Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Blender: Learning to Animate

I've had an interest in computer animation for quite a long time. When I first got really into it, my dad introduced me the free, open-source program, Blender. I haven't used it enough to know how strong or weak of a program it is, but I know that, at my current skill level, it gives me all I need.

My first ventures into Blender were simple: I made a cube move back and forth. My next accomplishment was adding color. Nothing too complicated. But then, I had an idea. I wanted to composite a Blender animation over some real footage. I thought that it would be a snap to animate the cube, then superimpose it over my video. Turns out that my idea was a lot more complicated than I thought. There was not only the objects between the viewer and the camera to consider, but the limitations of the internet. I had managed to find a video that got me started with the idea, but no matter how hard I looked, I could find anything, not on the wiki, not in my books, and not on YouTube, that specifically related to what I wanted to do.

I talked to my mentor about this problem and we decided that my efforts were best put into easier tasks. So I went to the much simpler task of animating a rig. The rig that I used was pre-built for me from 'The Essential Blender.' I am not very good at sculpting or adding armatures in Blender, yet, so this gave me a short-cut.

These are the results of my Blender excursions:

Monday, December 26, 2011

First QSO, or Ham Radio Communication

A few days ago, I received my amateur radio call sign, KJ6TFT. My dad was eager to get both of us our first QSO. My dad hadn't been able to make any contacts since we live in a ditch that prevents UHF and VHF radio frequencies from escaping. We were both excited that we had the opportunity to contact someone.

Soon, my dad was on his radio rig and I was on his HT (handy talkie). I walked out a little ways into out driveway and used the HT to try and contact him:
"AG6HU, this is KJ6TFT. Do you copy?"

He responded, we exchanged signal reports, then agreed to exchange QSL cards. I came back inside and my dad started making up the QSL card for me. At one point, he happened to look back at his rig. He noticed that the antenna had not been hooked up for the QSO.

We had had surprisingly good reception for a ditch.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Help for the Winter-Time Sniffles

Many people earnestly seek after a cure to the common cold. Many turn to exotic herbs and spices, some to vitamin C and hand sanitizer, and some simply try to sleep it away. Whatever your solution to this winter-time illness, there is a recipe that can help alleviate your sniffles.

My family and I have always been big fans of Chinese food. We love frequenting all of our local Chinese food restaurants. My mom, being the good wife that she is, keeps close tabs on what helps my dad when he isn't feeling well. When he's feeling sick and having respiratory problems, my mom knows instantly what to give him: the spicy Chinese dish of General Tang's Chicken.

Now, we've all had a bad case of the sniffles for a couple days, and I had a hankering for Chinese food. Being the poor college student that I am, it's difficult to justify buying a large Chinese dinner. So I took the cheaper route: do-it-yourself Chinese food. I went flipping through one of our Chinese cookbooks, and what should I find? One of our favorite dishes! So, feeling a little experimental, I decided to cook it. After having cooked it and served it, it turned out to be just as good as the stuff you find at a Chinese restaurant, if not better because it was made to our special order. Everyone agreed: this was exactly what the doctor ordered. Everyone needed the tissues that night. Our sinuses were kept nice and clear. And now, for you, I have the recipe I used:


2 TBSPs Cornstarch
1/2 cup Water
1 TSP Garlic Powder
1 TSP Ground Ginger
1 cup Sugar
1/2 cup Soy Sauce
1/4 cup White Vinegar
1/4 cup White Cooking Wine (Sherry can also be used for a sweeter and less biting
1 1/2 cup Hot Chicken Broth (Mix 1 1/2 cups hot water with 1 1/2 tsp Chicken
3 lb Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast or Thigh, cut into chunks (About 2 or 3
large breasts)
1/4 cup Soy Sauce
1 TSP Pre-ground Pepper (White or Black doesn't matter)
1 Egg
1 cup Cornstarch
Oil for frying (Crisco works the best, as it browns the chicken, nicely)
1 TBSP Dried, Crushed Red Peppers OR 16 Dried, Hot Peppers

2 cups Sliced Green Onions

Mix cornstarch with water. Add garlic, ginger, sugar, 1/2 cup soy sauce, vinegar, wine, and chicken broth. Stir until sugar dissolves. Refrigerate until needed.

In a separate bowl, mix chicken, 1/4 cups soy sauce, and pepper. Stir in egg. Add 1 cup cornstarch and mix until chicken pieces are coated evenly.

In frying pan or cast-iron skillet, heat up about 1/2" of Crisco, then drop individual pieces of chicken into oil, so as the pieces don't stick to each other. After frying all chicken, drain excess oil on a paper towel.

Pour sauce mixture into frying pan with dried peppers and cook until thick and gooey. Sauce should reach a boil. Add chicken and cook for about 5 to 10 minutes.

Serve with steamed rice. Yields six to eight servings, depending on how much your guests love your food.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Amateur Radio: Not Just for Old Men

About a month ago, my dad decided to pick up an old hobby: amateur radio. It had been something that he had been into about ten years ago, but had to let go because of his newest hobby of being a father. He had been talking with someone recently who told him that getting an amateur radio license was so much easier now. Originally, you had to know morse code and a bunch of confusing rules and regulations to even dip your toe in the water. Fortunately, the FCC saw its way clear to eliminating the morse code requirement, simplifying the test, and making the questions available to the public. Man! Now, anyone can take the test and expect to pass! So, my dad being who he is, pondered the idea for a couple days, studied for a week, and obtained the highest level of ham license, Amateur Extra. (Show-off...)

Now, he had been telling me about all the cool things he was finding out about ham radio during the week he was preparing. That you can send video feeds back and forth between hams and you can send information with a computer were only a couple of the things he told me. What really piqued my interest was that the lowest level of licensee could contact anyone in the world. Meaning, I could talk to people right in the heart of Japan: Anime and Manga central. I couldn't let my dad have all that fun without me.

Even though I don't have all the background knowledge in electronics that my dad does, it was still relatively easy to pass the Technician Class exam. I had to study for about three weeks every night after work. My studying was even easy. All I did was take one to three practice test every night from this site and read a bit on the sections I was struggling with from the No-Nonsense Technician Class Study Guide. With this preparation, it was a snap to pass my Technician Class exam last Saturday. And even though I didn't pass the General Class license exam, but I did no worse on it than I did on my first Technician's practice test.

With the test now behind me, I'm looking forward to getting my "KJ6T..." call sign and start spamming the radio waves with:
"QC! QC! I got my call sign!"
("It's 'CQ,' you Lid. Get off the air.")

After getting my call sign, the only thing standing in the way of making my first contact will be my equipment. Being a 19 year-old girl, I'm looking for inexpensive, tasteful equipment. Preferable colorful. The black handy talkies that I've been finding may be all right for an old guy with no fashion sense beyond what's practical, but for a young woman who doesn't want to look like she's toting around a ten year-old cell phone, it's terrbile! The closest thing to decent that I've found are some Chinese handy talkies that come in the primary colors, camo-green, and black. What I was really hoping for was something in a soft pink, off-white, beige, or even light purple! I would even prefer a plastic-molded Hello Kitty model over the standard black models. So, until more upwardly-mobile women get into the hobby of Ham Radio, it looks like I'll have to make my own colored slip-covers.

But, fashion aside, I am really excited about having an amateur license. I'll be able to contact people who share my intellectual interests and plus up my "geek street cred." It will certainly be worth the three weeks of busy evenings I spent on it.