Make it Sew! With Apologies to Jean-Luc Piccard.

If you don’t understand this, you never watched Star Trek, The Next Generation, and your life is empty and without purpose.

Yes, I learned to sew. Actually I learned to sew back in Middle School. We all had to take Home Ec for nine weeks or so, and the raging battle-axe that ran the class made sure we knew how to sew well and good, damn it, because who knows when you might need to mend a prom dress and you don’t have any Duct Tape. Actually it could come in handy, if you ripped her prom dress off and need to get it put back together after you’ve satisfied your teenage lust and need to get her home in time for curfew. So – guys, one reason to pay attention in home ec.

Another reason – saving some money and preventing yourself from freezing to death in the woods. Down hammock quilt? $250 and up. Home made hammock quilt? Around $100, provided you already have a sewing machine.


If that’s too much to read and comprehend, just scroll all the way to the bottom and look at the thing laying on the floor like a deflated air mattress. That’s it. That’s what I made. I just tested it in the yard under attack from a thousand gnats and mosquitos, and I have to say, the damn thing works. It works pretty well. Gone was the cool breeze under my back, the airy hammock feeling. Replace it with the feeling of hanging in a sauna. And that was without the rain fly being in place.

Now I just need some Fall. That’s it, just some Fall, and I’ll be ready for a field test. Oh, and a compression sack, because the damn green monster takes up the whole backpack without one.

In non-hiking events, I had some interstate fun over the weekend. Although I’ve seen my share of backups on the interstate, it’s rare to be within a few hundred yards of the accident, and rarer still to get to see the life-flight helicopter arriving on scene.

See – helicopter

The reason the helicopter was arriving on the scene was because someone decided to see if their SUV was more fuel efficient sliding sideways on the roof. While it was very fuel-efficient (in fact, it used less fuel than any other Chevy vehicle), the vehicle was not designed to slide on the roof, and despite pressing the gas pedal, it came to a stop and blocked traffic.


Unfortunately we were at the crest of a hill, and couldn’t really see the rest of the wreck. With the Emergency Motorway Tieup Service (EMTs) and the Freeway Interruption and Relocation Effort (FIRE) people in the way, we couldn’t continue on towards our intended destination. So we did what anyone would do. We all got out and milled about in the middle of the road, wishing we had arrived a little sooner so we could get close enough to take better pictures, and kicked ourselves for leaving the telephoto lenses at home.

It wasn’t long before we started praising Georgia for being cheap, and neglecting to put the aircraft cable thing in the middle of the road. You know, the one that stops people from driving into the opposing lane if they fall asleep at the wheel. No need for that sort of thing EVERYWHERE…

Some of us decided to test the median for drains, mud, culverts, and poisonous snakes. Finding none of the above, we contemplated turning around to take a shortcut. Emily the Crackhead GPS insisted on us using the interstate. Why isn’t their an option to touch the screen and say “road is blocked here!” so she will reroute you? I guess that needs to be a software improvement, along with an option to “avoid the bad part of town”. Toll roads I’m cool with. Keep me out of places I might witness a drive-by (I’ve done that), get carjacked, propositioned or molested in some other way. WTF Garmin?

Want to turn around? You first.

So, seeing as how the nice cops stopped traffic going BOTH WAYS we had an easy clear path to turn around. I looked up the google map on my iphone, and saw that the road led through a little town and then back over the interstate a scant five miles away. This is important later, as you will see.

The median was sort of steeply contoured, so we encouraged the people with big trucks and SUVs to go first. After all, on the commercials they show them going off road and over rocks and through shallow streams. A Ford Subdivision should be able to handle a highway median, right? If not, it would at least provide some comic relief for the rest of us. After a few cars turned around, I hopped back in the old Honda CRV and followed the Mercedes sedan from behind me. He also had to get back to South Carolina. A lady in front of us was headed to Augusta, and didn’t know how to get there except going straight. I told her to follow us. Her mistake.

We turned around, went a mile back to an exit, and then five miles around through BFE, Georgia. Then we went over I-20 and stopped. The five cars in front of us kept going. We just went over I-20. Where was the damn on ramp? I zoomed in on the iPhone and discovered there was no ramp. To get back to I-20 we had to go south 8 miles, east 2 miles, and back north, all the way around Lake Oconee. We did it, and after a wrong turn, a dead end, and a near-hit with a stupid deer we made it around the lake and back onto I-20. Honestly how much work would it be to hunt deer to extinction? Just tell the hunters to bring down as many as they can until there’s none left… I’m sure southerners could wipe out at least the southeast in six months, all at no cost to the states.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been on an interstate and been THE ONLY ONE in sight, but it is an amazing lonely feeling. Normally to be completely alone it needs to be three a.m., when the only ones out are the long haul truckers, the drunks trying to get home, and the drug mules betting the cops are all off duty as they drive the big stash cross-country. It’s a weird feeling during the day, though.

So we finally got out of there. I never did get to read or see what happened in the wreck. Maybe I’ll google it, but probably not. It sure was nice to get home.


M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O- wait a minute… Famous-Name Mouse Heads.

If I have informed you before that my wife is a teacher, I apologize for repeating myself.

My Wife is a teacher. There, now you know, which is necessary to understand the rest of the post.

There are these long periods during the hot months of the year when government-sponsored free babysitting is not available. This is known in America (yes I do get international readers, thank you) as “Summer Vacation”. When I was younger I surmised that it was just too damn hot to sit inside and learn anything, but no one had air conditioning, not schools, homes, theaters, theatres, or the Mall of America. In fact, kids were out for the summer because they were needed at home on the farm to help bring in the crops so people in the town (amoung them the teachers and farmers) didn’t die of starvation. The tradition of summer vacation continues, but as farms no longer need kids, and most of what kids used to do is probably against child labor laws anyway, kids find other stuff to do. They sit around playing x-box, fight in the streets, break into cars, and blow up mailboxes with ideas they glean from the internet.

Teachers also have to find things to do, or they sit around all summer, watch TV and eat Cheetoes, and maybe make a lesson plan or two. Teachers don’t get to blow up mailboxes and fight in the streets, despite the fact it might relax a few of them when August rolls around.

So, my wife recently expanded her repertoire of home crafts. She bought a sewing machine, for one thing. It is a very basic no-frills model that was less than $100 at Target. It has two speeds, just-right-for-us, and sew-your-fingers-into-the-cloth. The little foot pedal is just a toe-operated on-off switch, not a variable speed thing.

For you guys out there: Imagine a drill or electric screwdriver with just off and goes-like-hell. Not very convenient, huh? Sometimes variable speeds are good. Same goes with sewing machines. I learned to sew a long, long time ago in Junior High. It was required everyone rotate through music, art, physical torture, and home economics. We all had to sew. The skill has come in handy; I’ve put buttons back on pants, for one. I also had to hand-stitch parts of my airplane wing fabric. But using an actual machine is something I haven’t done in 25 years. It was also my wife’s first time ever. But, it’s not a hard skill to learn. If all those ten and twelve year old kids in China and Vietnam can sew clothes all day for Americans, I can certainly remember how to do it, and show my wife.

So far she has done a pretty good job. Pinterest has helped provide a plethora of ideas. We are headed to Disney World later this year, and Disney crafts are always fun. She made autograph books for our child three years in a row. Last year we had shirts printed, but that was just typing stuff online. This year she decided to use some of her ample summer vacation time to make some shirts and other Disney Gear. I still say blowing stuff up would be fun, but the FBI frowns on that now…

Her first project involved printing out a Mick… umm…. famous-name mouse head. Cut it out, use as a pattern, cut fabric, and sew to the front of a shirt. Easier to explain than do, but there you go. She made a shirt for our child, too, and they both look good. We plan to make one for me. She bought some pirate theme skull and crossbones cloth to make my “famous mouse” head with a pirate theme. So, we’ll all match up, without being “that family” with the silly “family vacation 2012” shirts.

Brushing up on my sewing has taught me some skills. I plan on sewing my own hammock underquilt, with instructions found online. I needed a machine and the materials to do it, and some simple skills. Rip-stop nylon rocks, and I’m already trying to think or stuff to make from the scraps. I’d love to make a down sleeping bag, but I’ve heard working with down SUCKS because you get it everywhere.

If you plan to hike, want to hammock, and need an underquilt, follow THESE DIRECTIONS

I even practiced a little making a bandana for hiking, out of some cloth we bought. I put a grommet in the corner so I can clip it to my pack and not lose the damn thing.

Back to Famous Mouse. So, my wife successfully turned out two unlicensed character shirts. Pretty fun, but she went a step farther, and put one on a pillow. She sewed a pillow case for a pre-made pillow from Hobby Lobby, and placed a mouse-head on the front. It looks and works pretty well.

This gave her a further idea: Why not just make a Full-Sized famous name mouse head pillow, with the ears and everything?

Unfortunately, we exceeded the maximum print size with our printer, with the pillow sized head, so printing out larger wasn’t really an option. This is where repressed memories of High School geometry kicked in. I had a printout, why couldn’t I just blow it up?Just draw a circle and two other circles, right? Wrong. You see, to properly recreate the iconic famous-name mouse head, the ears aren’t circles, they are ellipses. Ovals, for those of you not into those fancy math words. “Squashed circle-lookin thangs”, for those of you in Chesterfield County. Unfortunately, I don’t have a giant ellipse template. It’s a small task to draw three circles slightly offset and freehand the rest. Once you get an ear looking right, fold the pattern over and copy it. There is some positioning to get in place, measuring angles and such, so it looks right. In time we created a pillow, completely stuffed and sealed shut.

Why not make a bigger one? After all, when we finished our first one, with the main body the size of a dinner plate, it was more like a small throw pillow than anything else. In fact, inverted, the poofy ears make a great neck pillow thing.

Go big or go home.

So my wife told me she wants a PILLOW sized pillow. Not some little thing for the couch but a ginormous fluffy “I could sleep on this” pillow. I got out a roll of paper I keep in the closet (think: blank wrapping paper type stuff, four feet wide). I drew out a famous-name mouse head over two feet in diameter. The ear minor diameter for famous-name mouse is .568 times the main circle diameter, if you are curious, so each ear is still larger than a dinner plate (even if you have a large, full plate). I have the angles down, so I could reproduce famous-name mouse in almost any manageable size I wanted. Its hard drawing circles and ellipses this large, but I got it done.

Now its up to wife to cut fabric, sew and stuff. The math part is over. Of course, in the picture below the paper wants to curl up, so the pattern looks a little wonky, but trust me, his ears are pretty darn close to being on target. You can see some of my construction lines here and there, but the final cutout is complete. Hopefully a reasonable pillow can be constructed from the pattern.


Printed template on left. Dinner plate size enlargement on right. Final enlargement in middle.

So, what did we do over summer vacation? Created unlicensed character products… but we had fun, and it kept us away from the Cheetoes.

Wal-Mart Disc to Digital

I was shocked recently. It was a rare occasion I had failed to DVR something and was forced to watch the commercials instead of fast forwarding through them. Although I tried to ignore them as much as possible, one struck me as weird.

Wal-Mart just introduced a “disc to digital” service. Take your movies into Wal-Mart, and evidently they will make them into versions you can watch on iPads or other lesser tablets, phones, etc.

I was like, “WTF? How can they get away with this?”

So I did a little research, by which I mean, I googled it. Apparently they have agreements with some studios that allow them to take some movies and upload them to their online movie service. Then you can stream your movies to your computer or tablet. Of course they charge you for this service, and you have to be online somewhere for this to work. So if you’re close to being out of data for the month, or driving through the back side of no where with a poor signal, you’re out of luck.

I remember the good old days. When there were no DVD players for the ten people that insisted on Linux, they came up with software to crack, copy, and play DVDs on multiple devices. Thank God for nerds. The code to one of the copyright-breakers was so simple, they printed it on t-shirts.

I had several older DVDs at one point. Some started cracking in the middle. A few were getting some scratches that would cause problems for DVD players, but didn’t bother the computer’s DVD drive. I also have a child. If you’ve never bought a kid’s DVD, they are Packed with BS extras. Some of them contain twenty MINUTES of commercials and crap that you cannot fast forward.

Enter AnyDVD. A great little piece of software. It’s made by some people over seas, and will let you break the copyright protection on movies you bought. The same company makes another piece of software called CloneDVD. It lets you copy movies that you own to your PC. You can even remove all the warnings, commercials, and menus that you didn’t want to sit through anyway. Start the moivd, and by the time your butt hits the couch, it’s playing. No waiting, no click this, select that, sit through forced menus, commercials, how much better this would be on blu-ray, etc.
So, you can copy your movies. Take them on vacation, put the slightly damaged originals away while you watch the backups, whatever.

But how does this have anything to do with Wal-Mart?

I will show you the light that is Wonderfox. Wonderfox is, among other things, a DVD converter. Once you copy the movie to your PC, you can convert it from it’s original mode, to an iPad or iPhone sized digital version, around a gigabyte or less. Drop the converted movie into iTunes, and TAKE your movie with you. Don’t try to stream it, copy it right to your device.

Yes, all these things cost money. I got wonderfox for free, when they did a promotion over a weekend. I paid for clone DVD and anydvd, many years ago. They do updates regularly, when Hollywood tries to screw with DVDs to prevent everything I just mentioned. But if you’ve ever had to buy a movie after it’s broken, or lost, or damaged, the software will pay for itself. When you’ve got a crying three year old because she really wants to watch Elmo, not ten minutes of BS before Elmo comes on, it will pay for itself. And when walmart wants to charge you to convert your own movies for you, and store them online where you have to go access them, it will pay for itself.

You own the movie, why not watch it how you want to?