Monday, February 28, 2011

Brand Consolidation

Well, I got into the social networking scene so that I wouldn't have to mess with my own website any longer.  But my brands are getting out of control.

I started another zazzle shop,*, so that I could get better versions of the t-shirts and bumper stickers than what I have on cafepress.  But there are whole lines of merchandise that zazzle just doesn't have.  I don't want to give someone a business card with both addresses, and I can only redirect my url (which I recently acquired) to one or the other.  So I'm going to have to set up a website that can sell products from both stores in a single location.

As for the photography, I've know for quite a while  that HFCSPhotography was a dead-end name.  Even people I know personally can't find it, because there's no easy-to-remember acronym behind the name, the letters don't spell anything you can pronounce, and F and S are two easy to confuse.  I had been trying to come up with some new name and a friend showed me a site called NameStation, which let me build domain names from large lists of words until I found one I liked.  I stuck "photo" in and ended up with two choices I liked; and  I like PhotoUprising better, and either one will work with targeted SEO and such.  But PhotoInterest will bring in more random search engine hits.  So I'm going to start working on rebranding as  If I can also find a way to have the branding change depending on the domain you hit, then I'll have both URL's work, and probably put PhotoUprising on marketing.  But if not, more traffic wins out of a name I like.

Unfortunately, and also one of the reasons I have to do this now, this means that I have to change my main facebook page, probably add another twitter feed, and I should really move my deviantART page.  If I am actively working on the site again, I can probably get away without deviantArt matching, but it's a dilution I could do without.  At the same time, I will lose all of the favorites and watchers I already have on deviantART if I switch, which will suck.

So, over the next few... month's, most likely... I will be changing things around.  This blog will probably remain the same.  I can't see creating a separate blog for BeadPimp, PhotoInterest, and my personal stuff.  I just can't see that I'll ever post that much.  At the same time, blogspot allows export of the blogs, so if I ever do post enough to justify splitting it out, I can.

Of course, one problem I have right now is that I'm not on any Microsoft systems at home any longer, but my old site is still  I've heard Mono handles very well, I just haven't tried it.  I'll probably go that direction with the photography site, simply because I have so much done already.  But I'm going to start out working with Apache and Wordpress for the BeadPimp merchandise.  If it's simple enough, maybe I'll convert the photography site over as well.

What it comes down to is that the social networking is a way for me to start truly working to get a little business going.  I wanted to make my life easier and avoid the hassles of running my own site.  But I'm not going to be able to run the photography site or the BeadPimp merchandise with it scattered all over the inter-world.  So I have to build a front door for both sides.  This time, I'm going to use as many pre-built pieces as I can, but I'm going to have to do some work regardless.  I'll still be posting to the blog and I'll still be posting on deviantART and facebook, so nothing's going to change much yet.  But keep an eye out, and I'll let you know when you should change any links.

Monday, February 21, 2011

deviantART Posting Tracker

A Macaw on deviantART
If you've read my post about my deviantART page, you'll know I'm trying to use it to promote my photos.  Part of that promotion is to get my photos in as many groups as possible.

There are other ways for people to see them.  As I post them, they show up on the main page as the "newest deviations".  They probably roll off of that page in a matter of minutes, though, since so many people post.  They will also show up if someone searches for particular keywords I set, or if they are viewing the "random" lists, although hits from either of those will be few and far between.  So I post to groups so that anyone watching the group gets a special notice about the image being posted.  Some of those groups have a thousand or more watchers, so that's a fairly large audience.  The problem is that each of those groups have their own posting guidelines and, more importantly, their own limits on posting frequency.  Keeping track of that got out of hand very quickly, not to mention just keeping track of which deviations I had already submitted to which group.

So I decided to start a spreadsheet to keep track of it.  That lasted one day.  My computer died and Open Office didn't even keep an auto-saved copy.  So I decided to learn MySQL.  It's not that different from Microsoft SQL, so it wasn't that hard.  I created my tables, one for groups, one for submissions, and one for status descriptions.  The groups table has a "submissionInterval" field that lets me keep track of how often I can post to a group.  In addition to the field telling me which group I submitted to, the submissions table has a field to keep track of the date I posted an image, which image I posted, and whether it was accepted, declined, or expired.  And I wrote scripts to log a submisssion, mark a submission accepted or declined, and to list what I submitted to a group or which groups I submitted an image to.  For all of the things I needed to learn, like that MySQL doesn't seem to have an equivalent for TSQL's IsNull routine, I used the online MySQL reference manual.  It's a great resource.  So far so good.

But, since I don't have Microsoft SQL, I also don't have Query Analyzer.  So I had to find a way to execute the scripts easily.  I recalled that the internet entries on how to create MySQL database also mentioned that the MySQL command-line interface would allow you to run queries scripts.  So I looked that up and found this.  A quick cut-and-paste job and I had a file for each of my scripts.  None of them would run, but I knew how to fix that.  chmod to the rescue.  Of course, I couldn't remember the syntax, so another search result to the rescue.

It's worked out well so far.  I can now run "./" to list out each of the groups that I haven't posted in recently enough to violate their policies.  It's sorted so the ones with the oldest posts are on top, so I can spread my posts out if possible.  I can run "./" to see what images I have posted to a given group, so I don't try and post again.  Or I can run "./" to see what groups I have submitted a given image to.  I can run "./" to log the submission, which will make the given group roll off of my canSubmit list.  Finally, I can run "./" or "./" when the group's reply comes in.

It's not perfect, obviously.  The output of any of the scripts isn't formatted as neatly as it would be inside the MySQL tool.  And it's still a lot of work.  A perfect solution would be fully automated.  I would just select the groups that a given image is suitable for as soon as I upload it and it would go in a queue.  Whenever the submission delay for a group expires, the tool would automatically select the next image from that group's queue and submit it.

But, that will have to wait.  The whole point of going to deviantART, this blog, facebook, etc. is so that I don't have to spend so much time supporting an app like that.  It's really not that hard to initially write, but every time deviantART changes their page a little, I would have to modify the app.  If I ever write it, I'll let you know, but don't hold your breath.

Monday, February 14, 2011

My wife's art frames

Here we are on Valentine's day with another project I've been spending a bit of time on, frames for my wife's art.

My wife took Painting 1 and Design 1 at the local community college last semester.  She's wants to work toward some sort of Interior Design degree or something.  Her ultimate goal is to flip houses.  Buy crappy ones, fix them up and do some cool interior design magic, and then sell them as high-end.

She's does do pretty well.  To the right is one of the first designs she did.  I think her requirement was to use 9 different colors, each one in it's own contiguous region, so she couldn't color the paper triangles.  She's sold this one after agreeing to make a companion piece.

Her paintings are pretty good as well.  To the left is a chinese opera character she found online and painted.  Nice colors.

Anyway, she's too cheap to buy canvas.  So she has been painting and designing on hardboard instead.  It's only 1/4 inch thick or something, so it doesn't look much like a normal art frame.  She then buys 1x2 from Lowe's and I have to make a frame for her.  The first one was not great.  But in all fairness, I didn't do it.  She measured and told me where to cut.

Let me tell you about her measurements.  We have two tall narrow windows in our bedroom.  At one point, she wanted to paint the bedroom this aqua, green color.  We had custom blinds made (again ordered at Lowe's, I believe) to fit the windows.  We went after I got off of work, and she said she had measured the windows before we left.  When we got to the store and the sales lady asked for the size, I knew something was up when my wife said it was exactly 1 foot.  I asked her again, and she said yeah, it was exactly 1 foot.  So I let it go.  When the blinds came in, they didn't fit in the window at all.  As it turned out, when my wife said "1 foot", she meant one of her feet, which are a few inches off of 12 inches.  She had stuck her foot up on the windowsill and measured that way.

Anyway, this time she had the boards marked and just wanted me to cut them.  They were close, but not exact, as the picture at right shows.  The next one I cut, I did 45 degree mitered corners.  Still not exact, but this time it was because we had Lowe's cut the hardboard for us.  Their panel saw isn't exactly 90 degrees, so the board wasn't exactly square.  It still wasn't bad, and since it was just for a class, I didn't worry about it too much.  But since this last one is going to a paying customer, I put more time into it.  I cut the hardboard myself and made it an eighth of an inch too large tall and wide.  I then adjusted the miter saw as close to square up and down as I could get it, and as close to exactly 45 as I could get.

I don't have any way to glue the frame up.  If I have to do it again, I will build a jig and make them keyed miter joints. (See here)  This will make them strong enough that I can put them together before having to attach them to the hardboard.  As it is, I have to glue and nail one edge of the frame at a time to the hardboard.  It makes it very hard to get them at 90 degrees.  So I'm not positive of whether the gaps in the frame are because I didn't get the miter saw exactly 45 or because I didn't get them exactly 90 when I nailed and glued.

Anyway, I clamped it all together overnight and then put a flush trim bit in the router.  The bearing rides along the frame and the blades then cut the hardboard flush with the frame.  Since hardboard is basically paper, the top edge wasn't real clean.  But it took off all the extra "fuzz" or whatever by dragging my knife backward along the edge, just scraping it off.  Don't try to go forward or you'll cut into the hardboard.  My wife put wood filler in all of the gaps that needed it and then sanded down the edges to get it smoother.  She then painted the whole thing white (gesso?) and you can't tell from any distance that it isn't a single piece.  [ed.  While previewing this, she said that she just used standard primer.  Artist's gesso is too expensive.]

Hopefully, I won't be making too many of these.  But I know I have at least one more to make.  She sold the painting on the left to a friend of mine.  It's a watercolor with the paper mounted to hardboard.  The borders on top and bottom are some thin strips of scrap I had in the woodshop, cedar I think, although I don't remember for sure.  The pattern on the strips is sharpie.  Anyway, she sold this one, and the woman that bought it wants her to mimic another painting she has always wanted.  It is a picture of 3 belly dancers, and the artist wants $300 for a print and over $1000 for the painting.  My wife thinks she can do something similar and will only charge her around $300 or so for the painting.  When she gets ready to do it, the client (who was in belly dancing class until she hurt her foot in some unrelated incident) will get two other belly dancers she knows together for a similar pose and I'll photograph it for my wife to copy.  So I get to photo belly dancers. :)

So, that's why I make frames for my wife.  The next post should be the last in this series.  Have a happy Valentine's Day, and I'll leave you with some other images.  Below are some of her other paintings she did for her painting class and one for her design class.

The berries are a copy of a photo I took in the back yard.

She put this together specifically for the class painting.  It's a pair of shoes for each of the family members.
 This is a painting of another of my photos.
This one is for the design class and is based on a spiral staircase she found online somewhere.
This is another one for the design class.  It is cut construction paper.  The black circles are sitting on top of white circles to get the outline.  The rest are all cut from white paper, and a metalic edge to frame it all.

Monday, February 7, 2011


And so I continue with my active projects list, and prove my geekiness.  Today, I write about DND.

Once a month, for about the last 15 years, a group of friends and I get together in one couple's living room and enter a world of fantasy.  Now, before you get too many visuals in your head, we're not as hard-core as the people your mother warned you about.  We don't wear costumes, and we don't talk in fake accents.  Most of the time, we don't even "role play" as most gamers would consider it, since we are not in the first-person mode with our characters.  We almost exclusively say that our characters are saying something or asking someone something instead of actually asking it or saying it.

For those of you still reading we use the 3.5 system.  We haven't even considered trying 4.0 yet.  We have too many books and too much knowledge tied up in 3.5.  Until about 6 months ago, I was DM'ing a campaign from Alderac Entertainment Group called "The World's Largest Dungeon".  It comes in a book 840 pages long, with something like 16 huge full-color maps.  I had to stop DM'ing because of conflicts with work.  I just didn't have time to prepare for the next gaming session and work on my mapping app, etc.  But when we stopped, my players had only gotten through about three quarters of the initial map.

DM'ing any campaign is a lot of work.  It's telling a story, and to tell it well, you need to not be doing it on the fly.  It's the first time I had seriously tried DM'ing, and I probably wasn't doing too well anyway.  Especially toward the end, there were too many times that my players were getting to places that I hadn't read well enough and wasn't ready to run.  It also doesn't help that DND is often like a broken "choose your own adventure" book.  The characters will quite often choose the option that you didn't prepare adequately for because you didn't think they would choose that option.  A good DM is either prepared to run it anyway, or prepares in advance ways to prevent that option from actually coming up, without seeming to railroad the players.  In my case, I hadn't done either.  The main thing they did to me is that they are supposed to get info from several monsters/NPCs, but instead they killed anything that moved and didn't manage to talk to any of them.

But, I think I have a way around that.  In the off time, I have come up with another option to get them back on track.  I've advanced the story built into the dungeon further than the original writers had it and shifted some things around.  I've even figured out a way to get the characters the info they need before they shoot the messenger.  However, even though I have come up with the basic story line I will use, I still have to work out the details of where the messenger is, what his stats are, what to do if the character somehow head in what is now a deadly direction before getting the info, etc.

And even without this change, it's a large dungeon.  A large, sometimes poorly written dungeon.  Not poorly written in the sense of bad grammar and such, so much as written by multiple people that didn't necessarily talk to each other (each chapter/map section was written by a different author).  And there are things that just don't make sense that I am trying to fill in.  For instance (and any DM can tell you that this happens a LOT in the literature of any campaign) there is a lot of information about what happened in the dungeon hundreds of years ago.  But there is no way in the campaign to get that information to your players.  Then there's the part about the titan guarding the entrance, but who has somehow gone unnoticed and undiscovered for eons.  Yeah, that makes sense.

So, long story short, I won't have the time to deal with a campaign of this magnitude until I get done with my current project at work and get some free time.

In the meantime, another member of our group has started DM'ing a campaign set in the Kingdoms of Kalamar.  It's a campaign setting none of us has played in before.  Also, this DM like's to "tweak" the rules a bit.  We are currently using the vitality/wound points system and the spell points system from Unearthed Arcana.  For you that don't know, it basically means that our characters can die much easier, and figuring out magic is harder than it was before.  At least the magic system seems like it might actually be an advantage.

Aside from that, I am running a much smaller campaign with only two players via video conference.  A couple of people that played with us years ago got out of it because they couldn't handle the hours.  (Our once-a-month game starts around noon on Saturday and runs until 3 or 4 in the morning, normally.)  Recently, they asked me to DM quick 2 hour sessions every couple of weeks via video conference.  So far, it has been fairly simple.  I've been using the free short adventures provided on Wizards of the Coast's website.  I think I have even come up with an overarching theme to tie the many disparate adventures together into a campaign.  We'll see how that works.  Even if I don't, they are enjoying the individual adventures, I'm doing better at the story telling and keeping them alive, and the small adventures don't need anywhere near the work from me that the huge dungeon was needing.  So far, we haven't even worried about mapping it out.

The main issue this campaign is trying to get video conferencing working with Ubuntu.  SIP doesn't work, Meebo doesn't work (and just uses Google Talk), Google Talk seems to work, but doesn't allow more then 2 parties, and skype's multi-party conferencing doesn't work with Linux, only with Windows.  I'd really like to toss the whole open-protocol, centralized server model and get a single stand-alone, peer-to-peer client that is completely configurable in ports and whatnot, and is multi-platform (because my players are on windows).  If it is just straight tcp/ip, this port and this address, then I can make sure my router is set up to pass the right traffic and I don't have to worry about whether the servers are up or not.  So if any of you have any ideas on this, let me know.