If Star Trek can do it…

If Star Trek can do it, so can I, dammit! This blog is getting a reboot. I will start updating again!

So, are you ready for Christmas? It’s a beautiful 75º as I sit outside typing this, but I have to try to get in the Christmas frame of mind! Christmas photocard templates for my photo machines at work are crazy expensive and don’t allow for much customization. Because of this a couple years ago my coworker and I channeled our Photoshop addictions into designing card templates for our customers and then last year it was just me doing it. It’s fun trying to come up with designs the customers will like, but it’s not exactly something I can put off until November. Did you know that some people actually have their Christmas cards ordered, printed, and ready to mail by Thanksgiving? I know! Crazy! And, of course, new card designs means having to redo the PDF catalog that shows them. I definitely plan to get a head start this year! But it’s soooooo hard to think about Christmas when you’re sitting out on the patio!

Last July our friend Mark asked Rick & I if we would fill in on his trivia team for the tournament finals because most of their members had conflicts. The trivia is a weekly league, but our first time playing was in the finals. Me & Rick got kind of hooked and put together our own team when the next season started. The league is through Sporcle.com and we’ve got a pretty solid team put together. We’re definitely qualified for the finals and if we win the tournament there is actual cash prize money! Our biggest weak spot is sports but we even manage to get some of those questions right. In the last couple weeks I’ve started reading books like Mental Floss, The Book: Only the Greatest Lists in the History of Listory and I Used to Know That: Stuff You Forgot from School when I’ve got a couple minutes to kill. There is a lot of interesting shit out there in the world to learn. It’s also just a lot of fun to have the host ask a question, the whole team gets blank looks, and then all of a sudden I think of something or remember something out of nowhere. It makes my brain feel alive! You can check out the highlight quiz from last week here to get an idea of the huge variety that the questions run.

I’m using YNAB and I’m determined to succeed!

Rick & I are going to actually manage our money this year, instead of letting it abuse us. There’s no reason we should be struggling like we are. The money’s there, it’s just draining away with no set course. 2013 is the year we are going to get back in control!

I’ve had plans to fix things before, and none of them have worked. I’ve tried different programs & systems and either haven’t been able to get them to work, or haven’t been able to actually stick to them. My last failure was Mint.com. It seemed like the perfect solution on the surface. You can link your bank account to automatically import your transactions in real time. You can tell it which category to put certain expenditures into. You can access it from both Mac & PC, as well as mobile. It is free. Well, after a year of mostly ignoring our finances because Mint was doing all the work (even though it really wasn’t) I sat down to give it another shot. I decided that since we had a full year of transactions in Mint categorized that I could look at our actual expenses to build a budget. It seemed so obvious to me that a program that tracked all your money in and out could just generate a simple budget sheet for the year. Even just a list, something like You spent $xx.xx in Category A, You spent $xx.xx in Category B, etc. but if Mint can do that it’s not intuitive to find it. And I couldn’t find anyplace to tell it to automatically fill in a budget with those numbers so I could then start evaluating and tweaking our spending. I wanted to add some categories to the budget, but I found that Mint doesn’t allow you to modify the master categories at all, you can only add and subtract sub-categories. I was getting frustrated because I knew we needed a budget, but I’ve never actually sat down and done one. This program that people are always saying is awesome should be able to help me!

So, I turned to the place that knows everything, Google. One program kept turning up in articles I would read: You Need A Budget (YNAB.) I went to the site to check it out and almost left right away because the software costs $60. I couldn’t imagine paying $60 for a program that probably wouldn’t work. And of course it wouldn’t work for us, nothing else ever had! But it had a free trial, and the site looked like it had some good advice, so I downloaded it. I’m only 9 days into the 34 day trial and I’m already sold!

This is going to be more work than the “Use Mint and ignore it” method, but it should do something that one didn’t – WORK!

Here are some of the things I love about it already:

~ The trial period is 34 days! I love that it’s 34 instead of the standard 30. This way I can not only take the time to see if I like it, but no matter what day I start the program on I’ll be guaranteed one month to month transition before the trial runs out.
~ They write everything in simple straight-forward language because the goal is to make it as usable and understandable as possible.
~ YNAB is focused on deciding where to spend your money BEFORE you spend it, rather than focusing on where it went.
~ There is a free ebook you can read online that lays out the basics of YNAB.
~ It may be $60 to purchase it, but that is for the license. I’ll be able to use it on my Mac & my iPhone, and Rick will be able to put it on his PC and his Android phone. They all sync with each other in real time using Dropbox.
~ You have to either manually enter all your transactions, or download them from your bank in .QFX format and import them. It doesn’t fill itself automatically like Mint does.  This seems like it would be a strike against the program, but I’ll tell you why it’s a good thing for me in a minute.
~ There are only 4 basic rules for the system, and if I can implement them we will be able to build up a financial buffer for emergencies. 1. Give every dollar a job. 2. Save for a rainy day. 3. Roll with the punches 4. Live on last month’s income.

It’s going to be tough, but if we can do the system and stick with it we’ll see a world of improvement in our finances and how they’re handled. And this looks like it’s a system I’ll be able to stick with.

One of the things I read on the YNAB site was about the reason they force you to manually enter your data: “Manually entering your data keeps you close to your money and leads to a much greater awareness. Awareness is your greatest ally when it comes to money management… Importing transactions is quick and it serves as a great way to make sure that you didn’t miss anything. However, because of its ease, it does remove you from your money to some degree and that can impact awareness negatively.”

As soon as I read that it just clicked that everything I’d been doing the last few years had been distancing me from my finances and the last time I had a really strong grasp of both our income and our expenses was way back when I was manually entering every transaction into the register and physically producing checks for the payments. I want that security of knowing my bills are getting paid back.

2013 is a new year, and I may not make New Year Resolutions, but it’s time for change and this will be my year!


Printing digital photos

Ah film. Remember film? It still exists, you can still get it processed, and you can still get prints from (most of) those old negatives. But the majority of printing these days definitely comes from digital files. You’d think this would make it easier, and for the most part it does, but here are a few tips to help keep your lab person/printer sane when you come in. (And yes, by ‘your lab person/printer’ I mean ME!)

~ Organization! If you have a disc with 200 + images on it, and you are getting 20 or so printed, make a LEGIBLE list of the file names & numbers IN ORDER! When I’m going down the list to look for the ones you want the computer has them in order, and it makes it so much easier to find the random ones you want if I’m not bouncing up and down all over the file list!

~ Better yet, CDs & DVDs are pretty cheap now, burn a disc of just the images you want printed. You can even put them on a jump drive, you just have to be willing to either leave the drive or wait for the folder of pictures to transfer.

~ But don’t get too organized. I can only load from one folder at a time, so if you have 15 different folders I basically have to load files 15 different times. This increases the chances I’ll miss some, and it increases my frustration. Especially when each folder only has a couple pictures.

~ “But what if I have the folders labeled with the print size (i.e. 4×6, 5×7, etc)?” Don’t worry. That’s ok. That’s actually good organization that helps.

~ iPhoto is evil! Ok, not really, but it can be a PITA. iPhoto is great for the non-pro to keep their files organized on their computer, and to do non-destructive editing. But once you’ve got your pictures ready to print DON’T DON’T DON’T choose that burn disc option up there in the menu. This will give you a disc full of folders & thumbnails & crap that is really only easily useable by loading it into someone else’s iPhoto program. If you are copying photos to a disc out of iPhoto from the menu choose File –> Export…  This will give you a CD that has just one copy of your edited version of each photo in it.

~ Colorspace is important! The two most common ones are Adobe RGB and sRGB. Before having stuff printed check to see what colorspace the printer uses! My Fuji Frontier photo machine is sRGB. It assumes that any file I give it is sRGB. If I print something that’s in a different color space like Adobe RGB it will still print, but the colors will shift. There are other colorspaces out there too, and often there’s no real color change, but you shouldn’t chance it because I’ve never seen anything in the wrong color space look better than if it’s correct.

~ I know your next questions are “How do I know which colorspace I’m in? How do I change it?” I only know how to check it and change it in Photoshop. If you are using a different editing program there is probably a way, but I don’t know it. Google is your friend. In Photoshop I set the little status bar drop window on the bottom of the pictures to show Color Profile. This way anytime I open an image I can tell with just a glance which colorspace it’s in. If it’s in Adobe RGB I will leave it in that until my last save for printing. Adobe is a bigger colorspace and when you convert it to sRGB you will lose some of the range of color so it’s best to just do that after all your editing so you have as much to work with as possible before then. To change it in Photoshop you go to Edit –> Convert to Profile… A box will pop up and it will say Source Space at the top and list a profile. Then under that it will say Destination Space and have a pop-up menu to choose one from. Choose sRGB. Yeah, I know it actually says sRGB IEC61966-2.1. Don’t worry, it’s the right one. You don’t need to ever worry about remembering all those extra letters & numbers.

If I’ve saved this sample correctly you should be able to see a difference between the two versions of each file. Since the change is because of the way the machine reads the file’s colors the two files will usually look EXACTLY THE SAME on your screen, but you could end up with a shit print. Also, skin tones are really affected. A person in an AdobeRGB file printed on my sRGB machine will look really grey, flat, lifeless and dull!

These are just a few of the things that will help out the person at the photo lab who’s printing your pictures, and will also help you get better prints. The best thing you can do if you’re not sure about something – ask the person printing it!

Not a resolution.

Turns out blogging isn’t as simple as it looks. You actually have to have a little bit of focus & determination. You know, those things that are tough for us ADD/ADHD folks.  I start to feel guilty about not doing any recent posts here. I’m pretty sure both my readers refresh their feeds daily, if not hourly, just hoping for a new post here. Sorry guys!

It should be easy – Think of a subject, or a link that amuses me, or a story that makes me think. Then, just write about it. So many times I think “Oh, that would be a fun post on hellziggy.com!” but then instead of just writing I decide to research just one tiny bit. That’s where the trouble starts – The Internets! You all know how that goes. Hit one page, find the info you’re looking for, see an interesting link and follow it. Next thing you know it’s been an hour, nothing is written, but hey, you’ve seen lots of funny cat pictures! Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. After all, that’s probably how YOU ended up HERE!

But it’s a new year now, and the theory behind a new year is that you can make resolutions to change your life or things you do. Or, you know, be all sarcastic hipster and make a resolution not to make resolutions this year. I was doing that before it was cool. Seriously though, I’ve never been one to make resolutions, mainly because I suck at following through on them. So I’m still not making any, but I am going to try to get back in the rhythm of this writing thing. If I have an idea but can’t wright about it immediately I will make a note to myself rather than relying on my current method of going “yeah, I’ll remember that.” BECAUSE I NEVER DO! Hell, I’ve got so many electronic gadgets with me at all times that I don’t even need a pen and paper to make a note. 

If there’s some subject or event that you wish I would address and ramble on about just drop me a comment and let me know. If I don’t actually know anything about the subject I can go with that time-honored tradition of just making shit up! 

GISHWHES withdrawal

So, I did the insanity that was GISHWHES. I learned a couple things. 1. It’s fun to manage to accomplish the impossible! 2. I should warn Rick ahead of time next year 2a. I should make sure I also have plenty of unscheduled time during the hunt. 3. I need a willing teammate who is local because a lot of it would have been way more fun to plot & execute with someone else who is also slightly crazy!

We weren’t allowed to post our pictures or videos publicly while the hunt was going on, but now that submissions have closed we’ve been given the all clear! Here’s a few of the things I contributed for my team. (Link to full list HERE)

One of the easy low points items I did first was #12, “Creatively edit the Wikipedia entry for Jared Padelecki to seamlessly include your team name and some mention of his abiding admiration of Misha Collins.” This ended up being tougher than expected because Wikipedia IMMEDIATELY locked down the page so it couldn’t be edited. They didn’t lock down the foreign language ones though, so I edited in Spanish.
Item 12Looks pretty darn seamless to me!

Since I work in the photo lab of a camera store it was a no-brainer for me to be the one to do #83, “You holding a picture of you holding a picture of you holding a picture of you holding a picture of you holding a picture of an apple. You must have a gold frame suspended around your head.”
Item 83Points for items ranged from just 5, all the way up to 299, with just six items in the 200-300 range. There was one 350 pointer, but it was 1 point for every 2 Random Act of Kindness pledges your team got, up to 350. I was thrilled that I successfully got my team both the 284 point video as well as the 220 point one!

Item #112, “A mechanical catapult that sends a pumpkin more than 100 feet across an open field. MUST be mechanical.” The thing I loved most about this was that I ended up with multiple catapult options! I love that I can post on Facebook that I need a catapult and get offered more than one.

Item #138, “A woman, in a clean empty room, sitting in lotus position in the middle of at least five live snakes. She must be rubbing oil onto her arms from a silver bowl and clearly be enjoying it. The more snakes the more points. They must be real snakes. If they’re not, points will be deducted from your team. Go for the best photo/video quality.” Thanks to Sarah Richards I was able to go over on the herp society’s intake night and get a video with me and seven snakes!

Another of mine that I was particularly pleased with was #33, “Get your team name and “GISHWHES” on a billboard. Must include commercial-looking graphics, and must be at least 100 square feet on an actual, commercial billboard.” For this, since getting a billboard printed would be expensive and impractical I had the idea of designing a graphic, and then using a projector to project it onto an empty billboard at night. I came up with a movie poster design based on the movie I made up for Jared’s Wikipedia page that looked like this:
WCLM posterAlas, I never found a blank billboard to use, but I came up with Plan B the morning of the last day. The liquor store right next to work, Surdyk’s, has a fancy new big digital sign. I emailed them with the info & got an ok to put it on their sign! Because it was square and a specific number of pixels I had to edit & simplify it, but it still looked pretty cool!
Item 33That’s just some of the crazy stuff contributed by my team.  And now, we wait… Because Misha & team have to go through all the submissions we don’t know exactly when the winners will be announced. Last year it was 4 weeks, but it was also the first year so they weren’t as organized. I have no idea how long it will take this year. Even if we don’t win, it was fun. But man would it be nice to go to Scotland!!!

Make the world a better place, one random act at a time!

A lot of the items on this year’s GISHWHES list involve helping other people.

The biggest point item for my team needs a little help from y’all. GISHWHES is going to attempt to shatter the Guinness World Record for the “Most Pledges to Commit a Random Act of Kindness.” The current record is 74,379 pledges held by Guinness Breweries. Our goal is 100,000 pledges.

It will cost you nothing and I would love for you to help me with this. All you need to do is click on the link below and then pledge that you will do a Random Act of Kindness before the end of the year. This will not add you to an email list; it will just make you part of a huge group of people who want to better the world… and break a world record in the process.

Your act of kindness can be anything, big or small. You can volunteer for hurricane cleanup, or you can just buy the person in line behind you a coffee. You can donate to charity, or you can give a homeless person something hot to eat. Anything, as long as it involves kindness to a stranger.

All I need from you? Just a pledge to do a Random Act of Kindness before the end of the year. One random kindness in the next two months. That’s it. If you’re someone I’m friends with you already do this anyway without even thinking about it. Now I just need you to click the link below and fill out the pledge to help my scavenger hunt team gain more points. Pledging is free, and it won’t add you to a mailing list if you don’t want it to.

Please remember to enter my email on the form as your referrer, [hellziggy@gmail.com] and email me if you have any questions.

Click here to pledge, or copy and paste this link into your browser: http://cluster.gishwhes2012.com/pledge.php

I seem to have misplaced my sanity!

About 2 weeks ago I saw a friend mention GISHWHES in a blog post & that her team was still looking for members. GISHWHES stands for The Greatest International Scavenger Hunt The World Has Ever Seen! This is the second year for it. The first one last year broke the Guinness World Record for largest scavenger hunt, and they’re hoping to break their own record this year. The driving force behind GISHWHES is actor Misha Collins, from Supernatural. Misha’s kind of crazy. But it’s the fun good kind of crazy. He started Random Acts, a non-profit organization that’s aiming to conquer the world, one random act of kindness at a time. They are dedicated to funding and inspiring acts of kindness around the world.

Anyway, as I said, Misha is crazy. Some of the items on this list? How can one person come up with such insanity? You can find the entire list for this year’s hunt HERE. You had to register before hand, and the list came out about a week after registration closed. Everyone is on a 15 person team. You are grouped with the people you signed up with, and then every team that didn’t have 15 people yet was combined with other teams & individuals to get to 15. It’s been fun brainstorming how to do some of these crazy things, and contacting people who might help.

We can’t publish our pictures & videos publicly online anywhere until after the hunt ends, so unfortunately I can’t share too much yet. But here is a still shot of me from one of the videos. The video required five live snakes with bonus points awarded for more snakes and points deducted for fake snakes.

It was so cool having all those snakes on me! Yup, definitely no snake phobia here. :-)

If you follow me on Facebook, you can expect to see some weird requests coming through in the next 2 days.

Ahhh, the 70′s

Check out just how truly awesome this photo I scanned for a customer at work is:

The polka dot drapes color coordinated with the striped wallpaper coordinated with the flowered wallpaper. The 70′s at it’s finest. The picture doesn’t show the plaid carpet.

But the awesome doesn’t stop there. If you’ve been to my in-laws cabin you may be thinking to yourself, “Hey, that wallpaper looks strangely familiar…”

Yup! The cabin’s bathroom wallpaper is the same design, but in pink!

Such a trip to see the infamous wallpaper somewhere else. When I told the customer that the wallpaper still existed “out in the wild” she couldn’t believe it. Luckily I’d taken a picture for Twitter so when she picked up the photos she was having me scan I was able to give her a copy of the photo. She said her family is gonna love it. Also, I asked her if I could put a copy w/the people blurred out here. I’m so glad she said yes because otherwise who would believe that such fabulousness existed!

 

World traveler!

It’s been a while since I’ve hijacked the blog from Sharon, but I have a good excuse. I was getting ready for my latest expedition! Sharon’s friend Becky was going on vacation to China and she said I could come with her!

Me & Becky on the Great Wall of China.

This was more than just a cool vacation for me. This was my 7th continent! Yes, I now declare myself the World’s Most Adventurous Moose!

I’m not sure I even remember all the places I’ve been, but I’ll try to list them.
I’ve been to a ton of places here in America from a Space Shuttle launch down in Florida to a fancy soiree with James Marsters on the Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA. A road trip from Minneapolis to Toronto, and another from Minneapolis to Phoenix. I’ve also lounged on the beaches of Mexico with Jeanine, and cruised the Caribbean with her. Europe was my second continent. I’ve been to Italy with Sandy & Jason, England and Wales with Melissa & Chris, Paris with Mike & Chris and Croatia with Will. Amazingly enough, Antarctica was my third continent. I flew to McMurdo Base with a little help from the USPS, and while Andre was taking care of me we went to both the West Antarctic Ice Shelf and the actual South Pole! A visit to Ecuador on the way to the Galapagos Islands with Melissa made South America continent number four. Then Michelle was going to Australia to visit her fiance, so she brought me with her. I got to travel to Africa with Pete, Paula & Michael when they went to Ethiopia to adopt their son Sid.

After all that I was just waiting for the perfect person to get me to my seventh continent. Becky was an awesome traveling companion and she took great care of me!

I saw the Great Wall of China, the Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace, Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and so much more!

Now I have to start figuring out what kind of an adventure to have next. I’d love to go to the North Pole, since I’ve been to both the South Pole and the Equator. I’d also love to meet President Barak Obama some day. Sharon really wants to go to Iceland, so if she ever does I’ll go with her.

 

Depression lies.

Depression is a fucking rat-bastard asshole who lies. He tells you there is no hope, but he is wrong!

Two different people who are better writers than me, and way more internet-famous than I’ll ever be just wrote about this.
Read Jenny, The Bloggess‘s post HERE.
Read Geek King Wil Wheaton‘s post HERE.

One of the things that jumped out at me in Wil’s post was this:

I haven’t ever felt suicidal, but I do have Depression and Anxiety.

For many people, they assume that all depressed people are suicidal and if you’re not suicidal then you must not be depressed. This is not true! I have been depressed most of my life, if not all of it. I have never considered suicide. Have I wished I was dead at times? Yes. I was a teenager for seven years, after all. But even at the worst of my depression it never moved past “Things would be better if I just died.” to “I’d be better off dead and I’m going to do something about it.” or even “This thing I’m doing is stupid and dangerous, but I don’t care if I die.”

If depression was so straight forward it would be easy. Oh, I’m suddenly contemplating suicide? I’m depressed. I’m not contemplating suicide? I must be fine. But it’s not. There are a lot of symptoms and a lot of levels of severity.

I was diagnosed when I was 22 or 23. That was 20 years ago. I still have it. But now I own my life, not depression. I wish I could say it’s easy now, but it’s not. It is easier though, and some days that’s enough.

About three years ago the sneaky bastard crawled out of the ground, grabbed me, and dragged me down. For a year my world was getting darker and faded so gradually I didn’t see it. That’s the god damn sucky evil thing about depression. It’s sneaky. You think you’re fine, then it creeps in and slowly takes away the fine. And it’s gradual. You don’t know it’s there. Then one day you are talking to your therapist and realize that you’re depressed.

And it’s not just a little depression. Oh no. You’re stuck deep. Deeper than you’ve been in years. Worse than you’ve been in more than a fucking decade.

I had changed medications before it hit and things seemed to be a little better after the change, but now I think that may have been the combo of the new meds plus the old meds still in my system. By the end of the year, when I realized what was happening, I think I might as well have been completely unmedicated for all the little help my meds were. Two years ago I switched to a new medication, and things got better.

I spent some time kicking myself for being too dumb to realize that things were getting bad and that I was depressed. But that’s the bitch of depression. It’s just not easy. It was over the course of a year that I had been sinking into a pit of darkness and hopelessness and despair and didn’t even know it.

This post isn’t about pitying me for my depression. It’s about awareness, and hope. If you think you might possibly maybe be a tiny bit depressed, talk to your doctor. If you think you’re really severely depressed, talk to your doctor. They will talk to you and evaluate you. They can help, or refer you to someone who can help. If you are truly suffering from depression you need to know that things can be better, even though it doesn’t seem possible. One in four adults in the US suffers from a diagnosable mental illness. You are not alone.