Friday, April 27, 2012

Homemade Low-budget Bookscanner

What It Is: a low-budget digicam-based bookscanner of my own design (it's that wood-and-black paper-and-acrylic contraption sitting on the cardboard M that you're looking at).

Where It Came From: Built it myself, with components from Hobby Lobby and Lowe's.

What It Means:
I have a huge preservationist streak.  It doesn't help the hoarding tendencies at all, and in the past, it has led me to collect Public Domain-aged books (1922 or earlier in the US, at least until Congress's next retroactive extension) and scan them for Project Gutenberg.  When I did this, I was just mashing the books on my scanner bed as best I could while trying not to damage them.  Once, I ran into something (vintage Count of Monte Cristo fanfic, of which a good deal was actually published back in the day) where the pages were too fragile to survive the process, and I actually cut the pages out to scan them --- with no little personal drama, being as I am one of those "dies a little inside every time a book is destroyed" types.

And so, later on when I started following the folks at (in the spirit of fan-artist self-advocacy; only later did I happen upon the Organization for Transformative Works, and I recommend giving both of them a look), I was fascinated when they announced The BookLiberator, a device to scan books more quickly, portably, and non-destructively, using two digital cameras to capture pages much faster than a flatbed scanner and with not only adequate but surprisingly good results.

I didn't keep close tabs on it, though, and just in the last few months went back to find that the BookLiberator project had been abandoned, and the Ion BookSaver that they pointed to as an alternative didn't seem to get off the ground either, but they also linked to people who haven't given up the fight, at  Their standard design is a thing of brilliance, but was beyond my budget, equipment, space, and requirements.  Their simplest rig, consisting only of a cardboard box and a pane of glass, was closer to what I needed; I was willing to make some sacrifices on efficiency, but I had an inspiration of my own.  I did make the cardboard box book cradle, but my bright idea was to build a camera mount onto an acrylic box-style picture frame, which as you can see above is what I did (to an 8.5" x 11" frame using my hand drill and backsaw with miter box), and I even made it its own thread on the DIY Book Scanner forums.

However, it has its share of problems.  The black paper box you see attached to it was an addition after the fact to minimize the otherwise-disastrous reflections in the acrylic, and became even more unwieldy when I scaled the design up for an 11" x 14" frame, plus the picture frames were not made to resist scratching and will have to be replaced eventually.  I also didn't get enough distance between the camera and the book, so that the images it produces require a good bit of post-processing to eliminate lens distortion and skewing.  In the end, what I came up with actually isn't more efficient than a flatbed scanner, but it is gentler, and the molded acrylic angle at the side of the frame is better for digging into books that are printed very tight into the spine (especially comics with bleeds) although there does come a point at which nothing can save it, unless I go the dramatic route and cut the book up...

Ironically, given where this journey began, it isn't public domain books I've been scanning with it.  I just haven't been taking the time to deal with those myself anymore, and instead have begun shipping them off to The Internet Archive's Open Library for the most part.  Actually, I've been using it to digitize obscure Japanese video game comics... which I might show you some other time...

Where It's Going: Nowhere; keeping both it and its even-more-unweildy 11" x 14" brother despite them being bulky and getting in the way, because I do use them now and then.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Mana Flower Ring

What It Is: a cheap adjustable ring with a blue glass flower

Where It Came From: Pier 1 Imports

What It Means:
I'm going to veer off wildly once or twice here, but it does come back to the ring, I promise.

Awhile back I mentioned Morning Pages as the most basic exercise in "The Artist's Way," well, the fact is that I have a much easier time with them than I do with the second most basic exercise, the Artist Date.  The idea of that one is just to take an hour a week and go and do something fun and spiritually/intellectually/creatively nourishing all by yourself and just for yourself.  It's trickier if you live in podunk, and much trickier if you have assertiveness issues, such that I will go without doing it for weeks or months at a time, even though I know it is very helpful when I do get to doing it, and it doesn't have to be something huge.  One of the better Artist Dates I've ever done was going to a furniture store and just trying things out with no intention to buy; I got to try a massage chair, it firmed up a scene in a story I was working on, it was lovely.

One fairly lackluster Artist Date I took, though, was to the nearest Pier 1 Imports store, just because I hadn't been in one for years.  It was very pretty on the inside, granted, but the stuff didn't make any big impression, it was just useless decoration and thus, for me, uninteresting.

However, as I came to the checkout there was a bowl of cheap rings, and I wanted this one.  Despite the obvious cheapness, I thought and still do think that it's beautiful.  That vivid-yet-deep, slightly-warm blue has been my favorite color ever since I was a child (I have never forgiven the Crayola company for discontinuing Green Blue), which was probably why...

I was in High School when Secret of Mana (aka Seiken Densetsu 2) came out for the Super NES, and in the history of my fandom obsessions, it might be the first one in "recorded history" --- not that it was a huge break from anything I was doing before, but if I trace the sequence back, before SoM things start to get fuzzy.  I tried to go back and play it lately and was rather humbled by the ponderous special-move-charging system and loose controls, but back in the day it was a thing of incredible beauty, and hearing it start up is still very evocative for me.  I don't have any of the old sketchbooks handy from that time, but I did lots of fan-art for it, and in said fan-art, I decided that the Mana Tree had flowers --- flowers that were my favorite shade of blue, and had kind of a water-lily shape...

So yeah, I had to get the ring.  I got it recently, but it echoed something way back.

Where It's Going: Nowhere; I never have gotten around to wearing it, but I keep it on my desk.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Scottish Rite 14th Degree Paperweight

What It Is: a Scottish Rite 14th Degree ring in a clear acrylic pyramid paperweight

Where It Came From: Dad's Scottish Rite lodge, I assume.

What It Means:
"Way to convince people you're not the Illuminati, Dad."

For longer than I've been alive, my father has been a member in various fraternal bodies, mostly Masonic, but more recently Oddfellows, also.  When I was a kid, it mainly meant that a few nights a week he would go to some meeting or other --- and the rest of us, having rather different taste in food (someday I might tell you more about the twisted food politics in this house), could fix what we really wanted for dinner.  Also he had various bags and briefcases with Masonic symbols on them, a few funny hats (including pillboxes and a Napoleon-style chapeau, although at least he never joined Tall Cedars of Lebanon), and other ritual devices --- only the Masons could make owning a sword so devoid of cool.

But from all I've been around Dad's Masonic friends, they're just ordinary nice men who like belonging to clubs and sometimes giving to charities, and the worst I'd credit them with is the odd touch of pomposity.  Being a woman, I couldn't join the Masonic orders myself, but I was briefly an Oddfellow and found that it pretty much amounted to hanging out with retired junior high school coaches and engaging in amateur liturgical theater (I did say it was briefly).

This gives me a sort of different perspective on the various "Secrets of the Freemasons" History Channel specials and Dan Brown novels and Jack Chick tracts.  Nonetheless, with that kind of thing going around, a ring floating in a pyramid with an arcane symbol on the front and a Latin slogan engraved on the inside of it is a rather arresting thing to have sitting around the house, isn't it?  (BTW, Dad explained to me that "Valley" and "Orient" are fancy names the Scottish Rite gives local and regional bodies, so contrary to my initial reading the inscription is not meant to say that Joplin is a low-lying area that somehow is to the state of Missouri as Asia is to the world.)

Of course, being that their rituals, however harmless and clubby, are nominally secret, I wasn't totally sure if I should post this thing here...  But a quick Google search for "Scottish Rite 14th degree ring" revealed that it's actually quite happy to tell people about itself.

Where It's Going: Nowhere; it's Dad's.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Pair of Cat "Planters"

What It Is: A pair of ceramic cats which I'm told are planters.  No maker's marks on the bottom except arcane numbers.

Where It Came From: My maternal grandparents' house.

What It Means:
These are something that I wouldn't look twice at if there weren't memories attached to them.

I grew up next door to my mother's parents, so they were always there as part of the family, though not part of the household.  They had an old, cozy house that essentially consisted of three rooms: a bedroom/TV room in front, a living room in the middle, and a kitchen/laundry in the back.  There was an upstairs, accessed by a steep, rickety staircase behind a door tucked away in a corner, and apparently my mother and uncles had had their rooms there growing up, but by my time, it was more like an attic in function and we hardly ever went up there.

The living room with its black metal wood stove was where Grandma and Grandpa always sat, and where we sat and visited with them, but often, while the adults were doing that, us kids would go play in the yard, or on the rest of the farm, or just in the front room.  There was the big bed whose wood veneer we kids didn't know enough to have respect for and would pull bits off of if they were loose.  There was a sofa (or to use Grandma's word, a "davenport").  There was an old black Singer sewing machine in a cabinet, my mother and uncles' high school pictures on the wall along with some odd picture of birds that incorporated real feathers and ones of ski-jumpers in silhouette, and a crocheted rug in autumnal colors with an octagon or hexagon shape.  For a time there was an exercise bike.  There was an old TV with its own wooden cabinet, various knicknacks on top and sometimes my cousin's NES attached, and then there was an old record player.

I never actually saw the record player in use.  It had an enclosed hard cover, a tall spindle that I understand was a proto disk-changer of some kind, and a cabinet underneath with spaces for records (I think "Sentimental Journey" was in there) and a compartment where there was a stethoscope --- an ever-present temptation, even though I got in trouble if I played with it.  As I said, I never saw the thing actually playing; it just sat there with the cover closed --- and these two cats sitting on top.

Mom tells me they're planters, but their shape seems really pretty unsuited.  There may have been a philodendron in or near them at some point, but mostly they were just catchalls for change or old glasses or whatever.  And yet they stood, proud and uncluttered, unlike the collected doodads on top of the TV.

My grandfather passed away when I was still in middle school, and my grandmother some years later.  These are one of the things that came to our house after that.  They're still just catch-alls if anything, and we can't call the places they sit "proud and uncluttered" anymore, but they bring back memories.

Where It's Going: Nowhere.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Delta Shopmaster Benchtop Drill Press

What It Is: a Delta Shopmaster benchtop drill press with built-in lamp.

Where It Came From: I don't remember; Lowe's, maybe, unless Harbor Freight had it as a special.

What It Means:
In High School, I avoided Shop like the plague despite the urgings of my art teacher mentor, in part because my sister had taken Shop and had a bad experience.  As a result, my first access to a wood shop came in my Fine Arts college education, when I took Intro to 3-D Design (it was a graduation requirement; 3-D is not generally my thing).  Even in that little taste, it was wonderful what I could do there --- and the machine I really fell in love with was the drill press.  Don't ask me why it was just so beautiful to turn that lever and make straight, regular holes...

Some years later, when I lived with a friend (I'm not ready to get into all the details of my post-college situation), she bought a house that actually came with a workshop in the back, we lived perilously close to a WoodCraft and a Harbor Freight Tools, and it was a point in my life where, in hindsight, I'm embarrassed how much money I spent on various schemes.  We stocked the workshop somewhat, and I did some tinkering.  I never did get the benchtop bandsaw of my dreams, but there was a belt/radial sander and a scrollsaw (which was later upgraded and moved to the garage) --- and of course, a drill press.  The most impressive thing I remember making was a yarn skeiner; not a huge, fancy project, but I designed it myself, and it had a cog that clicked a counter and everything...

However, when that situation went bad and I moved to where I am now and the drill press and sander came with me, they had nowhere to go but storage.  I still don't have anywhere to put them, and if I move from here it will probably be into an apartment where they would become even more ridiculous.  Faced with a need to declutter (and realizing that I could actually get some money for them), I decided it was time to let them go. Finding a place to take a woodworking class and get access to a communal shop would probably be much more reasonable at this stage in my life --- and when I have projects now, you'd be surprised how far you can get with a hand-drill, a backsaw, and a miter box.

It had been long enough that I had forgotten how heavy the drill press was; wrestling it in the car wasn't something I ever wanted to do again, giving me an extra push.

My Dad actually had some regrets about my unloading of the tools, saying he'd like to have a place to mess with such things, but that place doesn't exist and may never exist (and would probably just expand the clutter problem by another building if it did).  And then I had to talk Mom down from buckling under my secondhand account of Dad's wistfulness...

Don't get me wrong, wood shop tools are wonderful things --- especially drill presses --- but I have no regrets.  Free space and money are better than things you don't know when or if you'll ever use.

(Except maybe that little ceramic kiln...  ::not ready yet on that one::)

Where It's Going: Already went, actually.  Sold locally for $40.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

"Witch Detective Club" Japanese Children's Novels

What It Is: Set of four "Witch Detective Club" (魔女探偵団, Majo Tantei Dan) novels in the original Japanese:
1. Princess Balen's Magic Staff (バレン姫の魔法のつえ, Baren-hime no Mahou no Tsue)
2. On a Date with a Ghost! (幽霊とデート中!, Yuurei to Deeto-chuu!)
3. I Dream of Dracula (夢みるドラキュラ, Yume-miru Dorakyura)
7. Thousand-Year Love Story (千年のラブストーリー, Sen Nen no Rabu Sutoorii)

Where It Came From: Mitsuwa Shopping Center, Arlington Heights, Illinois; Books Kinokuniya.

What It Means:
Yes, I am a Japanophile.  "Cranky old Japanophile," I sometimes say, but Japanophile still.  It started with anime and manga, but has since branched out, and while Japan's cultural productions are no less of a mixed bag than my native US, I love good anime and manga and find Japanese literature and culture fascinating.  As such, I am a chronic student of the language.  I took four years of it in college without achieving fluency, and it's been off-and-on since; recently I've been trying to brush it up again but I still have a long way to go.

And until I get there, books written in Japanese can never quite stop being cool.  If I see them at book sales, I'll pick them up for no other reason at all (I have a copy of this in Japanese; signed by the author, too), despite --- or more likely because of --- the fact that they're mostly aspirational.  Another fun thing is to scour for books with the "look inside" feature, and there I have found that I can actually read some of the books without a hitch --- the ones written for toddlers.  ("Whooo is it, who is it?  It's a cat!  Meow, meow!  That cat loves fish!  Nom, nom!")  If I stretch myself, though, I could probably get as far as chapter books for elementary school kids and mostly follow them. Which is about where these "Witch Detective Club" books are, probably on a par with the "Vic the Vampire" or "Fifth Grade Monsters" pulps I had as a girl.

You won't find an anime or manga or English translation of these, they're quite obscure and were chosen almost at random.  A few times in my life, I have gotten to an actual Japanese bookstore --- the one in the Mitsuwa shopping center in Arlington Heights, Illinois; when I first went there, it was Asahiya, then it changed hands and became a Books Sanseido.  Either way, the whole shopping center, and the bookstore most especially, was like a journey to a magical land for a rural-bred Japanophile like myself, and, though limited to judging books by their covers, I had to get myself something.  "I Dream of Dracula" is one of the things I picked; it had cute pictures featuring a prettyboy vampire (I'm not into Twilight, but I am into Castlevania), and friendly large-ish print with lots of furigana (in-line pronunciation guides) --- and you'll notice it's the only one I have the "obi" advertising overwrap for (tucked under it in the picture).  It was only some time later that I found out it was part of a series, at which point it took a special order from Kinokuniya to collect the rest, but having a completionist streak on top of the Japanophilia, well, there they all are.

Was it worth the trouble?  Embarrassingly, I can't say.  The series' sole Amazon reviewer warns (as best I can tell) that there's no witchery or detective work to speak of in this Witch Detective Club, and while it seems like I can follow at least the gist if I try to read them, I have yet to buckle down and make the necessary sustained effort.  I daresay stuff like that is why I'm not more fluent.

However, I can give you a taste.  Here is my rough translation of the opening lines from "I Dream of Dracula" (Look, Ma, no dictionary!):

I'm Ayaka.  Hey, listen to this!

I heard Dracula lives in my neighborhood.

Dracula, see, he's a vampire who drinks people's blood.  And if you get kissed by Dracula, you turn into a Dracula.

What am I gonna do!?  I haven't even ever kissed anybody yet!  If your First Kiss turned you into Dracula --- wahh, that would totally suck!

(No pun intended.)

Where It's Going: Nowhere; keeping them at least until I actually manage to read them.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Iron Man 2 Lenticular Notebook

What It Is: Iron Man 2 notebook with 3-D lenticular cover

Where It Came From: Goodwill (50 cents)

What It Means:
This is a fairly recent Goodwill find, and I was taken in by its kind of offbeat charm.  Of course, a lenticular doesn't come through to best advantage in a photograph, and neither does the creative destruction it had gone through before falling into my hands.  The cover is festooned with scratches which I found to be an interesting effect and pencil graffiti that's downright amusing.  Looking closely, I notice that Mr. Stark has been given slit nostrils, a topknot, a flowing Fu Manchu mustache, and some sort of weapon in his right hand, but really, the anonymous artist had me at the thought balloon that reads "I'm moving backward!"  (And given the limits of lenticulars, it can be hard to tell.)  The string bookmark is something I added myself; I do that on all the notebooks I'm currently using.

I should probably confess, though, that I haven't seen either of the Iron Man movies.  I loved the first X-Men movie and the first Spider-Man movie, but their respective sequels --- to say nothing of the gruesome train wreck that was Daredevil --- burned me so badly that I swore off Marvel Comics movies.

But I did not swear off Marvel movie notebooks!  In fact, I've always been a sucker for notebooks and writing implements and such, to the point of getting some quite fancy things (someday I'll have to post a sample from my fountain pen collecting days) but lately I've come back around to the unpretentious utility of cheap notebooks and free advertising ballpoints, and been less compulsive even about those.  In general, I've gotten better about buying things that I won't use, but this, I knew I would use --- and currently am using --- for Morning Pages.

If you haven't heard of them, Morning Pages are the most basic exercise in Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way, which I've gone through a couple of times and still find very useful (although my experience with the various sequels has been much spottier; maybe she caught me in the wrong mood, but especially as time went on Cameron could at times let her privilege hang out in a very irritating manner).  The idea is simply three pages of stream-of-consciousness longhand writing every day, ideally first thing in the morning.  I'm doing well if I can keep it from being the last thing in the evening, but even so, I've managed to keep them up for about a year now.  I do recommend the practice; I won't promise huge transformations like Julia Cameron does, but for me, it does seem to put my thoughts in order in unexpected ways.  I can think something or say it and not see where it's going, then go to write it down and find that it either falls apart or falls into place and the answers are surprisingly obvious.  It's happened enough times that if I'm feeling muddled I will sometimes get out my notebook to "consult the writing oracle."

And if doing so comes with a bit of inexpensive guerrilla-art fun at a Marvel movie's expense?  Perk.

Where It's Going: Nowhere; I'm using it every day (until I fill it up).