More glassing

Of course, with everything moving so quickly, we didn’t have time to make extended vacation plans. It’s only three weeks anyway before I start my new job, so it wasn’t worth it to go somewhere far away. But my sister, who lives near Copenhagen, had invited us over — and we hadn’t been there in years, so it would be fun to stay with them again. They now also have a vacation home, and the shed there has been converted into a glass art studio. After a few days in Copenhagen, we moved to the vacation home and my sister visited a few times to help us make a glass project!

Glass 'dots' glued to a transparent glass circle. In the corner is a box with colour-sorted dots and a tweezer.
I have been really interested in the glass ‘dots’: drops of glass that you stick to a transparent piece of glass. It’s what I used for the Estus flask. But instead of firing it very hot for a ‘full fuse’, where the dots melt completely and you get left with smooth glass, I wanted a cooler firing so that the dots remained domed. My sister gave me a circle of transparent glass: a reject from a commission she’s working on right now, but perfect for my purpose.
I did not have a pre-set plan and just went where the size and colours of the dots took me.

A glass circle with the top 60% filled with multi-coloured dots
This was the result of an afternoon fiddling with tweezers and glue. The dots are glued with normal hobby glue — that will burn off in the oven, but at least prevents things from shifting around before then. I may have used too much glue in places, but it did not cause problems.

Me wearing an industrial mask while spreading black glass powder all over the dots
Of course, if the dots would not melt fully, then there would be space in between them. With stained glass windows in mind, I asked my sister what to do, and she suggested using black glass powder. With a small brush, I brushed that in between the dots. Because it is much finer (really glass dust), it would melt at much lower temperatures. I had to wear an industrial mask — you don’t want to breathe in glass particles. Trust me on that.

My project straight out of the oven
It takes about 24 hours for a firing to be complete, as the glass has to stay at certain temperatures for a certain times for proper annealing. And then it has to cool off slowly, otherwise the stresses in the material can cause the glass to shatter. And since the oven uses electricity (and a fair amount of it), it pays to wait until midnight to start heating up the oven — the computer has a ‘waiting stage’ in its program.
That evening, we had arrange to meet up with some of my former colleagues with whom I still play RPGs, and we were back very, very late. So the oven had cooled off enough to open! We were too tired to do anything else than to take out the fire-proof tray with our projects, put in another tray that had been prepared, and turn on the oven. I took a quick snap of my project as it came straight out of the oven.

My project held up against the light
This is the next morning. The dots act as tiny lenses and refract the light. I do think the black glass in between adds something important. It’s not as nicely spread as I would have wanted. I might have brushed too rigorously because I did not want to run the risk of some specks of black dust getting stuck on the dots themselves and diminish the luster.

Close-up of the project
You can see how in some places, the black glass did stick to the underside of the dots. But it all has melted while the dots retained their shape.

Side view of the project
On this side view, you can see clearly how the dots remained ‘dot-shaped’.

Against a darker background
It also works against a darker background. That really brings out the different colours.

Project held up to the light, seen from the back
This is what it looks like from the ‘back’ of the project. That has a whole different feel to it and shows the ‘stained glass’ effect a bit better.

The dots acting as tiny lenses, refrecting the pattern of the carpet underneath
The dots act as tiny lenses. Here I held it against the carpet in the ‘sun room’, and you can see it reflected/refracted in the dots.

Me arranging small pieces of coloured glass on a plate
My project used up a lot of dots, and my sister is working on a huge commission that also requires quite a few dots. So I felt a bit responsible and decided to help make more dots.
The cool thing about glass is that when it completely melts (at around 815 Celcius), the surface tension makes it want to become 6 millimeters thick. It will form drops of that thickness, and when it cools off again, those drops harden — that’s what the ‘dots’ are! And with glass being so hard, it is almost impossible to cut round shapes in it: you basically approximate a curve by chipping away smaller, straight pieces. Which means that if you need a lot of different-shaped pieces, you get left with lots of very small pieces.
So the trick of making dots is to collect those pieces and fire them at a high temperature. It takes a hot firing in the oven (and thus quite a bit of time) but it is a great way to recycle what would otherwise be waste material.

A plate half-filled with small pieces of glass
The plates that go into the oven are hard ceramic plates, sometimes with a ‘slurry’ on it as a releasing agent. You want to keep some space in between the pieces, so that they don’t melt together.

The plate completely filled with oddly-shaped pieces of coloured transparent glass
It is a nice little job to simply take the pieces that are available and arrange them. Very satisfying to see the area get filled up, and to find the best-fitting piece for a particular spot.

The plate in the oven
This is how the plate goes into the oven. The heating element is embedded in the (heavily isolated) lid. The little black bit on the right on the inside is the temperature sensor, and the box on the right of the oven is the firing computer. Close the lid, create the program, and then just wait until it’s all cooled off enough. With the heavy insulation, even cooling off takes a long, long time!

The plate with the dots in the oven
And this is what greeted us when we opened the oven! Some of the pieces turned out to be too close together so they melted together, making a multi-coloured dot. Some dots got weird shapes because of that too, but that is maybe also a charming effect.

Have some dot glamour shots! I put them all in a plastic, lidded container, so they can be poured out and sorted when needed.
dots glamour shot

dots glamour shot

dots glamour shot

dots glamour shot

That’s that then

May 31st, I submitted my resignation from my job. It was a long time coming, and it was not a coincidence that I had not yet taken any holidays this year: I have been saving them up or this occasion. So tomorrow (the 13th) will be my last day. I have a month’s notice period, so the 30th will be officially my last day — but I have enough time off.
I feel ambivalent about leaving. I like my teams, and I like most of the company culture. But there are some factors that make that I can’t progress professionally there, and I have found another position that seems to be a much better match.
It’s been an exhausting time between resigning and now. Not only do I have to deal with my own ambivalence about it, but I also have to manage the emotions of the surprised/shocked/defeated reactions of my (soon-to-be-former) colleagues. I have been falling asleep on the couch just about every evening, and I’ll be glad when it’s all done.

Of course, I want to go out with a bang. So I asked the team to vote on the treat I was going to bring: either macarons, the chocolate sprits cookies or soft chocolate chip cookies. I had made those cookies with matcha (after this recipe) but those were not too popular — the matcha made it bitter, and my colleagues have the palate of a toddler! So when the cookie option won in the poll, I was thinking of what I would do.
Saturday, I baked a batch of these cookies, but with cacao powder substituted for the matcha. And it was a complete failure! I was a bit panicky: I had promised to make cookies, and some colleagues are coming to the office specifically to say goodbye to me and to eat cookies. Worst case, I would have to get some of those chilled cookie dough rolls from the supermarket — but that would definitely feel like defeat.
So I did some research, and found a cookie recipe that needed some ingredients that I didn’t have at hand. I planned to go shopping at noon (grocery stores open at noon on Sundays) so I had the whole rest of the day to bake. But then I noticed that there was a video to accompany the recipe, but then I noticed that the video, even though it was a chocolate chip recipe, was not of the recipe that I had found, but a different recipe! I really like Dorie Greenspan’s personality, so I was very interested in her basic chocolate chip cookie recipe. And lo and behold: I did have everything for that!
So I made two batches of four trays of cookies each: one of the basic recipe with milk chocolate and walnuts, and one with darker sugar, a whiff of cinnamon (which is barely detectable, next time I will add twice as much) with bitter chocolate and macadamia nuts. It took me all afternoon, but now I have two mountains of cookies to bring.

I’m looking forward to our vacation, and to starting at my new job on July 4th.

Self-playing ‘games’

When I saw that there was a mobile game coming out for Ni No Kuni (“Cross Worlds”), I was very excited. I have had so much fun with the two games, especially the second. The world-building, the visuals (Studio Ghibli was involved in the first game, and the visual style was kept) and the gameplay all made them stand-outs for me.
Yesterday was the launch, and while I didn’t have that much time to dive into it, I really liked what I saw when I started it up. There is an actual story line, and NPCs and almost everything is voiced. So much content, and it’s amazing to think that it is basically an MMORPG on a phone.
It is an action RPG, and that means that part of the screen is given over to the touch controls, which takes away the haptic feedback one relies on when pressing buttons on a controller. And since the screen is small, there is less ‘real estate’ to put things like quest markers and mini-maps on, and the battles can get quite hectic with visual effects, especially if there are multiple players battling.

The way the designers ‘solved’ this is to automate nearly everything. If you activate a quest, your PC will automatically walk to their destination. When you start a battle, your PC will keep fighting for as long as there are enemies and automatically use their skills when they are available.
This means that the game, essentially, plays itself. Gone is the exploration, checking every nook and cranny of the map to see what you find. Gone is the skill needed for the battles. This morning I did the five daily Swift Solutions quests by merely activating them one by one, and the game did all the work: it went where it needed to go, it battled the monsters it needed to battle. All I had to do was to accept the rewards and activate the next quest.

It looks gorgeous, and I really want to like it, but there’s just too little ‘game’ for me to get excited for.

I made a fresh-faced Witch to play with, but I think this is as far as she’ll you. Unfortunately.

Spring Saturday

Yesterday, usmu came over to visit — it had been a while since we had hung out together, and the last time we visited him in Utrecht. We picked him up at the train station and drove to Weurt, a small village at the side of the Waal to the west of Nijmegen. There is an old gravel pit outside of the river dike that is now unmanaged and left as a fishing spot. We walked towards the viewing platform and had a picnic lunch there. Afterwards, we walked along the river around the gravel pit before retiring home for tea and cookies and dinner.

There are wild horses roaming the area, they keep it from overgrowing. They had little foal! As we approached the two were annoying each other, but when we got a bit closer they got curious. The parent kept an eye on us, but we kept an acceptable distance as we passed.

When we returned, it was naptime for the foal. So cute.


The wisteria on our shed is happy it’s spring again — it’s growing and covered in flowers!

We hung a trellis on the side of the shed so it had something to hang on to, we might have to extend that. It makes me happy to see it grow so abundantly.

Glassing

My sister has been making glass art for a few years now. She has three ovens (one of which is in their vacation home) and has been making all kinds of things: sometimes figurative, sometimes abstract, sometimes purely decorative but also things like trays and vases.
She was coming to the Netherlands for over the Easter break, and she brought the smallest oven and some of her supplies. We went there on the Monday to work on some projects!


The material to work with

She has worked out a technique to make ‘murini’, small rods of glass with a pattern. These can be used to make things like ‘millefiori’ (literally: thousand flowers), something that Murini, the glass-makers island of Venice is famous for.
I had thought long and hard on what to make, and I decided on making a little Estus flask, from Dark Souls. It’s the healing item, and it’s a flask filled with a yellow and red glowing liquid. My sister cut out a flask shape out of transparent glass, and I would put all kinds of dots and smaller pieces of glass on there. By baking it really hot, I’d get a ‘full fuse’ and get a single sheet of glass with all those colors in. Then on a second firing, the flask shape would be made round so that you could set it upright.

I’d pick up a dot and glue it in place with a tiny, tiny bit of hobby glue — that would burn off in the oven anyway, but the important thing was that it would keep in place when handling the unfired item.

Work in progress.

It requires a bit of concentration, but I got the routine down. We had some smaller pieces of glass left, and we made a few ‘dots plates’ and other items too.

Some of the other items we made that day.

It’s kinda weird to have a thing that gets to 800 degrees Celcius on your living room floor, but the oven is quite well insulated so it doesn’t get stupidly hot outside. Firing the glass takes about 24 hours.

My Estus flask after the first firing. Apparently there is a spot that got ‘devitrified’, and my sister didn’t have the tools with her to rectify that, so the item is now in Denmark for that. There will be a second firing to make it round, too.
I like how it looks, but I think I should have used a lot less green and blue. But maybe there will be a second one in the future…

One of the little ‘dots plates’ we made. I like how it’s a little colourful mosaic, but since it was fired on ‘full fuse’, it’s all smooth.

It was a lot of fun. Perhaps, when we visit Denmark in the future, we’ll do more of it.

Sprouting

I eat salads for lunch, but just straight lettuce is kinda boring. So I add things to it: tomato, cucumber and grilled bell peppers. I also have a pot of home-pickled red onions in the fridge to add to it. To expand my repertoire, I thought it would be fun to add sprouts to that.
We had a little dish for that, but it was very inconvenient to use. A little search through webshops turned up a set of two glass bottles with caps with a sieve. It comes with a little dish on which they can be placed so that any water can fall out (on the dish) while keeping the seeds in.

The big problem with sprouting is that the sprouts can get mouldy if they stay too moist — but they do need water in order to sprout at all. Using these bottles, I can swish some water around and put ’em downward in order to let the excess water leak out.


You also need to let the sprouts dry out before putting them in a container in the fridge, for the same reason.

It works quite well, and I have established a routine for the watering. I ordered an assortment of sprouting seeds along with the set, and I’m slowly working my way through that.

I have finished(*) Octopath Traveler, which is just as well, because I had gotten kind of obsessed with it. Every battle is a puzzle, and especially the boss battles (of which there are 32 in the character chapters and some additional ones in dungeons) require the right combination of abilities, equipment and tactics. Of course, there are battles against random monsters on the overland map and in dungeons, but once you have cracked their puzzle (so to speak) they don’t really offer a challenge anymore. And since I am bad at playing games, I had to walk back and forth a bit to gather the right characters and equipment for some boss battles, so in the end I was a bit overlevelled.
(*): I have completed all the chapters of all eight characters. I did not finish (or even enter!) some of the dungeons, nor did I take up the special end-game dungeon (to which some of the chapters make a masterful allusion!) but for now I will declare the game done.

Of course, being me, I considered how a game like Octopath Traveler would work out as a tabletop RPG. There is an official TRPG out, but that is in Japanese. One could easily add the Boost mechanic to a combat-heavy game like D&D. Personally, if I was interested in that, I would also fiddle with the rules for damage resistances and vulnerabilities to add the shields mechanic.
And for sure, the main part of the game is the combat, like in so many computer RPGs. But what made me care about the outcome, are the character stories and the NPCs they meet and the overall story arc of this group of characters. And I was thinking: what would it take to replicate that same ‘feel’ in a tabletop RPG? It could be a real cool Ryuutama campaign with some mature players who all signed up for being the star of the show for one episode, and then be a supporting character for all the other characters’ episodes. A pre-planned campaign wouldn’t work — it never does, because it takes away agency from the players — but you could prepare the next chapter based on the actions of the group and their preferences. What you could plan ahead is the continent/area where the stories would play out, but which parts of which stories would be placed where, would be up to the flow of the game. I was also struck by how some of the character jobs directly map onto the jobs available in Ryuutama: nobles, healers, merchants…

Instead of that, I have assembled a group to play Blades in the Dark with. A few years back, I was part of a BitD campaign that lasted quite a long time. I spoke a friend who had fallen off my radar for a bit. He is the GM of a campaign me and Klik both play in, but we haven’t played for about six months now. This is due to how busy he is, but he does have the bandwidth to play in a game. BitD is an interesting setting — when I described it to him, he immediately pointed to the Arcane series on Netflix, which is what reminded me strongly of Blades too. And it has a lot of player input and improv, so it doesn’t really require a lot of prep for the GM. I’m confident in my ability to wing it. I have assembled an interesting mix of players, and we’re having our ‘session zero’ next week. I’m looking forward to it.

Capybara plushie

Some time ago, there was a Kickstarter for a capybara plushie. Obviously I pitched in, and the funding goal was met. Today it came in.

I completely derailed the start of a work meeting by showing it on-camera and talking about capybara and how great they are. Turns out some colleagues didn’t know what capybara were! I was happy I could enrich their lives 😉

Actually, it’s been about one month and a half since we had our air-to-air heat pump installed. Since it was installed, we have stopped using gas for heating — and what with the political situation, I’m all for reducing my gas usage in order to not fund a genocidal fascist regime. But it’s certainly different from the gas-fueled central heating we used before.

  • The unit is in a corner of the living room, which means that in order to spread the heat more throughout the LDK (Living/Dining/Kitchen) the fan is set to blow diagonally into the room. But that means the air stream is directly on the couch, so if we’re sitting there, we sometimes let it blow straight in the front: still comfortable on the couch, but more localized heating.
  • The outside unit is amazingly quiet, even at full blast. That’s a relief: I would not want to get into trouble with the neighbours over any noise. But then again, we live near the last bit of highway, so there’s always sound from there. You can’t hear the unit over that, and since it’s on the roof of our extension, it’s also not near where people are in the first place.
  • The thermostat works quite well. Put it on 20 degrees, and it will start heating. When the air around the unit reaches the desired temperature, the system will shut down and only start up again to keep the temperature on that level.
  • It’s also quite efficient: only with the really cold day on Friday did we ever go over 4 kWh of electricity used in a single day. I do not know how much gas we would have used on such a day though.
  • We only heated the ground floor of our house, so it was easy to just switch completely. One thing I noticed is that the rest of the house is much colder: our house was built in the 80’s, and the heating pipes are all on the walls, not inside. Which means that the hot water for the radiators would circle through the rest of the house to and from the ground floor. That is, of course, a loss of heat, but it did keep the other rooms somewhat warmer than they are now.
  • When you turn of the system, it starts to cool off immediately. There is no ‘residual heating’: once the flow of warm air stops, that’s it. Not a problem, but different.
  • Our home office is at the front of the house, furthest from the unit. That part doesn’t heat up like the rest of the LDK, but we have been supplementing with an infrared panel when needed.
  • Overall, it fits really well on our situation. If we wanted to heat rooms upstairs, we might have had to rely on multiple units or a multi-split system (where multiple indoor units are connected to a single outside unit), with the associated costs. As it is, it is still a hefty investment — and the price difference between gas and electricity is not such that we can expect to earn the money of the installation back within a reasonable time frame. Though if you have a lot of solar panels and produce more electricity than you use, then it might be a good way to turn that surplus into direct savings on gas.

    andrewducker reminded me that LJ (and, hence, also DW) have a post-by-email interface. The WordPress plugin I used to cross-post to LJ uses the XMLRPC API, but that did not seem to work on DW (and, to be frank, I also had to modify the code to get it to work on LJ too). The API situation at DW is a bit of a mess: the classic “the old API is unsupported, the new API is not finished yet”, which is always a lot of fun…
    So messing around with that would be complex and time-consuming, but formatting a mail in a certain way and sending that is, actually, very easy to do in PHP — so I went for that.
    The only drawback is that the previous interface would update the entry on LJ when I updated the entry on my blog. The XMLRPC API has an ‘edit’ mode that allows you to do so, and the ID of the entry was recorded in the WordPress instance, so the code could refer back to that entry. Of course, since post-by-mail is essentially ‘fire and forget’, there is no feedback. But I did not use that feature a lot. If it happens, I just need to update the DW entry manually. That should not pose too much of a burden.

    This is the first non-test post that will go through the new crossposting code — it should work, fingers crossed. If you see this on DW, then it worked!
    (Or not, and I fixed it, and then deleted the entry on my blog and re-posted it. I’ll never tell.)