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Passover

The day after St. Patrick’s Day I helped a friend of mine with his booth at the annual Maker Faire NoVa that was held at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. I had attended previous STEM Maker events in Greenbelt, Silver Spring, and Washington, DC but it’s the first time I ever checked the Northern Virginia one. I have to admit that this event was the largest event of its kind that I had ever attended. To give you an idea as to how big it was, here’s a video I shot of this event.

And now it’s time for the still photos. I knew I had come to the right place when I saw this statue of George Mason (whom the university is named after) all dressed up for the occasion.

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These signs were further giveaways that I was at the right place.

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The reason why I was there was that I was helping a friend of mine with his table. His name is Phil Shapiro and he frequently hangs out on YouTube and Twitter. He wanted to demonstrate Inkscape, which is the free open source alternative to Adobe Illustrator. He brought a couple of Linux laptops that he made available for people to use. At the last minute he decided to have one of those laptops run Tux Paint, which is a free open source graphics program that is made for kids under 7, which turned out to be a good move because a lot of visitors were kids. The kids seemed to really like Tux Paint so it was all good. In any case, here is what the sign looked like.

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Here are a few shots of the table that I took before Maker Faire NoVa opened to the general public.

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Here’s Phil Shapiro at one of the laptops setting everything up before the show began.

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And here’s Phil showing off the two laptops with Inkscape and Tux Paint to the general public.

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One of the many kids tried his hand at drawing with Tux Paint.

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Near our table was one that was manned by Bob Coggeshall, who’s famous in the Unix world for inventing the Unix command sudo.

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There were all kinds of projects that were run off of Raspberry Pi, such as this vintage teletype.

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There were also all kinds of 3D printed projects that looked amazing.

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There was a refurbished gumball machine that dispensed 3D printed charms for only 50 cents.

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It was at that gumball machine where I made my one and only purchase from Maker Faire NoVa: A tiny 1-inch printed 3D printed Darth Vader who’s seated like a Buddha. I only paid 50 cents for this cool item.

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There were also some vintage bikes that the public can ride.

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It was at Maker Faire NoVa where I got my first-ever real life glimpse of a Bitcoin mining machine.

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It was also at Maker Faire NoVa where I got my first glimpse of American Girl’s 2018 Girl of the Year doll. Her name is Luciana Vega, she’s into STEM and her big ambition is to be the first person to explore Mars.

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This boy was showing his work in progress on his latest project. He was in the process of building his own BB-8 robot from the Star Wars movies.

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There was just a variety of things I saw at Maker Faire NoVa that were simply astounding.

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George Mason University’s Fairfax campus is pretty big. In fact, I think it may be as big as my own alma mater (University of Maryland at College Park). I briefly went through the campus Barnes & Noble store, which had copies of Michael Wolff’s controversial bestseller about Donald Trump’s first year in the White House called Fire & Fury.

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I really had a blast at Maker Faire NoVa. It helped that the weather was in the 50’s that day so I was able to wear a light jacket instead of my heavy winter coat for a change. I even saw my first robin of the year while I was walking around outside going from building to building while checking out the event. (The entire event was spread over four buildings.) Sadly that warm weather was a short-lived thing because the weather turned really cold and rainy the next day followed by a snowstorm.

The only downside about that event is that for about a couple of days before that event I started to have stuffed sinuses. By the time of that event my throat felt more scratchy as I talked more and more with the general public while I worked at Phil’s booth. My legs had grown stiff and sore by the end of the day due to the huge amount of walking and standing I did throughout the day. The following day I felt extremely tired and sick. I ended up spending most of the next week sleeping (with the exception of the couple of times I went out in the snow where I did some shoveling two days after Maker Faire NoVa). I even ended up skipping the big March for Our Lives on the following Saturday due to being sick. But the video, photos, and fond memories from Maker Faire NoVa made it all worthwhile.

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

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Late last week I finished my latest animation, which is based on the song “Jack Sprat (aka Butcher the Hog)” by The Bachelor and the Bad Actress. Here is the video. I’ll write more about how I made it below.

I’m pretty friendly with a few local musicians. (None of them are major stars and all of them have day jobs since they don’t make enough money from being musicians to pay the bills.) A few months ago I did a short animation to Phil Shapiro’s song “Open Source is Yours and Mine.

Among my musician friends are a husband and wife duo known as The Bachelor and the Bad Actress. (I even went to their wedding that was held during the Crazy Quilt Festival in Greenbelt, Maryland a couple of years ago.) At one point I was communicating with Joe the Bachelor on Facebook (yes, he’s married now but he’s still known as The Bachelor because, well, old habits die hard [LOL!]) and I linked to the “Open Source is Yours and Mine” and I joked about offering to trash one of his songs the way I “trashed” the “Open Source” song. He really liked the video and was open to the idea of an animated music video to one of The Bachelor and the Bad Actress’ songs.

Meanwhile I’ve been going to the weekly animation meetup at Makerspace 125 and there is talk about all of us collaborating together on one animation but nothing has happened yet along those lines (as of this writing). When I mentioned this to Joe the Bachelor, he offered to let those of us in that meetup to each take one of their songs and animate it.

I brought it up with the meetup group but it was met with indifference. I decided to do one of their songs on my own and show it to the other meetup attendees just to show that it’s possible. I picked “Jack Sprat (aka Butcher the Hog)” because the lyrics were straightforward and I figured that I could do a comedic animation that’s reminiscent of the old Warner Brothers Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts from the 1940’s and 1950’s.

I used Moho Anime Studio Debut for the bulk of the animation. There were a few times when I had to use Adobe Photoshop for some scenes where using Anime Studio would’ve been frustrating. (Like most graphics programs, Anime Studio Debut uses layers. Unlike the other graphics programs, you literally cannot control the opacity in those layers. So I switched to Photoshop for those times when I needed to control the opacity of certain layers, exported the graphics as a .jpeg, then imported it into Anime Studio Debut. I’m going to stop here on the technical stuff since not everyone is interested in such details.)

This animation was my first foray into actual lip-synching. Anime Studio Debut recommended this free open source software called Papagayo, which churns out lip movements based on both audio recordings and what you type into the application. If you want to know more about this, I suggest getting it yourself, since it is free to download.

I originally planned on doing the entire thing in Anime Studio Debut while I would use iMovie only to put in the opening title and closing credits. There was a snag when I discovered that Anime Studio Debut can’t go any further than 3,000 frames and the song lasts longer than that. I was basically using the app’s default at 24 frames per second. If you do the math, you’d know that the maximum run time that the software can handle is 125 seconds or two minutes and five seconds. The song runs for two minutes and 31 seconds.

I found a workaround when I brought the song into Audacity and broke it up in two. Then I created two separate animation files, exported them separately, then brought them into iMovie where I managed to patch everything together into one file.

While I was working on this, I found out that Moby had been releasing animated music videos. The first one is a statement about people being addicted to their smartphones. The second one has become controversial because it makes an unflattering statement about President Donald Trump but that’s another story altogether. I was influenced by the end titles in both videos and they were my inspiration for how I created the end title in my own animation where I showed people where they can download or stream The Bachelor and the Bad Actress’ music.

Speaking of President Trump, I added some imagery of my own about The Donald along with a quote from George Orwell’s book Animal Farm. See if you can spot them while you’re watching my video.

I have to admit that this was my most ambitious animation to date and there were times when I was on the verge of burnout. And that’s because I was also doing some major job hunting using tips from a book that I had recently gotten a hold of.

I finally decided that doing two big things at once wasn’t good for my health. With the Fourth of July holiday coming up, I decided that I would finish the animation first then resume reading the job hunting book after the holiday. (If this book works for me and I end up getting a new day job to pay the bills, I will write another post praising this book and urging all my readers of this blog to buy it.) With another finished animation under my belt, I now have something recent I can show to any potential employer interested in my animation skills.

I’m also toying with starting a Patreon page where I would make short animations (meaning less than five minutes) for anyone willing to give me some money. Working on this animation has shown me what I can realistically do for a potential patron while setting a price that’s reasonable for the patron while not pricing myself so low that I end up making $1 or $2 per hour (which is impossible to live on anywhere in the United States of America).

By the way, if you like the song, “Jack Sprat (aka Butcher the Hog),”  you can purchase it or stream it through The Bachelor and the Bad Actress’ Bandcamp page.

Passover

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For the past few weeks I’ve been taking classes in Adobe AfterEffects through the Takoma Park Recreation Department that were held in the Takoma Park Public Library’s computer lab. I’ve done it before, which you can see in the posts I wrote on March 25, 2015; March 27, 2015; and December 7, 2015. So I decided to go through with the class again this time around mainly because I’ve gotten to know and like both the instructor and my fellow classmates. Plus one of my friends works at the library and his office is next to the room where I take the class so I can say “Hi” to him both before and after class.

So by this time I have gotten to know the software pretty much okay. (Although due to the months between each class I tend to forget what I’ve learned. The fact that I can’t afford to buy my own copy of Adobe AfterEffects nor pay that monthly software fee that Adobe now institutes on users of its products don’t help at all.) I had hit a snag on what final project I wanted to work on because I literally couldn’t decide what I wanted to do. I thought about the Bernie Sanders campaign but I had already done that the last time I took the class. I wasn’t into going to that well again.

But then one night before class started I stopped by my friend’s office. He had been spending his spare time with helping a new organization that had just formed known as Takoma Radio. The group is currently trying to get a low powered radio station off of the ground that would be community based. What’s interesting is that this project was founded by a former producer at NPR.

Well, anyway, my friend suggested that I made a promo for this new radio station and he made a few suggestions as to how I could approach this. I took notes. One of his suggestions that resonated most with me was this suggested ad line: Ever dreamed of being a DJ at a radio station?

So I did some Google Image searches of DJ’s. As I was sifting through the images, I found this image of a kitten that was dressed as a DJ that came from this web page. I thought it was incredibly cute and I began to thought of doing a cute animation of a kitten dreaming of becoming a DJ.

But then I did a Google Image search of “Deejay Kitten” and I found literally a lot of images featuring kittens as DJs. But then I began to worry that my little promo would become a cliche so I began to think about other animals while doing Google Image searches on these animals acting as DJs. I finally settled on a fox because there were far fewer DJ fox images. Besides, I think foxes are very beautiful animals and the fact that they are close relatives of dogs didn’t hurt either.

So I spent the next few weeks coming up with the designs, doing the vector graphics at home using Inkscape (which is an open source alternative to Adobe Illustrator), then bringing the files into class. There were a few snags along the way, such as the one day last month when the entire Metro system decided to close down on a Wednesday and the instructor couldn’t make it because he relies exclusively on Metro to get around. (It was the first time in its history that the entire Metro system had shut down when there wasn’t a hurricane or major snowstorm.) I had attended the classes on Wednesday while I also tried to go to the Sunday afternoon lab sessions when I didn’t have anything conflicting at church. Last Sunday I was mostly done. I tried to render the file. While the file turned out okay on the library’s computers, for some weird reason it wasn’t playing on my own MacBook (which I’ve recently upgraded to El Capitan). Unfortunately the lab session ended so I took the file home with me. I tried uploading it on to YouTube and it refused to take it. (I was able to upload it fine but then it would balk during the processing phase by saying that it was in an unfamiliar format. This happened despite the fact that the file was in the .mov format.)

Basically I had no other choice but to return yesterday for one final Sunday lab session. With the instructor’s help I changed some of the render criteria. It rendered the animation pretty quickly. I decided to upload it directly on to YouTube and it took over an hour for the whole thing to upload. I had planned on going to a Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School session that was held in the late-afternoon, early-evening at the Bier Barron in Washington, DC but I ended up missing it because of the very long upload time. The instructor patiently waited with me as he did some reading and I did some web surfing using my own MacBook that I brought with me. Well, to make a long story short, the entire animation was uploaded and processed on to YouTube without a hitch and you can now view it below.

When I got home I sent e-mails to my friend as well as to some of the people at the radio station. So far the only feedback I got from the station was to make a minor edit to the promo but it was something I was able to do in iMovie without having it affect any of the animation at all. I re-uploaded it today and I found that the whole video uploaded online in a couple of minutes. As to why the same video took longer to upload the day before is something I can’t explain.

I don’t know if anything will come of this web promo but I can use it as part of my portfolio.

It was the summer of 2002. I had just finished the semester where I learned Flash in a computer animation class that I took at a local community college. I had gotten an “A” in the class and I was feeling good about that achievement. At that time I was also subscribed to a mailing list for local web designers in the Washington, DC area. From time to time that mailing list would include postings for jobs, internships, and volunteer opportunities.

I saw a posting that a woman made on behalf of her uncle. He was running for Governor of Vermont as an independent and he was running his campaign on a very tight shoestring budget. Basically it would be a short Flash web ad. It would be an unpaid position since funds were very tight but it would be a one-time thing. I saw her uncle’s website and I found that I agreed with his position on most of the issues. I decided to go for it thinking that it would be a simple and quick job that would last no more than a day or two until I added it to my online portfolio and move on with my life. So I applied while providing a link to my now-defunct TwistedUnicorn.com site where I had my most recent Flash animations from that community college class posted. I got an immediate response and I got the volunteer position.

Basically I was working in Maryland doing a Flash animation for a campaign in Vermont, a state that, at the time, I had never visited. (Since then my then-husband and I made a brief rest stop in that state on our way back from a trip to Quebec in 2006. My dream is to one day make a longer trip to that state, as well as New Hampshire and Maine, but I digress.) Well, anyway, my contact in the campaign had given me a few pictures of the candidate, Con Hogan, along with some music that the campaign had wanted as the background music—which was an instrumental bluegrass song that Con Hogan had recorded himself with his own band. (I thought it was cool that Con Hogan was a musician on the side.)

I was also instructed not to make it look too cartoony, which was a challenge since Flash is a vector graphics package and, by its very nature, vector animation tends to look more cartoony than bitmap graphics.

So I assembled something together using both Con Hogan’s pictures along with some photos I had from a royalty-free photo package I owned at the time. I decided to avoid a negative campaign attack ad because they tend to be too prevalent. I thought a positive upbeat ad listing Hogan’s positions would be the way to go because it would make his campaign stand out.

A day or so later my contact from the campaign asked if I could make this Flash ad be convertible into a format that would be shown on television stations throughout Vermont. At that point I began to panic. When I signed up for this project, I was led to believe that it would be for a web-only ad. I was still new to Flash so I had no idea how it would be convertible for television broadcast. I began to post notices not only on the mailing list where I originally learned about this opportunity but other forums as well. I also did numerous Google searches. I found out that, yes, a Flash animation could be shown on television but it had to be converted into a .mov format first.

Basically, what I originally thought could be knocked off in a day or two turned out to take me a week as I waited for answers on how to make this Flash animation also be suited for television. I submitted it to the campaign just in time for the deadline. I got a response from my contact saying that the campaign was totally mind blown by what I had done.

Since I wasn’t anywhere near Vermont in 2002, I don’t know how well the television ad was received. All that I know is that Con Hogan lost the election that year, which was too bad but that’s life. I did a recent Google search and I found that Con Hogan has his own website and he remains a Vermont personality who’s big cause is providing affordable health care to everyone. There’s even a page devoted to his bluegrass band.

So, without further ado, here is the original 2002 Flash ad (which has been remastered in HD) for Con Hogan’s gubernatorial campaign.

I joined this local time bank a few months ago where the concept is that one gives an hour (in terms of goods and services) and gets an hour in return. The short explanation is that it’s an experiment in exchanging goods and services without using money. Here’s a link where you can learn more about the concept.

Through the time bank I gave someone an hour’s lesson in basic acrylic painting a few months ago followed by helping a woman with designing a brochure because she’s trying to jump-start her writing and editing business after having to take time off due to health reasons. So I requested some resume writing and career counseling for myself because I needed some advice on a few things. I met with a woman who’s normally a job and career coach but she’s putting that career on hold because she’s in the process of getting her Ph.D. We met for an hour a few months ago and she suggested a few things. It was a nice chat and everything. I really wanted to meet with her again because I still had a few questions that I thought she could help me answer. When I tried to schedule a follow-up, I had a hard time reaching her until I finally got an e-mail from her saying that she has gotten pretty busy with her schoolwork so she doesn’t know when she would be able to talk with me again.

Well, anyway, I finally got around to taking one of her suggestions of trying sites like Fiverr.com to advertise my services. The idea is to build up a work portfolio so I’ll have more contacts that would lead to more work, etc.

I delayed getting on Fiverr.com because I’ve seen people post very complicated jobs while charging $5 (which is why the site is called Fiverr in the first place) like building a full website. It’s just that I’ve done jobs like building websites in the first place and they are so time-consuming that paying someone just $5 is a bit of a rip-off. In fact, one would be better off working at McDonald’s than earning $5 building a website or programming an app. I mean, $5 might be a lot of money in a Third World country but here in the U.S. $5 is nothing.

But then I thought “Suppose that counselor wasn’t wrong?” and I decided to give it a shot. I decided to do vector tracing because that’s a relatively easy job that I can churn out pretty fast. Basically I’ll take your favorite photograph and trace over it using either Adobe Illustrator or Inkscape (depending on your personal preference). For $5 I’ll do it and send it out via e-mail within 10 days. For an extra $10, I’ll do it using one of the images provided by the Getty Library. For $20 I’ll get everything traced and e-mailed to you in 1 day. Here’s one sample of my previous work.

Petting Farm at Clark's Elioak Farm

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I know it sounds like I’m cheapening myself but I’m just giving it a try for a few weeks to see if this thing really works. Right now I’m sticking with only vector tracing because there’s no way in hell I’m going to do something time-consuming and complex like making animations for $5 (which is actually an option on that site).

For all I know that career coach could’ve been giving me bum advice but I think I should at least try it first before I start denouncing this option.

So if you ever want the privilege to get the person behind the Sagittarius Dolly blog to trace your favorite photograph into a vector graphic (in either .ai or .svg), order my services right here right now. I’m only trying this for a month so if I don’t get any responses, I’m going to quit this site. So order now and don’t delay!

Yesterday there was this horrible rainstorm that lasted all day and all night. I still went ahead with a few daytime activities that I had originally planned on attending with others despite the mess but I stayed indoors last night because the rain had really gotten very heavy. I was still reading all the Internet responses to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states on Friday as well as all the rainbow-graphics I’ve seen. Even major corporations were getting in on the act with the rainbows.

I decided to visit OpenClipArt.org to see if anyone had done a rainbow version of the Linux mascot, Tux the Penguin. When I saw that no one had done so, I decided to do it myself. It was basically a quick and dirty project where I imported the graphics into Photoshop, combined them, exported them as .png files, imported those files into Inkscape, exported as .svg files, then uploaded the .svg files on to OpenClipArt.org.

I came up with four different versions of a rainbow-altered Tux. I couldn’t decide which version to use so I decided to upload them all online. Here are the graphics along with the links where you can get them for free.

tuxflyingrainbowflag
Download this graphic here.

tuxonrainbowflag

Download this graphic here.

tuxwithrainbowbodyandwhitebelly

Download this graphic here.

tuxwithrainbowchest

Download this graphic here.

http://www.nablopomo.com

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