Archive for the “Advice” Category

Here’s how I made the goggles for my Dr. Horrible costume, starting with the green Fibre-Metal VG800-H5 welding goggles.

  1. Removed lenses, vents, and elastic strap.
  2. Washed with soap and water.
  3. Roughed up the surface with a medium-grain sandpaper.
  4. Coated with Mod Podge. This firmed up the plastic and gave the paint a good surface to adhere to.
  5. Painted with several coats of acrylic paint. I used a mixture of Anita’s Silver Metallic Craft Paint and Plaid Folk Art Metallic Gunmetal Gray to get a nice aluminum color.
  6. Dry brushed on splotches of a rusty color, paying particular attention to corners. For this I used a mixture of dark copper, red brown, khaki, and little bit of white.
  7. Using a foam brush, I dry brushed on some more of the aluminum color to tone down some of the rust color, making it look more like a tarnish. I used broad strokes to avoid getting down into the corners.
  8. Filed down the edges of the lenses slightly to make it easier to get them back in the frame.
  9. With the extra thickness added by the layers of Mod Podge and paint, the vents no longer fit onto the goggles. I had to trim off the lip of the vents leaving the stem, and then glue them in place with Mod Podge.

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As I was previewing my previous entry, I noticed that the thumbnails that WordPress had created for the attached [jpeg] images were of rather poor quality—they exhibited significant compression artifacts—and they were a little smaller than I would have liked.

The latter problem was a simple fix. The Shift This WordPress Thumbnail Size Plugin creates a new configuration page that allows WordPress admins to specify the max dimensions for thumbnails. (I use 192px.)

The problem of poor jpeg thumbnail quality isn’t as clean to fix. The only solution I could find requires changing a line in the source code. As explained here in the WordPress support forums, the fix requires editing the wp_create_thumbnail function in wp-admin/admin-functions.php.

The following code takes the resampled image data and saves it as a file on the server.

// move the thumbnail to its final destination
if ( $type[2] == 1 ) {
	if (!imagegif( $thumbnail, $thumbpath ) ) {
		$error = __( "Thumbnail path invalid" );
elseif ( $type[2] == 2 ) {
	if (!imagejpeg( $thumbnail, $thumbpath ) ) {
		$error = __( "Thumbnail path invalid" );
elseif ( $type[2] == 3 ) {
	if (!imagepng( $thumbnail, $thumbpath ) ) {
		$error = __( "Thumbnail path invalid" );

The following line from the above code handles jpeg images:

if (!imagejpeg( $thumbnail, $thumbpath ) ) {

The imagejpeg function can take a third argument that specifies the quality (0–100) of the resulting file. If that argument is not provided, it defaults to a value of “about 75” (according to the PHP manual). I think a value of 90 is more appropriate, so therefore I edited the above line to:

if (!imagejpeg( $thumbnail, $thumbpath, 90 ) ) {

The result is greatly improved; however, as the comparison below demonstrates, it’s still not quite as nice as what I can get using the application that I’ve been using for years to do thumbnails manually—ThumbsUp. The reason is that ThumbsUp provides options for antialiasing and sharpening the thumbnails that it generates.

Example ThumbnailGuitar Hero Cover
Left: WordPress-generated thumbnail (after applying the above hack)—clean, but kinda fuzzy.
Right: thumbnail generated using ThumbsUp—nice & sharp.

Incidentally, the thumbnails on the previous post were all generated using ThumbsUp (to replace the ones that WordPress had originally generated with all the compression artifacts). I had hoped the above hack would keep me from having to do that again; however, it looks like I may have to continue using ThumbsUp as my source for thumbnails.

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This is a very good article from Lifehacker on using your local library:
Get the most of your local library — online

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For a variety of reasons, iTunes has not handled classical music well enough for many individuals. This document provides a step-by-step guide to applying new features that can be used to make iTunes handle classical music more satisfactorily.

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You’ve seen it at the arcade or on TV, or at least you’ve heard about, haven’t you? That dancing game. You know. That game that pumps out loud music with a strong bass beat while the player hops around like mad on some sort of platform. Bobby played it in that episode of _King of the Hill_ where they go to Japan. It’s called Dance Dance Revolution, and once someone explains how it works, it’s lots of fun. The basic premise is that the game scrolls arrows up the screen, and when they reach the top (which happens to be in time with the music), you have to hit the corresponding arrow on the platform. The better your timing, the better your score. It takes a while to get the hang of it (everyone fails the first time they try), and it takes tons of practice to master it, but it’s a great workout.

If you want to play DDR, you could of course go to the arcade, wait in line, lay out lots of cash, and risk embarrassment in front of all the other people there; or you could save yourself a lot of trouble and invest in a home system, which is what I have done. Plus, if you make your setup mobile, you can take it to with you and have an instant party hit. If you’d like to put together your own DDR system, here’s some suggestions.

First, you’ll need a computer to run the game. It will have to be a fairly recent system—something with some speed, a decent graphics card, and a USB port. My 500 MHz G3 iBook does fairly well, but it does occasionally skip. Therefore, I’d recommend something with a little more oomph—something like an iBook G4. Starting at $1099, this sleek little laptop packs an 800 MHz G4 processor, an ATI Mobility Radeon 9200, and the ability to mirror the screen on a TV using a $19 adapter available from Apple. Along with the Apple video adapter, you’ll also need an adapter to convert the iBook’s stereo mini plug headphone jack into two RCA jacks (about $5), and a three plug RCA cable to get the audio & video signals to the TV (about $10). Cost: $1133

Second, you’ll need some software. For this we turn to Stepmania. Stepmania is open-source software that has received lots of development, continues to undergo very active development, supports both mp3 and ogg music files, and supports a wide-variety of step file formats. At the moment, it’s best to download version 3.0 final, since the next version (3.9) is still in the early stages of development and thus probably rather buggy. Cost: Free

Third, you’ll need some songs with step files. You could search the web for originals, but the quality of the stuff that’s out there is either hit or miss. Instead, go for the official song sets, which can be found at DDRUK. Simply sign up for a free account, and then hit the downloads page to get the DDR Bumper Packs, which collect all the songs from a given DDR version into one ZIP file. (Note: You’ll need BitTorrent to download the files.) I suggest mixes 1 through 8, including the “Plus” and USA Playstation versions. While you’re there, also pick up the ZIP file containing the complete collection of banners for each of the mixes. Cost: Free

Fourthly, you’ll need a dance pad. I suggest buying a RedOctane pad. The three different models that you have to choose from, depending on how serious you want to get, are all high quality. The simplest and cheapest (which is what I have) is the original RedOctance soft Dance Pad ($50). It’s a good pad that gets the job done. If you go that route, you’ll probably also want to get the RedOctane Dance Pad Cover ($15), which is recommended to extend the life of the pad especially if you want to wear shoes while dancing. The next pad in the product line is the RedOctane Ignition Pad 2.0 ($100). This is another soft pad, however it features raised buttons that allow you to better feel your way around the pad, and a 1-inch dense foam insert that supposedly improves the response of the sensors. At the top of the heap is the RedOctane Metal Pad ($200). Featuring a steel frame and polycarbonate buttons, this hard pad truly brings the arcade experience home. Cost: $65, $100, or $200

Fifthly, all three RedOctane pads come with Playstation conectors, so you’ll also have to buy a Playstation-to-USB adapter. The Stepmania website maintains a list of compatible adapters. I have the EMS USB2 adapter, however I would now go with the Boom PS Joy Converter ($15), which is the one that the Stepmania website now most highly recommends. Cost: $15

Finally, if you are going to use a soft mat on carpet, you’re going to have trouble with it sliding around. The grippy bottom only works on smooth surfaces. However, I’ve found that putting a plastic/vinyl office chair mat for use on carpet under the pad fixes the problem. A three foot by three foot mat (which matches the dimensions of the dance pad) can be found at any office supply store. Cost: about $15

Total Cost (not including computer): $95

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