an average vocal performance, it's almost a dirty cheating trick to use a harmony pedal, which it certainly is. A one-man band cannot entirely focus on one instrument, by definition, so vocals will suffer by default. Even the best singer in the world sounds better sans instrument versus playing an instrument simultaneously. Therefore, a vocal harmony pedal -- even a vocal doubling pedal -- is an extremely useful performance-enhancing drug, err, effect.

A guitar equipped with A Little Thunder guitar pickup will ably fill the roles of rhythm guitar and bass. I shape the guitar sound with an AC Tone overdrive pedal, and I shape the bass sound with a bass overdrive pedal, set at 100% dry. I also have a Flashback delay/looper pedal to loop any bass parts, in case I want to play a guitar solo. When one has to fill the roles of both guitar, bass, and vocals simultaneously, that person is well-aware of creating a clear separation among all three frequency "pockets." For me, I try to make the bass as fat-bottomed yet clear as possible, the guitar fuzzy and creamy to separate it from the bass, and I try to sing in such a way to cut through the mix. Most (non-professional or beginning) bands don't sound good because the individual instrumentalists tend to step on each other's toes -- heavily-distorted guitar that interferes with the bass frequencies, a vocalist with the same frequency range as the guitar tone, etc. -- and the mix just gets muddy. But I digress ...

You can either strap a kick drum to your back and a tambourine to your ass, or you can program a bunch of generic drum patterns to a drum machine with a control pedal. I chose to pursue the latter option. I must note that all these bits of electronic gear can be battery operated or use an AC adapter. I purchased a bunch of rechargeable batteries over the years, so my one-man band setup is fully portable. Anyhow, I have a couple of LED light units that sort of interact with the drum machine and the "full band" to trigger LED lights, for a simple light show that adds so much to a live performance. It's really the little things -- a harmony vocal, the thump of a pseudo-bass guitar, and some blinky lights -- that can turn any performance into a "show."

With lots of Velcro, I placed all these bits of gear on a Pedaltrain Pro, but something felt missing.

It's one thing to decorate randomly with several strings of LED lights; it's another thing to decorate the pedalboard itself with lights! To do this requires some basic, yet tedious, wiring skills. If you don't have these things already, you might want to purchase:

1. Safety googles,
2. Soldering iron,
3. (Thin) solder,
4. Wire, in one or more colors (I used red, white, and black),
5. Wire stripper,
6. Third hand (alligator clips with a magnifying glass),
7. Heat gun,
8. Shrink tubing,
9. Velcro,
10. Ruler or tape measure,
11. Pencil, pen, or Sharpie marker,
12. Scissors and/or guillotine paper cutter,
13. Extra RBG LED connectors,
14. LED light controller, and of course,
15. Roll(s) of strip RGB LED lights.

There are solder points every three or so sections in a strip of LED lights. I wanted to make two squares of lights on my pedalboard, so I cut eight one-foot lengths of LEDs. There are four connections for each segment (Voltage, Red, Green, and Blue), so I cut several pieces of wire, with the length of a few inches. I stripped both ends of the wire with a wire stripper, and I prepared the wire by tinning.

Be sure to wear safety goggles to protect your eyes.

Tinning wire is easy, as long as your soldering iron is hot. Use your third hand (it's a piece of equipment with alligator clips and a magnifying glass) to hold a piece of wire. With one hand, move the tip of the soldering iron up the length of the exposed wire. At the same time, with your other hand, move the solder up the length of the same exposed wire, on the other side of that same wire. The soldering iron should heat the exposed wire, which in turn, melts the solder on the other side, allowing the molten solder to flow around the exposed wire -- turning a braid into a single tinned piece of wire.

Now it's time to connect the LED segments. Keep that soldering iron hot! As mentioned earlier, there are four connections: Voltage, Red, Green, and Blue. It probably depends on the manufacturer, but the strips I used had the following connections in this order: DC 12V, Blue, Red, and Green. Be sure the wiring between LED segments lines up correctly. Also pay attention to the wiring of the connectors, as they might not be in the same order as the strips. The connectors I used contained this order: Blue, Red, Green, and DC 12V. You probably don't want a color change between LED strips, which happened to me while preparing these lights. In my situation, there was some diagonal wiring involved. As long as you connect Blue to Blue, Red to Red, Green to Green, and Voltage to Voltage, you should be OK.

This is the tricky part. If your LED lights have a waterproof protector over the four connector pads, you will want to cut that clear bit of plastic off to expose the connections. The exposed circuit board is a frail bit of paper and copper, so make sure your soldering iron is hot! A hot soldering iron will only need a moment to connect the tinned wire. Keeping the iron on the circuit board for a long period of time will burn the circuit board. You do not want to burn off the copper connection, thus rendering that segment useless. (Believe me and my trial and error experience!) That being said, use your third hand to hold either the wire or the LED segment. press the tinned wire onto the end of the exposed copper pad. Press the tip of your soldering iron onto another area of that exposed copper pad. The heated pad should melt the tinned wire onto the pad.

There are four types of connections -- Voltage, Blue, Red, and Green -- and I only had three colors of wire on hand. You can do this with only one color of wire, as long as you pay attention to your wires. I used black wire for Voltage, white wire for Blue, red wire for Red, and another white wire for Green. I just had to pay attention to differentiate Blue from Green.

When you're done with wiring one set of wires to a LED segment, wire the other end with another LED segment. Make sure Voltage connects with Voltage, and each color connects with the same color. Now, test that connection. Make sure both segments can create red light, blue light, green light, white light, etc. If it's good, then protect your connection. Sheathe a length of shrink tubing over the first soldered area. Use a heat gun to shrink the tubing. Repeat over the second soldered area. You could also shrink tube the entire length between segments, but I find that the wires are more flexible without the shrink tube. I just use shrink tubing to protect my soldered connections.

Repeat the process until you have enough wired segments for your project. If one of your LED segments has a connector already wired, you don't have to worry about diagonal wiring, as mentioned earlier.  If you have to wire a connector, look at the factor-wired connector as an example because you might need to wire the Voltage diagonally or something. In any case, always test your connections to see (1) if they light up and (2) if the lights are the same color.

I wanted to make two LED "squares" on my pedal board. Each LED "square" consists of a factor-wired connector on one segment, wired to a second segment, wired to a third segment, wired to a fourth segment, diagonally wired to another connector. The back of the LED strips uses a 3M adhesive of varying quality. My pedalboard's surface has carpet-like Velcro material on it. Using a ruler, a Sharpie, and a guillotine paper cutter, I cut lengths of the hard Velcro material to adhere onto the LED strips. Then I Velcro'd the LED strips onto the pedalboard. Now I have the option to adjust the shape of my LED lights, if needed.

As mentioned earlier, each "square" contains connectors on both ends. One LED controller, which reacts to low frequencies, connects to one square, and I have the option of connecting additional LED strips to the end of that square. Another LED controller, which reacts to loud sounds (high frequencies, usually), connects to the other square, and I have the option of connecting additional LED strips to the end of that square. The sync isn't perfect, but here it is in action with my drum machine:

A video posted by Ryan DeRamos (@ryan_deramos) on

If you play with by yourself with a full-band sound and have some bright lights to complement the performance, you really can't go wrong. Well, one might hypothetically suck at playing live music. That might be a problem. Practicing might help.

In any case, at least my dog likes it.

P.S. This post contains affiliate links for stuff you might not need generally, unless you're into wiring LED lights and rockin' out and whatnot.