Saturday, November 24, 2012

Wine 16.02

So, haven't been very diligent about posting wine reviews, I know.  I thought I'd do a more educational entry this time.  At a recent cave tasting in Napa, I learned (it was probably obvious to many others) that wine labels actually MEAN something.  It's not just branding plus artwork.  Here is a PDF that more specifically explains it in pictures.

Essentially, if a wine is said to be from "California" or "Central Coast" or "Northern Coast," that means the grapes could have come from a bunch of places all over California, then just machine blended together and fermented in some factory location.  If it was from specifically Napa Valley (a vintner-designated appellation), or Calistoga (a sub-appellation within Napa Valley), then 85% of the grapes had to be from that region.  If it says "Estate Grown" or "Estate Vinted" that means that all the wine was made on the premises of the winery, which must be in the same area as the wine is grown.  

At the moment, my goal is to memorize the 16 different sub-appellations of Napa Valley, so that when I go there I have more of an understanding of what to expect from wineries in different regions.  Artesa, for example, is in Los Carneros, which is better known for its Chardonnay than, say, Calistoga, which is primarily known for it's red wine varietals.  In some areas because of the soil the grapes are smaller and the flavor is more concentrated, higher skin to fruit ratio, etc.  

The real test: We avoided all "vague" locations on the wines we bought from Safeway, and will be sampling them over the next month.  We will see if they are up to snuff.  They were also, for the record, all under $20.  No need to spend exorbitantly for wine.

On another note, I made a modified-ginger martini last night with the new Platinum Russian Standard vodka we bought (as opposed to just normal Russian Standard, our usual vodka) and I gotta say - it is definitely smoother.  I was able to swish the martini in my mouth and the tingling sensation was only due to the ginger syrup.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Random Recipes 15.04

Well time for another recipe - this is based on the post on the blackberry pie.  This time, it's a cranberry and pear pie.  I made a few variations on the original recipe, so we shall see how it turns out.

1 pkg fresh cranberries
5 overripe pears, skinned, cored, and sliced
1.5 cups brown sugar
1 egg
White sugar (as needed for crust)
2 tbsp corn starch
1/4 tsp salt

Check a previous "Random Recipes" entry for the recipe for the criss-cross crust.

For the filling:
Mix the sugar and cranberries in a sauce pot and simmer on medium heat until the cranberries have burst and become more sauce-like.  Add the corn starch and salt, and the pears to the pot, stir gently until well blended, then take off heat.

For the crust: 
Prepare as before, mix the egg with as much white sugar as you want to glaze the crust on top, and then bake at 400 degrees 30 minutes uncovered and then 20-30 minutes covered (to protect the crust).

Verdict now that it has mostly cooled:  Might filter out some of the liquid next time, the filling isn't super solid, but it's quite tasty.  ^_^

Monday, November 12, 2012

Cocktails 12.04

Well, I am about to install a new OS/MOD on my phone... so I think just to be super duper safe, then I shall put all my "custom" made or found drinks up here - the non-IBA ones basically.

Absinthe Garden: 1 1/2 oz Vodka, 1/2 oz Absinthe, 1/2 oz Lemon Juice, 1/2 oz Agave Nectar, Club Soda, 3 pieces cucumber, 2 pieces basil

Acai Martini: 1.5 oz (Acai) Vodka, 1 oz cranberry juice, 1 oz acai juice or puree, 3 blueberries

April in Paris: 1 oz Rye Whiskey, 1 splash orange juice, 1 splash rose water, 1 splash lemon juice, 1 maraschino cherry

Blue Hawaii: 2 oz bacardi light rum, 2 oz blue curacao, 2 oz sour mix, 6 oz pineapple juice

Boomer Bile: 1 oz midori, 3/4 oz green chartreuse, 1/2 oz rye whiskey, 3/4 oz sour mix, 4 oz 7-up

Chocolate Top: 2 oz chocolate liqueur, 1 oz amaretto, 1 1/3 oz whipped cream, shaved dark chocolate

DOM Tonic: 2 1/2 oz benedictine, 2 oz grapefruit juice, tonic water

El Presidente: 2 oz dark rum, 1/2 oz dry vermouth, 1/2 oz orange chartreuse, 1/4 oz grenadine, 2 dashes angostura bitters

Fog Cutter: 1 1/2 oz dark rum, 1/2 oz Cognac VSOP, 1/2 oz gin, 1 oz lemon juice, 3/4 oz orange juice,1/2 oz orgeat syrup

Freeman Fizz: 1 1/2 oz gin, 1 oz sour mix, 1/4 oz lime juice, club soda or tonic water, a dash of grenadine to color.

French Gimlet: 2 oz gin, 1 oz st-germain, 1/2 oz lime juice

French Rose: 3/4 oz st germain, 1 1/2 oz vodka, 1 oz grapefruit juice, 2oz club soda, 2 dashes rose water

French Ginger Martini: 2 oz pear vodka, 3/4 oz st germain, 3/4 oz benedictine, 1/4 oz lime juice, 1/3 oz ginger syrup

Kit's Polar Bear: 1 oz blue curacao, 2 oz bacardi light rum, 6 oz sprite

Lambda Core-tini: 1 1/2 oz gin, 2/3 oz midori 2/3 oz triple sec, 3 dashes orange bitters, club soda

Monk's Sour: 2 oz benedictine, 1/2 oz lemon juice, 1 dash orange bitters, 1/3 oz egg white, nutmeg

Parisian Mule: 2 oz brandy, 1/2 oz lime juice, 5 oz ginger beer

Pear Tree Martini: 1 1/2 oz pear vodka, 1 1/2 oz st germain, 1/2 oz lime juice, 1 dash angostura bitters

Pom Sunrise: 2/3 oz benedictine, 1 oz vodka, 1 oz pomegranate juice, 2 oz fresh squeezed tangerine juice, 2 dashes angostura bitters

Rum Sidecar: 2 oz dark rum, 3/4 oz cointreau or triple sec, 3/4 oz lemon juice

St. Germain Cocktail: 2 oz dry sparkling wine, 1 1/2 oz st germain, 2 oz club soda, 1 lemon peel

St. Germain Kir Blanc: 1/2 oz St Germain, white wine

Sunset Sarsaparilla: 1 dash absinthe, 2 oz rum (dark or spiced), 3 oz + root beer, 1 dash grenadine

The Courier: 1 1/2 oz vodka, 1/2 oz dry vermouth, 1/2 oz bourbon whiskey, 4 dashes angostura bitters, 1 dash grenadine, 1/2 oz agave nectar, 1 dash allspice

The Donaghy: 2 oz bourbon whiskey, 1 oz brandy, 1/4 oz green chartreuse, 6 dashes angostura bitters, 1/2 oz lemon juice

The Gypsy: 1 1/2 oz gin, 3/4 oz st germain, 1/2 oz green chartreuse, 1/2 oz lime juice

The Head Crab: 2 oz kraken black spiced rum, 5 oz ginger beer, 1/2 oz grenadine

The Knock Out: 1 1/2 oz cognac VSOP, 1 oz cointreau, 1/2 oz pineapple juice, 1/2 oz cranberry juice

The Lemon: 2 oz bacardi light rum, 8 oz sprite, 1 oz lemon juice

The Winchester: 3 oz gin, 3/4 oz st germain, 3/4 oz grapefruit juice, 3/4 oz lime juice, 1/2 oz grenadine, 1/4 oz ginger syrup, 1 dash angostura bitters

Twisted Nutty Rum: 1 1/4 oz dark rum, 1 1/4 oz frangelico, 1 1/4 oz sweet vermouth, 1 piece orange

Ward 8: 2 oz rye whiskey, 1/2 oz lemon juice, 1/2 oz orange juice, 1/4 oz simple syrup, 1 tsp molasses

For my records anyhow...

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Writing 17.01

A new topic - writing.  I've done a lot of writing in the past, mostly for myself, mostly fantasy stuff.  I can safely say I'm a decent writer.  My personal statements have always been very successful, and English was an enjoyable class.  Since I'm going to have a lot of down time between interviews this month, and it is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I think I will finally take on the challenge of writing a good, long, well-structured novel.  The problem I have always found with novels and stories in general is ending them.  I could go on and on, think of new things, never really have a good story arc that feels complete.  I plan to PLAN this novel more than past attempts, and try to have a very well-developed world in which it is set.  Too often do I focus on the characters themselves, rather than the context in which they are living.  And ultimately, the context is what makes many novels memorable and enjoyable.  Harry Potter vs Twilight - the most context we get from Twilight is "It's rainy and dark and there are forests nearby and I hate this place!  It's all about glittering Edward" vs Harry Potter has huge banquet halls decked with floating candles, the grounds and the forest, multiple classrooms that are visited over and over, changing stair cases, and summers spent in a hellish Muggle relative's house.  The setting brings characters to life.  Not to mention more details about the world they live in and how it functions.  The Ministry of Magic is far more detailed than the Vampire-ati who live in Italy and are randomly tacked on to the second novel and play random roles here and there.

I won't belabor my point - I'm sure most serious authors can look at Harry Potter and Twilight and point out numerous reasons why one is superior to the other.  Anyhow, I think I've decided that my setting will be 1760's North America, East Coast, will occur within the greater context of the conflicts between the Natives and the French, the colonists and Great Britain (but in the same way that Hamlet took place in the greater context of a war), and will touch on subjects such as witch trials, apothecaries and alchemy, werewolves (but not in a particularly romanticized fashion), racism and sexism, religiosity and a growing subset of deists and agnostics, the natural world, and perhaps other things as come to mind.  Needless to say there is much research to be done, and fleshing out of primary and supporting characters, but I think this will be fun.  I made a minor attempt at a story similar to this but it was solely for personal gratification and had no real structure lain out.  Hopefully I'll be able to get a lot of writing done, and not just planning and research, but dammit I want to do this right!  It will give me a lot of good stuff to do while on the interview trail, as I'll be spending many nights away from home and it's good to have something else to focus on besides the pressure of appearing to be the ultimate applicant for a family residency program.

Halloween 13.10

The long awaited completion of my project has come and gone!  Here are the pictures.  I got most everything online, trimmed my hair a little, put it all on, added makeup and some cool poses, and we have Chell!  For the record - I do have the dark gray shorts on underneath, but they just aren't that visible and I didn't want to cut my Aperture tank top since I like it, so that didn't seen as much as I would have liked.

 Some pics of the real Chell for comparison - definitely worked out well.  The boots came loose right at the end of the night but that was after we were walking back to the car.  Overall - one of the more involved costumes I've done.  Don't know what will be in store next year!  For now, the ASHPD (Aperture Science Hand-held Portal Device) will have to sit on my bookshelf, as a relic of Halloween '12 and homage to one of my favorite games ^_^

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Random Recipes 15.03

Well I have been making more food of late - it is pretty awesome.  I have to say - Martha Stewart really lives up to the hype.  Insider trading or no, and regardless of cooking training, her recipes are amazing, not to mention the website layout is gorgeous and each recipe has a picture with it.  Here are my latest conquests:

Mushroom and Scallion Frittata - I had to substitute sweet yellow onion and green onions for scallions since Safeway didn't have any scallions, and the baking time was more like 25 minutes than 15.  Word of warning: When it's baking the cheese puffs up insanely high - about 3-4 inches, it looks like a balloon - but it obviously falls quite nicely.

Double Chocolate Brownies - Secret ingredient is 1/4 cup prune puree - I actually couldn't find prune puree so I got canned prunes and pureed them myself at home.  They had seeds so I had to fish those out, but it worked out pretty well.  If you cut it into 12 segments, you can be fairly certain that each one is about 200 calories.  That's another nice thing about many of Martha Stewart's recipes - she includes the calories.  And again, her website design is gorgeous, tasteful, simple.

There are plenty of other things I have been up to - I recently made Chocolate Apple Strudel from scratch and made pretzels for the first time - both of which were awesome.  I have collected over 100 recipes from Martha Stewart's main site and her more health-oriented site.  I must say I am a huge fan of these recipes.  They are very much in line with the way my fiance and I already cook, a lot of the tastes are similar, she really understands how practical people cook, without making it over-simplified.  As a disclaimer, I am not given any money for endorsing Martha Stewart or her magazines or websites - but I have to say these are fricking awesome recipes.  Probably more to come.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Cocktails 12.03

Okay, so...I love cocktails, obviously.  Here are a few new things I'm doing:

1.  Adding apple slices to Bourbon - specifically Maker's Mark.  Normally I get Woodford Reserve, but I thought I'd try something different and read that Maker's Mark was reasonably priced and similar quality.  After tasting, I do agree - but it is slightly drier than the Woodford.  I found an article online saying to add apple slices to Whiskey to make it smoother, so I did just that.  Currently my Maker's Mark is sitting in my cupboard with lots of apples in it and in about 5 days I will start deciding whether to take them out.

2.  Homemade Vodka Infusions - I had already tried homemade chocolate vodka with a friend of mine - it turned out quite good.  So, rather than buying a full bottle of an infusion that likely contains artificial ingredients, I thought I would just infuse directly.  I have a few mason jars set aside right now with Russian Standard vodka plus finely diced asian pear, blackberries, and melted semi-sweet ghiradelli chocolate.  All looks good so far!

3.  Homemade Ginger Syrup - This took the most time.  After finely dicing the ginger, I set it to simmer in about 3-4 cups of water.  I let it simmer probably for a good hour.  I used the not-to-the-point-of-boiling water to melt my chocolate for the aforementioned chocolate vodka.  After all that, I added 2/3 cup sugar and started it boiling and hand-blended the ginger, since it was now very soft.  After that, and it was reduced to about 2.5 cups, I filtered it and then replaced it back into the pot and boiled it down to almost fill one of those small glass bottles used for tonic water and club soda.  It has a dark gray-brown color to it.

Cocktail: The French Ginger Martini

2 oz Asian Pear Vodka (Homemade)
1/2 oz Ginger Syrup (Homemade)
1/2 oz St Germain Elderflower Liqueur
1 dash Agave Nectar
1 dash Benedictine
1 dash Lime juice

Shaken with ice for a good 30 seconds or so - then strained into a chilled cocktail glass.  Ideas for garnish include a twist of lemon, a lime wedge, or crystallized ginger cube.  

Taste?  AMAZING.  The ginger is so potent - It is spicy but the good kind of spicy, tastes fresh and invigorating, and this is probably one of my best martini cocktails - right up there with my Acai Martini, likely to be renamed "Berry Martini" once I use my (currently brewing) blackberry vodka in the mixture.  Honestly, I should sell this damn cocktail recipe it's that fricking amazing.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Halloween 13.09

Mission accomplished: I now have in my possession a home-made aperture science hand-held portal device!!!  Here are the finished pictures.

You can probably tell by my face I'm pretty excited about this.  I'm glad my fiance talked me into going for the red lights (which I thought would be too difficult to do) - they look pretty cool.  A big thank you goes to him for helping with the electronics.  I'm good with my hands but physics and electromagnetism has never been my forte.  Here are some more of the 'work in progress' pictures - should anyone want guidance on the final steps, you can post, but I really don't know that I can be much more helpful than thepropnerds on instructibles, without whom this project would never have happened!

*One thing I would like to note: I did order new spray paints - I was not satisfied with the quality of the previous ones, and I went with a flat black spray paint for the center piece over a glossy black.  Still got a glossy white for the shells.  Rust Oleum professional grade, up one level from the other Rust Oleum brand.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Halloween 13.08

Well, it has been a while since I updated on the progress I've made with the portal device.  Here are the latest pictures.  I've been repeatedly adding gesso to the white shells, ordered some new spray paint canisters (higher quality, I think I'll re-do the black center piece), and I got a plastic bottle that nearly fits the specs for the center portion.  It's a little snug, but I'd rather not have a piece of scotch tape going down one side of it.  We are working on the wiring, and I've got the three little nubbins almost ready for putting on the main white shell.  Soon we will have it done - just have to wait for the paint an wire strippers in the mail. has been our best friend during this trip - and since I got prime, we've been able to save on shipping, and our supplies arrive super fast!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Random Recipes 15.02

I suppose I'll qualify this by saying that random recipes is different from haute cuisine in that random recipes will pertain to everyday type dishes, and haute cuisine will be more elaborate or unique or aesthetic.  So, without further ado...

We got a box of miscellaneous produce recently, including eggplants, cucumbers, tomatoes, and a bunch of summer squash.  Tons of other things, but this is what we did with them...

1) Cucumber sandwiches:  8oz cream cheese, 1/4 cup cider vinegar, 1 tbsp chopped dill, garlic and onion powder.  Mix, spread on bread, place a single slice of cucumber on each piece, garnish with more cream cheese mixture and a sprig of dill, and dust with paprika.

2) Bruschetta: Diced tomatoes (cored, seeded), diced basil, olive oil/salt/pepper to taste - serve on slices of baguettes

3) Eggplant Parmesan: 2 eggplants, sliced, coated with skim milk and then bread crumbs (2 cups, mixed with  ~1 tsp of oregano, thyme, basil), baked on greased/sprayed cooking sheets for 20-30 minutes at 375 degrees.  Remove from oven.  In a 9x13 baking pan, put a layer of tomato sauce, then a layer of eggplants, then a layer of sauce, then a layer of mozzarella cheese, then repeat eggplant, sauce, and mozzarella cheese until using up the ingredients - then add a layer of grated parmesan on top, about 1/8 cup.  Bake at 375 for 40 minutes until bubbling and browned.

4) Herbed Summer Squash and Potato Torte with Parmesan: Mix 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (or 1/2 cup Parmesan, 1/2 cup Asiago), plus 1 tbsp fresh thyme, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, onion and garlic powder (1/2 tsp each), 3/4 tsp white pepper, and 2 tbsp flour.  Slice a bunch of potatoes (about 2 pounds) and summer squash (about same amount) into 1/8 inch slices.  Butter the bottom of the pan, you can use pie tins or anything really, and start with a layer of potato, then squash, then drizzle a little olive oil and add a thin layer of the cheese mixture.  Repeat again, potato-squash-cheese.  Finish with a layer of potato on top, press down to compact a bit, then add a final layer of cheese.  Bake for 40-70 minutes, cover first with tin foil then remove halfway through.  Bake until potatoes are tender and cheese on top is sufficiently crisp/browned.  

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Wine 16.01

Okay, I suppose this category has been a long time coming.  Amazing to think that perhaps 2 short years ago I essentially refused to drink wine, and now I drink it almost every day, go to Napa regularly for tasting, and am now on my second wine club.  The first was Sattui, which was pretty good, and now Hess - the maker of our favorite Cabernet Sauvignon (Allomi vineyard).  We like a lot of varieties - and I tend to go through phases regarding the reds - but one of our staples has always been Riesling.  Ever since we discovered Riesling wines at Sattui in Napa, and subsequent bottles of Chateau St. Michelle at Safeway, Rieslings have been our favorite white wine.  Not only does it taste great and is super affordable, but it's German in origin (we love German food, the language, the music, and the culture in general) and it's extremely versatile in food pairings.  

As far as red wines go, my fiance and I tend to differ in our tastes.  We usually agree on the Cabernet Sauvignons, but I am a fan of the fruitier reds, such as Zinfandels.  I also love Syrah and Petite Sirah, and went through a Merlot phase for a time.  Another grape I like is the Charbono and now the Carignan, a Spanish grape that is hard to find.  That is one of the things we love about the Hess winery - they make some small production varietals that you rarely see at the store, and they're all solid red wines.  

Anyhow, July has been chosen as the month of Rieslings, for some reason.  For more information, you can check out this website.  My fiance and I recently went to Hagafen cellars in Napa, and then to Brassica restaurant in St. Helena, because the restaurant was having a month of Rieslings special (a flight of 3 Rieslings, two German ones and one Napa).  The German rieslings have a distinct flavor - almost like mineral water vs softened water.  Anyhow, while perusing the list of restaurants on the website (and looking for affordable ones - Saison in San Francisco will not be in our price range for another 20 years...) I found Blackbird Kitchen and Bar in Sacramento.  They are offering a food and wine pairing, 3 Rieslings and 3 food pairings (mussels, trout, and peach cobbler) for 45 dollars per couple!  That's pretty affordable by our standards, so hopefully we'll have a chance to get out there in the next week or two.  

In the meantime, it being a hot summer day and all, I decided to open up one of our chilling Rieslings that we bought on a wine splurge at Bevmo.  This particular one is called Weingut Dr. Heyden Riesling 2009 Oppenheimer Sacktrager Auslese.  Most of the Rieslings we picked up from Bevmo were in the 15-20 dollar range, so this is more than we generally spend on wines that we haven't tasted at a winery.  Opened up the Dr. Heyden and it tastes great!  So now I have two others with twist tops in the refrigerator and we will sample from each of those as well.  The other two on the list are Monchhof Robert Eymael Mosel Slate Riesling-Spatlese, and the other is Kungfu Girl Riesling 2010 Washington State.  For those not familiar with Rieslings, their primary growing regions in the US are Washington (Colombia River Valley), some in Oregon, and fewer in California (mostly coastal).  I will list the tasting impressions from these three Rieslings below!

Weingut Dr. Heyden 2009 Oppenhyimer Sacktrager Auslese: Crisp, moderate sweetness, aroma of fresh apple.  Somewhat brisk feeling on the tongue, but smooth without a bite.  Flavor has hints of peach, honeysuckle, Fuji apple.  Short aftertaste, but medium-strong body.  Verdict:  Extremely good, would buy again.  Probably too sweet for those who prefer dry wines.

Monchhof Robert Eymael Mosel Slate Riesling-Spatlese: Slightly dry, moderate sweetness, aroma and flavor of green apple, slight tart flavor but not sour.  Short after taste, medium-light body.  Verdict: Quite good, but prefer the Dr. Heyden.

Kungfu Girl Riesling 2010 Washington State: Slightly dry, moderate sweetness, aroma and flavor of green apple, more tart and dry than the Monchhof, light body.  Verdict: Good but not my favorite.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Random Recipes 15.01

So, wild blackberries, if you have never tried them, are several standard deviations above store bought or typical cultivated blackberries as far as flavor and awesomeness.  I don't know why this is, but they are definitely different.  I used to pick blackberries at local patches all the time, and haven't done so in quite a while.  As luck would have it, we currently live near a lot of blackberry patches and I went out with my fiance yesterday and we picked about 2 pounds of blackberries.  With so many, I thought I might try my hand at making a pie.  I've only ever had a berry pie once before, so this was going to be interesting.  I made everything essentially from scratch, as follows:

Crust: 2 sticks butter (sliced and frozen), 2.5 cups flour, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp sugar, 6-8tbsp water - basically mix, I did it by hand, and then make two separate spheres and refrigerate for about an hour.

Filling: 3 tbsp corn starch, 4-5 cups blackberries, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tsp lemon juice - mix it all together

Covering: 1 egg, 1 tbsp water, sugar to a certain consistency - blend together separately until it has a somewhat grainy texture

It's pretty simple - roll one ball of the pie dough to about 11-12 inches in diameter for an 8-9 inch pie tin, I made it about 1/4 inch thick.  Put it in the pie tin.  Roll out the other dough ball, and cut strips about 1/2 - 3/4 inch wide, and 6-9 inches long.  Pour the filling into the pie.  Layer the dough strips across in an alternating fashion.  Take the egg-water-sugar mixture and paint the tops of the dough so it glistens a bit.  If you don't think the sugar is apparent enough, take some extra sugar and lightly dust the surface of the strips so it makes a coating.  

Oven at 400 degrees F, put in uncovered for 30 minutes, then cover with tin foil and put in another 20-30 minutes until you can see the surface of the filling sizzling or making a few bubbles.  

Take out, cool, enjoy.  

It passed the taste test now too - quite delicious.  Unfortunately I don't have much to compare it to, so who knows how good it really is, but the sweetest tastiest ripe wild fresh-picked blackberries I could find can't possibly be bad!  Nom nom nom.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Halloween 13.07

Another update on the Aperture Science Hand-held Portal Device - it is coming along.  I have the biggest parts all physically made.  It's about ready to put together but I need my fiance to figure out the LEDs.  The front ones will be a bit challenging - I'll have to run the wire underneath the center chamber and cover with electrical tape.  I'll have to adjust the widths of the circular bits holding the chamber in place.  The claws also look to be challenging as well.

I found my solution for filling in the tiny gaps in the shell was using gesso.  I've used it before but it brings back annoying memories of art class in high school.  Not that I was bad at it, I'm actually pretty decent with drawing and art in general, but being forced to do it my whole life by teachers and my mother has made me rather resent it.  Anyhow, using gesso has definitely smoothed the look of the small shell, so I'll continue with that.  Sand it then paint it one more time then spray paint it.

Here are the latest photos!  I also made a front mesh for the gun so it looks cool-ish.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Languages 14.01

I alluded to learning languages in an earlier post some time ago, but I found an online way to get me back into practice.

My boyfriend  fiance and I signed up a few months ago to participate in beta testing and I got an email a couple weeks ago inviting me to join the beta group.  My fiance didn't get an invite, but as a beta tester I got three invites, and brought a few friends in on it, including him.  I decided to start with Spanish, since I wanted to refresh my skills before starting rotations again - especially since one rotation has a doctor who I might become friends with, and he emphasizes Spanish-speaking patients in his practice.  I also wouldn't want to misrepresent myself as being "proficient in Spanish."  

It's a neat idea - I've leveled up to level 10 now, I believe.  You get to translate random things on the internet, in addition to doing lessons which teach you with a variety of media - audio, visual, writing and question answering...  They also make you repeat phrases into your microphone and confirm whether you are saying it right.  You can test out of certain basic things if you are more advanced.  The languages they offer currently are Spanish, French, and German (for English speakers), and English (for Spanish speakers).  When it becomes available to the general public, I highly recommend people try it out!

Self-Improvement 10.05

Been a while since I mentioned exercise, eh?  Well, the latest is that I haven't been doing that much - mostly because dieting has been taken a nice 10-13 pounds off my frame since January (I'm now at my ideal weight aesthetically, for what it's worth - I was never overweight).  Also, it's been sunnier longer, hotter during the day, and I've had a lot of studying and rotations that sucked all my energy - like driving to Stockton for 1.5 hours each way.  And staying there for 12 hours.  That was rough.

Anyhow, a friend of mine turned me onto, which, considering my gaming proclivities, aligned quite well with my goals.  I am now at level 3 and my general workout routines either involve body exercises (leg lifts, pilates variants, glut pushes, push-ups, squats) or light dumbbell routines for triceps and biceps.  I plan to add evening jogs in again, but it's not as fun since I'm not as into my music lately and I have no friends who will join me on runs.

Halloween 13.06

The portal gun is coming along - I haven't been as rigorous in taking pictures of every step because sometimes I just want to get through what I'm doing.  Especially when my hands are messy.  Here are the latest steps that have been completed:

So, the work is clearly moving forward.  In the final picture, the front white shell is not spray painted yet - I did that just a few moments ago, and it's sitting outside drying.  The next update will hopefully have both the shells prepared.  I also created a center portion for the nozzle, with a little design, but I need to figure out how to glue it in there.  Soon... soon...  

As a note, if I were to do this again I would probably get a flat black instead of a shiny black spray paint.  Also, unfortunately, the spackle is extremely hard to get completely smooth - I imagine Bondo is a better choice in that, since it probably doesn't form the little small air bubbles or chip off as much.  Either way though, I chose spackle for it's ease of use and lack of mixing requirements and slower drying time.  Plus this is a Halloween to closet or future bookshelf prop, not exactly a Comic Con or gamer-con prop.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Halloween 13.05

Continuing with the ASHPD - It is coming along about as expected.  Today I used the cut outs of some of my flashcards to mold the final part of the edge between the 3'' and 4'' pieces.  I was going to use superglue but discovered that the superglue that I had was all dried up so I ended up using a hot glue gun.  Glued those pieces on, each has a width of 1/2" and put the spackle in between.  Then filled in a bit and set it aside to dry.

The next step was using the hack saw to saw off the ends of the acrylic plunger handle.  It was a lot easier than I expected it to be, didn't take particularly long.  If you do it in a circumferential fashion you can just break the pieces apart when you've done enough.  Then I took some of the sandpaper (100 grit for purpose of records) and sanded it outside for a bit - again, didn't take too long.  There's still a line that I couldn't quite get sanded because of how it's manufactured, but that part can just be face down.  See the updated pictures below!

I think I will end up using the telescoping portion of the tube, on account of the thickness of the device I'm making isn't all that thick.  I could work on the front nozzle today, but...alas, studying and eating await.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Halloween 13.04

I have started construction on the Aperture Science Hand-held Portal Device.  The 4-inch wide telescoping mailing tube came, and it turns out this will be an even bigger boon than I originally anticipated.  The telescoping mailing tube, which I thought only telescoped at the front, completely separated after I cut the end off.  This means I can use the outer shell as the proximal holding piece and don't need to buy larger stuff. It is possible that I will change my mind after seeing how the different thicknesses compare - worst case, I buy two couplers of PVC pipe which are already the proper length and require no cutting.

On another note, at this point I'm glad I went with spackle paste instead of Bondo - a couple reasons.  First, it takes longer to dry.  This means I have longer to work with it and if I make mistakes I can easily fix it.  Second, since I'm not using PVC pipes for the more complicated parts, spackle should be plenty sufficient, where Bondo would have been overkill.  Third, it washes off my hands super easily.  Tomorrow I'll add on the wedges, after it's dry and I can superglue the base of the molding cards to part of the device.  I coated the inside of the device also with spackle, so I could sand it down and give it a better surface for spray painting.  We'll see if it sticks or just flakes off.

Ended up cutting most of it with a combination of the exacto knife and a handsaw.  Worked, but not super great - will need to clean up the edges a fair amount, but that shouldn't be too hard once the thing is mostly plaster.  When this part is complete, I'll get either use the telescoping part or buy some PVC pipes to get part two of the main frame figured out.  The third frame portion is the most challenging... it's the nozzle so-to-speak - but since the spackle is so easy to work with, this may work out okay.  The only concern I have at this moment is that there may be too much moisture in the spackle and it could deform the thick cardboard, but I have it in lid of the telescoping tube to hopefully keep its shape overnight.