Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Let's go to Germany

Germany has not only the best economy in the world--but also some of the coolest things to see, eat, and do as well.  I just recently discovered Miniatur Wunderland, the world's largest mini train set in the world.  You may scoff and say "who cares, train sets are for babbys." but an exception should be made for this one.  The level of detail and recreation is amazing.  Check out these screen captures I took for instance:

These shots look so real it's insane.  Miniatur Wunderland is evidently a pretty big tourist attraction--no surprise.  Check out the vid below to see the shots above in full motion and prepare to be blown away:

Also, while you're in Europe you should take a ride on something amazing.  In the mountains of Europe (at skiing destinations during the summer?) there are apparently lifts you can ride which take you up to a high elevation to do whatever it is you intend to do at the top of a mountain, hike? take pictures? Nope, ride lifts only to come back down on an alpine coaster!

The alpine coaster is an amazing concept and consists of a single car equipped with a simple seat belt and hand brake, floating on a monorail track ~1 meter off the ground through dense forest.   There's video of one below in Austria and it looks like the most fun ever--I'd want to travel there just for the sake of experiencing this thing.  Maybe one day... (つ-̩̩̩-̩̩̩_-̩̩̩-̩̩̩)

Watch out for deer!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

SC2 Spectre Cosplay: Legs 9

Smoothing the legs continues and I think I may have reached my breaking / satisfaction point.  I forgot to add the raised detail bits on the sides of the legs earlier so the preliminary version of these detail bits were added (seen below).  The next step will be to sand and shave them to spec, which may be extremely difficult because they're hollow (pepakura shells underneath apoxie sculpt).

In the disaster strikes update (#7) I mentioned that I couldn't get my feet into the modified shoes until after cracking the fiberglass shell at the top.  Continuing from that point, I cut out the fiberglass formwork and constructed a new piece from sintra (closed-cell PVC foamboard) and glued it into place.  The new piece was extruded outwards about an inch to give sufficient clearance for my foot when trying to put the shoes on--and it works, I don't need to cut chunks out of my feet now!  Seams were filled with apoxie sculpt and will be sanded down later.  Next steps will involve lots of bondo, shaping, and sculpting again.

Here's the reference again:

Saturday, January 21, 2012

SC2 Spectre Cosplay: Legs 8

So the current state of the Spectre project is that progress on the shoes are currently on hold for now.  I think the current plan is to cut out and remove the pep/fiberglass material and build a similar shape out of sintra (pvc sheeting) that's spaced out from the shoe itself.  Once that's done and looks good I'll begin work on smoothing out the exterior of the shoes.

I've also been slowly trying to smooth out the legs more and more.  I found there to be a lot of holes in the body filler that require filling with apoxie sculpt and the entire process is a gigantic pain.  I don't know if it's my bad technique but I find the body filler to be extremely sticky--setting way too fast.  If I try to smooth out an area that I've applied material over, the filler will catch on my spreader as I make a second smoothing pass and mess up the surface.

I also nearly forgot to add the raised detail slats to the sides of the legs--so I'll do that, make some finishing touches, and then determine where to cut slices out of the legs so that I can actually wear them.  It's gonna be pretty nerve wracking making cuts after I've spent so much time getting the legs to this point.  Not sure how I'm planning to fasten them to my legs either, might need to make two cuts or a single giant cut through the entire backside.

Monday, January 16, 2012

SC2 Spectre Cosplay: Legs 7 (Disaster Strikes)

It's been a while since I've been able to work on my cosplay stuff due to going to ALA last week, work stuff, and the horrid weather here in Seattle.  It's been snowing a bit here but I can't sit through the entire season without making any progress--so I'm taking baby steps.

Last I left off, I was working on the Spectre's shoes and I mentioned how well the pepakura model fit to some dress shoes I had laying around.  Well, I went and filled the gaps with some flexible expanding foam (great stuff by the way), let the foam cure, trimmed the excess, and went to try putting them on... which is when disaster strikes.  Apparently binding the pepakura model to the shoe and reinforcing them together made the "tongue" of the shoe completely rigid, meaning there's no way my foot would go in unless you were to slice an inch off the tops of my arches.  This isn't cool at all because they're starting to look cool, or I should rephrase, they're starting to look like something at least.  I tried shoehorning my foot in, but the rigid tongue / fiberglass combo was cutting into my foot.  I eventually pried hard enough and got my foot to squeeze in after cracking the pepakura model in several places.  I'll need to somehow repair the top bit and make it bigger without making the underlying shoe rigid--hopefully it's doable. 

I also spent some time focusing on smoothing out 1 of the legs (the better one) and I think that maybe it's nearly there (the other is hideous right now and will be worked on later).  It's feeling impossible getting the thing perfectly smooth and round and I feel like I might be wasting my time trying to do so.  So I'm hoping to get it a little better than how it's picture below and then prepping it for paint as I believe the painted finish is pretty much 90% of what determines the quality of a piece as a perfect prop with a mediocre paint job will look infinitely worse than a less-than-perfect prop with an outstanding paint job. 

That just leaves into question whether I have any painting skills... I dunno, lol.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Anime LA 2012 - 02

Here's the second and final installment to the ALA video series.  As I mentioned in the previous post, I didn't capture nearly enough footage as I should have so scene lengths are a bit longer than I'd like in this video.  I feel there's still some good stuff in there though.  Check it out below:

Anime LA 2012 - 01

This past weekend I attended Anime LA to do a little video work as it's been quite a long time since my last project.  I was only present for a couple days but still had a good time meeting some really cool people, checking out awesome cosplays, and discovering YouTube celebrities.  It was a pretty wild event to say the least, with people partying round-the-clock and lots of interesting sights around every turn.

I went to the event pretty ambitious with lots of ideas and goals and while I wasn't able to achieve most of them I tried to make the most of my time.  The convention was confined to a very small-area packed full of people with the general surroundings being somewhat unfit for extensive varied video work.  I wasn't able to shoot video with everyone I'd hoped and there were those that I wanted to shoot with but could not find them / they would disappear in an instant.  As a result, I didn't get much footage from the event which I'm regretful over.  I mostly seemed to shoot video of friends or friends of friends and a few people that were already being singled out by photographers.  My goal is to try and be more proactive in capturing more people.

I collected footage for at least 1 video, maybe 2 but that may be pushing it we'll see.  The embed is below:

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Back and better than ever [ver. Storytime]

I'm finally back from an extended vacation in Arizona where I didn't really do much so it may prove to be difficult to get back into the swing of things. Everything is pretty much as was left (I was gone only 2 weeks after all). Arizona was very dry and a bit warmer than Seattle. Tucson was pretty much unchanged which isn't necessarily a good thing because everything was the same, just more weathered, deteriorated, and foreclosed--a pretty stark contrast to Seattle which especially in the university area is seeing lots of new growth, building, and renovations. I met some new people and saw a few movies and chilled for the most part. Upon coming back, the transition from life in Tucson to life in Seattle brought back some horrid memories of my first year in Seattle in 2007 which causes me to cringe each time I think about what I had to deal with.  Why don't I relate to you this graphic story in detail.

It's a pretty interesting tale of disgust, naivety, and warning--so stay a while and listen... The story begins in the Summer of 2007, I had just recently graduated from university with a bachelors in chemistry and possessed an air of optimism after accepting an invitation to attend grad school in Seattle. Maybe I was a bit too optimistic at the time, regardless, the plan was to find an apartment and then drive from Tucson to Seattle to begin my "new life" as a grad student. Finding an apartment in an expensive city isn't the easiest thing to do when on a limited budget, especially when you're searching from out of state.

The search began and ended on Craigslist (after ages of fruitless searching for units that would rent "sight unseen"--which is a smart decision on the part of the landlord). I had to expand my search to basement / MIL units in which the homeowner is typically the landlord and use this flexibility to find a unit. In a perfect world, I would have flown out to Seattle and apartment hunted like mad, however, this method doesn't guarantee results unless you have deep pockets and I had no such luxury. Regardless, I eventually found a basement unit with a landlord that was willing to rent to me, I requested lots of pictures to ensure I wouldn't be moving into a total dump when I arrived. 

I was sent a couple pictures (see above) and after seeing them at the time I thought, "hmm, this isn't so bad... the lease is only a year anyway, I can use this place as a temporary gateway to somewhere better after I learn the city better."  And so the start of a year long horror story began.

I embarked on the 24 hour drive from Tucson to Seattle split between two days and arrived in Seattle ready to move into my new place.  I ring the landlord and for whatever reason they aren't expecting me yet and I can't move in because they're letting their friend stay in my space so I have to wait a few days for this random guy to vacate...  Awesome-strike number 1.  I'm forced to burn money on a hotel for a while.  A few days later I'm allowed to move in and I'd finally get to see the cave where I'd be spending the next year.  Suffice to say, much like the pictures revealed, the unit wasn't the nicest place in the world.  But like any corrupted salesman, there were things hidden from view in the original pictures.  I took a few pictures of my own to give a small sampling of what I had to deal with initially.  I further reiterated the earlier notion that, "...the lease is only a year anyway, I can use this place as a temporary gateway to somewhere better after I learn the city better."  and I just dealt with it.  Red flags were going off everywhere but I tried to suppress them and determined that this would be a learning experience and after all, it's only a year.  To say this would be just a learning experience would be the understatement of the century--it would shortly become a nightmare of the century.

To provide a feel for the place and to reveal a few of it's many shortcomings, here are a few shots I took after looking at the place and before moving in.  The main door (main is key here) was trash and didn't seal at all which you can see in the first picture sent from the landlord above.  You could also probably smash your leg through the door should you desire to give it a loving kick.

It's nice having windows in an apartment and you'd think it would be normal for windows to be able to open, right?  Well these don't.  In fact none of the windows could open because both the hinges and opening mechanisms were slathered with disgustingly thick paint in an attempt to polish a white turd.  I don't know what they were thinking.

I'll talk about why this highlight is important shortly, but this bit was located in the small corridor / hallway between the kitchen and bedroom area and comprised of a gaping hole that was much larger than it looks in the photo.  Additionally, the hole "breathed" and air from some unknown location flowed through this hole.  That would be fine if it was just a light draft, however, the air flowing from this pit between the floors of the house was absolutely RANK--more on this later.

 See those water-stained wooden planks making up the stairs to the unit for the landlords above?  Yeah, they reeked of cat piss,  I'm pretty sure those were cat-piss stained planks.  Because the unit was a basement "apartment" there was a door connecting my unit to the landlord's house on the inside with the lock on the landlord's side (funny that).  They were nice enough to put the litter box on the other side of this door so I could breathe scat and piss fumes 24/7.  I later installed a latch on my side of the door to prevent the landlords from entering my unit.

This photo is shown to highlight the small grey bit that's cut-off.  That's the panel for the circuit breaker... for the entire house.  The house was seemingly never renovated / updated since sometime around the 1920s so the wiring in the house is garbage.  The landlords told me that if they run the toaster and the microwave or some combination of two different appliances, the breaker will trip.  But they said they know this and there shouldn't be a problem--otherwise they said they would call me and ask me to reset the breaker switches for them.  Surely if this were to happen they would call me and ask for my permission right? Right?! 

I should've just walked away after seeing how trashy this place looked and smelled.  I mean, I was actually in Seattle now, I could've gone and actually checked out different places in person instead of sight-unseen--but nope, I didn't for whatever reason.  I guess I was too much of a nice guy or rather too much of a pushover at the time to jump-ship after verbally stating prior that I'd take the apartment.  So I dealt with it, ALL of it; the smells, the drafts, the filth, the screaming babies (oh, did I forget to mention the landlords above me had not one but two screaming babies?), and the deafeningly loud sound of articles being dropped onto the floor.

I would go about my daily routine, waking up, going to school, coming home, dealing with the disgusting-ness of the apartment, trying to sleep, etc.  when I started to notice something.  It was a strange sound emanating from the walls but I couldn't really pinpoint it to a single location.  The walls of this place were paper thin so I wasn't sure if it was something I was hearing from above or elsewhere.  The sounds continued for a while--an eery scratch-like sound that was intermittent and moved.  The source eluded me for a while, until I noticed another clue under the pipes running through the ceiling (3 pictures above), there were flecks of poop under the opening of that hole.  I put two and two together and determine the place was infested with rats.  I told the landlords and they said they'd deal with it later.  I got my confirmation a little while later when I caught a whiff of something foul and acrid like death.  I followed my nose and it led me to the opening in the ceiling which had a giant tentacle hanging from it.  I jumped back and noticed the fat hairy body of a rat that was connected to it.  I blew at it to see if it was sleeping and would run off but it didn't--it was dead and rotting for who knows how long as I had noticed a smell for a while before spotting the rat's corpse (you can imagine how bad the place smelled if the faint smell of death was considered tolerable). 

I immediately ran over to my landlords' above to complain about the fact that their "home" was infested with rats and that there was a dead rat hanging from the hole in my ceiling.  The wife was home and I was expecting her to be shocked and disgusted but there was almost no reaction, she just asked me to show her.  So she follows me with one baby in grasp and the other in tow at her side.  Still no reaction when she sees the dead rat and she just grabs one of my chairs and asks me for some gloves, so I give her my rubber dish-washing gloves and she tries to dislodge the rat... but it's stuck.  Then she asks for a pen--I should have known better than to give her anything of mine but I obliged and she uses it like a crowbar trying to pry it out all with one hand (remember, all of this is going on with one child in her arms and the other being a derp around the chair she's standing on).  She finally dislodges the rat a bit and hands me the pen (which I want nothing to do with at this point) and begins pulling the rat free.  I don't know what she was expecting or what she was thinking during this whole process but as the decomposing rat breaks free, festering rat juice gushes out of the rat and the ceiling opening onto my chair and the floor.  I'm speechless after witnessing this spectacle and I'm massively disgusted.  She takes the rat and leaves and says she'll have pest control set traps, leaving me to deal with the rotting rat juices.  Awesome-strike number 2 (but who's counting).

The next nightmarish scenario woke me up from a nightmare.  Remember the circuit breaker in the last photo above?  The one that controls power to the entire house?  It was during a weekend morning, my bed lies opposite the wall containing the circuit breaker panel, and I'm woken up to the loud clacking sound of SOMEONE INSIDE MY ROOM WHILE I'M SLEEPING flipping random breaker switches.  I'm pretending to be asleep at this point and I notice it's the landlord-wife again flipping all the switches like an idiot and actually resets my computer during the process.  Each time I think back to this event I'm baffled as to how absolutely insane my landlords were.  They made no attempt to contact me by either first knocking the door or second calling my phone but instead choosing to break and enter my apartment WHILE I'M STILL INSIDE.  I constantly think about what would've happened if I'd have sprung up out of bed suddenly and confronted her.  I don't know how many times this has happened while I wasn't home and it disgusts me to think about it.  It's illegal for a landlord in Seattle (and probably everywhere) to enter any unit without getting the permission of the tenant at least 24hrs in advance and the landlord must pay a fine to the tenant each time it happens.  The fact that the landlord never called me for permission to enter tells me that this has probably happened many times previously and that the landlord would rather pretend it never happened if she can get away with it.

The final straw that broke the camel's back occurred shortly after all these events.  It was early spring and Seattle was experiencing fairly heavy and saturating rainfall.  I'm walking from my room to the kitchen while wearing socks and I step in something wet and cold.  I look at the bottom of my sock and its stained dark brown and smells like diarrhea.  I noticed the dark putrid patches everywhere now and try to soak them up with towels but the wet spots can't be dried and they begin to fill my entire apartment with diarrhea stench.  I immediately complain to the landlord above and the landlord-husband comes down and merely says that he'll have his wife clean the mess.  One day passes, two days pass, three days pass, a week passes, the diarrhea spots begin to grow all sorts of mold.  Awesome-strike number 3.

At this point I can't take it anymore and call the Seattle housing authority to file a complaint that my living situation is unlivable.  I provide my address so they can send an inspector and then a revelation is discovered which explains everything.  They can't find any permit records for the unit I'm living in which basically means I had been living in an illegal rental unit all this time.  At this point I'm feeling optimistic that I'll be able to break the lease and go somewhere else.  The inspector comes and finds all sorts of problems with the unit: no separate heating system (the entire time my unit was at the mercy of whatever settings the landlords above me had), shoddy electrical wiring, holes in the ceiling, gaps in the doors and walls, no permits, etc. etc.  Then the kicker came, the inspector would have to provide the report to the landlord and provide sufficient time for the landlords to make sufficient repairs to fulfill the requirements to apply for a rental permit, etc.  If the landlords couldn't make repairs and apply for the permit by a certain date the lease could be broken.  However, the landlords applied for and were granted extensions which prevented me from leaving but at that point I had dealt with enough from the slumlords, found a nice new place elsewhere, and was forced to double pay rent for the final month. As the lease was about to expire the slumlords had the nerve to tell me that rent would  be going up if I chose to extend my lease--what a joke. 

The moral of the story is; don't do what I did.  Never buy or rent anything without seeing and inspecting it in detail and keep records of everything.  The whole experience provided for a ridiculous story but I'd rather not have had the experience.  That's it for this storytime.  There may be more in the future.