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Disney 2023 – Part 2

The original plan for this holiday was that we would spend day one at Disneyland, day two at California Adventure, day three at Universal, and day four back at Disneyland. That meant day two, (or Tuesday, as it was also known) saw us heading to the other side of the Disney plaza for California Adventure.

Last time we were there, we had queued up for the Incredicoaster, and actually taken our seats just as it broke down, so that one was on our list. We also wanted to do the Guardians of the Galaxy ride, and see the Avengers’ Campus which had been built in the intervening years. However, we weren’t very organised about our visit, so we kicked things off with the Spider-man Web singers ride.

It was a fun ride, and the technology was impressive – slinging webs based on a computer knowing where my arms were? Unreal! We loved the setup and the ride, and the fact that bits of the story of the ride were reflected in the details around the Avengers’ campus. Where we saw Captain America, Spidey, and General Okoye:

Oh, and Ant-Man.

We loved the Guardians ride just as much this time as we did last time.

Then it was time to head across to the Incredicoaster, and there was a fast-moving queue and no breakdown! It’s a fast coaster, with a complete loop and a bunch of huge bumps and fast turns, but the ride seems to last quite a while. We were ready to take the pace down a notch, so we went for the Monsters Inc ride. It’s not really a ride, more like a retelling of the movie through a series of tableau that you meander past in a replica Monstropolis Taxi. Seemed fair enough to us, though,

It doesn’t sound like much, but in between we had walked a LOT, visited almost every shop and eaten many things, including an enormous Turkey leg. That was enough for one day.

We called off Wednesday’s visit to Universal. Firstly, I didn’t want to drive through LA traffic there and back. Secondly, with JK Rowling out of favour in our household (Trans women are women, it’s not difficult), a large part of the park is written off. Thirdly, super Nintendo world or whatever it is holds no interest for us, and we did the studio tour twice already. Basically, we’d be paying a lot for not much, so we had a hugely decadent lie in, drove to a nearby beach, got a nice pub lunch and went back to the hotel.

And that brings us to our last day at Disney.

We’d already done the two rides in Galaxy’s Edge, and spent a lot on stuff I don’t need, but we both seem to find Batuu a very restful place to hang out. We did do both rides again, obviously…

And we got lunch at the Docking Bay, where I was delighted to find they still serve Fried Endorian Tip Yip.

The really great thing about having done everything you set out to do, is that there is no longer an agenda or timetable. We could (and did!) just sit and watch the world go by. We saw as many Star Wars characters in that hour or so after lunch as there are in the park, I think…

It was a blissful afternoon, but you know the one thing you can’t get on Batuu? A cup of coffee. We finally stirred ourselves to head back to Main street, so Mrs Dim could observe her Disney tradition of drinking coffee on Main Street while wearing her tiara. When we got there, the parade was about to kick off, so she grabbed a space and I went and fetched the coffee.

We haven’t watched a Disney Parade since we visited Disneyland Paris in 1997. It was shorter than I expected, but fun and with some really interesting floats and dancers.

Replete with spectacle, we retired to the Jazz Kitchen for a final Disney Meal.

For three days of theme park fun, it’s been a really relaxing holiday, and I’m actually looking forward to the road trip home. I hope Galaxy’s Edge doesn’t suffer too much in the restructuring going on at Disney as they try to save money. It’s an amazing place for someone who has spent so much time imagining what it’s like to live in Star Wars

Disney 2023 – Day 1

So, you’ve gone back to Disneyland again?

Yes, that’s right. Mrs Dim and I have driven down to California to grab three days in Disneyland.

Sorry, just the two of you? You didn’t take the kids?

Well, look, for a start, they’re hardly kids anymore, and when we booked the tickets, all three of them had jobs and no vacation available. We’ve taken them to Disney twice, now they’re able to take themselves. Or will be soon enough. But we are old, and may not have many more opportunities.

You’re fifty.

I’m well aware of that, thank you.

Why drive down?

Flying was more expensive, worse for the environment, didn’t fit with our times, and we like driving together. We listened to some audio books, a lot of music, and we talked. It took two days, and we broke the journey at Grant’s Pass, Oregon.

I like driving the open roads, and we were lucky this time – when we reached LA, it was Sunday evening, so the traffic wasn’t too bad. Still, I know I’m getting old, because the way other people drive is terrifying at times. Indicators are a thing, people! You can use them BEFORE you change lanes!

Enough whining. Is Disney good third time around?

Last time we were here, they hadn’t completed the Rise of the Resistance ride, so that was our first destination. The queue was long – 70 minutes was the estimate when we joined it, but soon after that, they announced they had technical difficulties. Since we didn’t have to rush to get everything into today, we elected to stay in the queue and admire the scenery.

We also chatted with the trio of teens in the line ahead of us. One of the girls just announced that she had never seen any of the movies, and Mrs Dim had to steady me so I didn’t immediately summarize all nine movies, the animated series, the novel tie-ins, and all the Legends stuff that just got THROWN OUT LIKE YESTERDAY’S TRASH….(Breathe…breathe…breathe…)

Anyway, the ride was running fine by the time we reached the end of the queue, and it was as amazing as we had been led to expect. I took a lot of video of the ride, but you can find better filming of it on YouTube.

Another thing we didn’t get to do last time was visit Oga’s Cantina. It’s not actually a sit-down eatery, and unless you’ve managed to beat the odds and book in advance (we tried a week before our trip and every slot was taken), you have to try for a walk-in time. We only had to wait 20 minutes and got shown through to a booth. That sounds neat, but we were sharing it with two other groups. One group finished up shortly after we arrived, so for a while it was us and a lovely trio of ladies who took our picture for us.

I can’t show you that one because it’s stuck on Mrs Dim’s phone, but here’s mine:

We had lovely drinks and snacks and enjoyed the crazy ambience. A few of the patrons looked a bit lost, or confused as to why we had a booth and they had to stand, but most people seemed to be having a good time, especially when the drinks arrived.

This is Mrs Dim’s “Fuzzy Tauntaun”. The foam contains a Japanese flower that was used to suppress toothache, and makes your mouth go numb!

We staggered back out into the bright sunlight and went down the single rider lane of the Smuggler’s Run ride – no waiting for single riders, though the regular queue was at 45 mins or longer. It meant we didn’t share a ride, each being assigned to a different crew, but it was a lot of fun, being an engineer for a strange family. I did very well, scoring a hundred percent for my efforts, though I think the pilots could have tried to avoid some of the obstacles…

Did you only hang out in the Star Wars area?

It’s called “Galaxy’s Edge”, and no, we didn’t. We strolled around to Tomorrowland and lined up for Hyperspace Mountain…

Isn’t that another Star Wars ride?

Well, yeah, it is now, but it wasn’t always. Anyway, the queue was huge, and the ride broke down, but this time it was while we were in sight of the actual coaster. We watched the stalled cars being retrieved from the dark track one by one, and the whole queue cheered and applauded as they emerged. The ride started up again, and we were off!

After all that excitement, we sat in the sun for a while.

People-watching is a fun and harmless activity that Mrs Dim never tires of, and Disney provides a huge conveyor-belt of people from all over the place. We were looking for Disney Bounders, folks whose choice of outfit is influenced by their favourite character. Adults aren’t allowed to visit Disney in costume, except under special circumstances, so Disney Bounders work hard to hint at the character without crossing the boundaries that Disney set.

We were flagging, but happy, so we strolled on round to watch the paddle-steamer go around the pirate island, and then joined the queue for Pirates of the Caribbean. The ride didn’t break down, but they did stop it to clean up one of the boats. Luckily, we weren’t close enough to see what they were cleaning up. We enjoyed the ride immensely, and discovered that we both thought we’d been on it before, but we were wrong about that. The weirdest part of the ride is going past all the folks eating at the restaurant they have in the first section. Unless they were very good animatronics?

We were done, and the evening parade was about to start, so we took our leave. We grabbed a nice meal in Downtown Disney, which is actually outside the park. The food was great, the service fantastic, but the menu made me want to punch kittens. Can you see why? Here’s one page from the online version:

Just as we were leaving, the Manager came over to see how the meal had been. He got a punctuation lesson.

Back at the hotel, Mrs Dim found a way to ease the aches in her feet.

Tomorrow we visit California Adventure, where all the Marvel and Pixar characters hang out. Mrs Dim is getting as many selfies as she can with characters. I’ll do a full round up after our final day in the park on Thursday.

Time, like an ever-rolling stream…

It’s late March, which in our family means, we’re smack in the middle of Birthday Alley. Tiny and Middle Weasel have birthdayed already, Eldest has her birthday very soon, and Mrs Dim is next in line shortly after that. Like any parent, as my kids age, I can’t help thinking about the passage of time.

Eldest Weasel is now just about the same I was when she was born. It seems an impossibly long time ago – so many unimaginable things happened between then and now. For one thing, I had no idea we’d move to Canada before she turned twelve.

When I was a kid, I was vaguely intending to become a motorcycle stuntman (as Mrs Dim reminded me recently). This was unwelcome news to my school careers advisor, who also had no idea how to advise me to get work in television (production, rather than media stardom). It seems cruel of me to blame my lack of career on that guy, whoever he was. I mean, he did point me to an enormous book titled “Careers” and suggest I look in that for something about TV. And hey, I DID work in tv for almost a whole year, so maybe he was good at his job?

When Eldest was born, and we were allowed to leave the hospital, we sat her on the coffee table in our living room, in her car seat/carrier. It seemed a little surreal that we were being left to look after this tiny person with no supervision. The three months that I would have Mrs Dim on hand before she went back to work did also not seem very long. That wasn’t the stretch of time Mrs Dim was concerned about though.

“It’s just going to be no time at all before she’s eighteen and off to university!” she said.

Well, she was wrong. It was eighteen years. Yeah, from this end of things, those eighteen years seem to have passed in a flash, but I made a point of remembering them. We really lived them. Maybe I had the better part of the deal, being the primary caregiver for the kids – my time with them as tiny people wasn’t diluted so much with concerns about the job. I mean, I did get some kind of work during those years, but nothing that meant going to an office, or meeting performance evaluations. I’ve always said that raising kids IS a tough job, but it’s not A job. I had my moments of panic and frustration (and yes, trips to the emergency room, or sleepless nights etc etc), but I was always glad to be doing that rather than a nine to five.

We never (I don’t think) pictured our kids in their future incarnations. There was never an image of Tiny Weasel as a lawyer, except as a comedy sketch brought on by her Psych Ed evaluation. I don’t know how people can pretend to know what their kids might want to be, want to do for real. Eldest had a bunch of ideas along the way, and the one I would have put money on – veterinarian – got jettisoned when she had the chance to do work experience at a vet’s. Yes, she was (and is) great with animals. She loves them, and they seem to love her. But that just makes dealing with animals in pain even harder. She’s happy on her new track, and I have little doubt that she’ll find a great job to enjoy.

Since, right now, they’re all happy with the way they are heading, I don’t have a problem with my kids growing up. I do occasionally miss the little moppets that used to stumble around the place, but I don’t miss the endless rounds of indoor play areas, swimming lessons, school projects. I don’t miss keeping an eye on the clock to be at the playground to pick them up at the end of the day (even though, yes, I do still occasionally dash out to collect one or two from work). See, although that stage may be past, I’m still a Dad. Always will be. At some point they’ll stop asking me to fix the Wifi, or put up shelves, but even then, I’ll still be a Dad, only then I’ll be a Dad to confident, capable adults.

Time can keep rolling. Now I don’t have to row, so I can enjoy the view a little more.

FanExpo Vancouver 2023 – here we go again!

Have I mentioned Fan Expo recently? (I have a suspicion that I have, in fact, mentioned the approach of Fan Expo more than once or twice.)

And here it is, the three-day event that I have been aiming at with all of the Derek upgrading.

Day One:

This year the three days of Fan Expo began on a Saturday, and we had designated the first day as reconnaissance. Except for Middle Kid, who had arranged to meet some friends in Cosplay as Lucius from “Our Flag Means Death”.

Not having prepared a cosplay for myself, I threw together a Ninth Doctor outfit, but that has the disadvantage of looking like…regular clothing. I mean, not regular clothing that I would wear, but it’s tricky to spot that I’m dressed up, unless you know me. Look, here’s the real thing:

I looked just like this, except for the Christopher Ecclestone bit. No one noticed. As you might expect, the Saturday was busy, and we were glad we hadn’t brought Derek – there wasn’t room for him to move around the hall. I checked out the Droid Builders’ club.

I always forget how big R2 units are in real life. Definitely not building one of those.

Another great stand was the one for Bucketheads, a fan-made tv series about a group of Stormtroopers – Nova Squad. After visiting the stand, I was lucky enough to run into Victoria Souter, who plays Sgt Nomi Coven.

You can catch the first episode of Bucketheads on YouTube, but I would recommend checking out the Prologue and Episode Two as well. The series is made on a voluntary basis – no one is getting paid, they’re all giving their time and expertise out of love of the story. They’re film industry professionals, not surprising, given that we live in Hollywood North. They also use local 501st members, which means the armour is SPOT ON.

Day Two : Day of the Derek

I have this terrible paranoia about arriving at places like the Vancouver convention center and not being able to park. So we were supposed to leave early and rendezvouz with the rest of the family at 9.30. Of course, we left late, but we had all the pieces of Derek, and all of Mrs Dim’s costume, AND we met up in the parking lot where there WAS a space.

Five years ago, Derek threw a wheel on his way into his first ever convention. This year he rolled into the convention center under his own power, with sound effects playing at random on a track specially prepared by Middle Kid.

We had to stop over and over again, even before we got inside:

Just as people had been reassuring me all this time, no one noticed the myriad of small imperfections that were nagging at me. People flocked to see Derek, to laugh as he waved his plunger at them, to ask over and over “Is there someone in there?” Up to now, I haven’t really had a good answer to give to that one, but this I could say “Why don’t you ask Derek?” People did, and Derek said “No.”, which was perfect.

Sunday was just busy enough to have plenty of people coming through the doors, but quiet enough for us to roll down the aisle that had all the celebs signing photographs. That meant we got to see the big name visitors, like Sean Gunn, Sean Astin, Anthony Daniels, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner and so on, and they got to see us (which is really why they came, after all.)

Although we’d arrived mid-morning and hadn’t expected to stay more than a couple of hours, it was past 4pm before we were ready to pack up and go.

Day Three:

I was done, really, because nothing was going to top the previous day’s fun. However, Youngest Kid had not had a chance to air their cosplay, and they needed someone to go with them because visibility in the headpiece was limited:

Unfortunately, the sword was made from too much baseball bat for the security check (we only used the handle, but that was too much) but once again, people didn’t care. We didn’t stay very long, having only a couple of things to pick up, but we stopped for a lot of pictures. I only got the one.

For a long time I’ve been heading towards Fan Expo, avoiding thinking about other things because I wanted to make sure I got all the stuff done on time. Now that it’s done, there’s time and headspace for all the other things – taxes, planning vacations, maybe even try writing something.

When the dust has really settled, there are a few more tweaks I’m thinking of for Derek, but maybe we don’t have a deadline closer than 17th Feb 2024 – the next Fan Expo Vancouver.

The Folding Wooden Briefcase

This blog was started as a way to keep track of our adventures as we emigrated to Canada. Then I also talked about my attempts to become a rich writer (and ended up documenting how I just became a writer.) I’ve mentioned more than once my hobbies – juggling, circus skills in general, and now cosplay and prop building.

Very, VERY occasionally, I mentioned my attempts at woodwork. Very occasionally, because that’s when they happen, and the results are usually traumatic enough to make it a long wait before the next attempt. I am NOT skilled at woodwork. But the weird thing is, my posts on these odd projects get a LOT of traction with the woodworking crowd, who drop by on the regular to like my old posts, even the one that stresses I am NOT a cabinet maker.

Just recently I have been upgrading my dalek again, and the thought occurred that I should also give more thought to how I carry the tools I need for on-the-spot repairs. In past years, I’ve used Mrs Dim’s small toolbag, but this year I would mostly be carrying the screen and power cables for the raspberry Pi. I don’t want to dump those in a bag with pliers and screwdriver and glue. I wanted a neat little hard case, but I also wanted a FANCY neat little hard case. Once I thought that, my brain handed me a set of plans for a folding wooden briefcase, and I was sunk.

Here’s what I should have done: Bought a 2ft X 2ft pine project panel from Home Depot. Bought a couple of lengths of 2X1. Cut the project panel into four equal pieces, then made those four pieces into two boxes by edging them with the 2×1.

BUT, as always, I do not have a budget for new wood. I do have piles of scrap wood. By assembling pieces of wood intended for fence panels, I could cut out the flat pieces. By cutting 1 inch strips off another large piece of wood, I could edge those flat pieces. Doing this four times gave me two boxes.

They were not pretty boxes. My measurements are always a little squiffy, as is my ability to cut a straight line, even with my rip saw. But hey, I have two boxes. So far, so adequate.

The next step was the folding bit. I had a box of hinges, but only two small ones. I used one small hinge to make each box open. The I used the next smallest hing to hinge those two boxes together. Fully opened out, it looks like this:

Looks pretty good, but there’s a detail you can’t see here – the large hinge is from a cupboard, and the hinge pin is only secured in one vertical direction. If you turn it upside down, the hinge pin falls out. This is not good. Also the boxes will not stay closed without catches. I don’t have any catches. Luckily, a household need prompted a trip to RONA, where I could bury the purchase of four new hinges and three catches in the general spending.

Here’s what the box does:

What I wanted to do, what I should have done at this point, was sand the thing for hours. I mean, I did sand the thing, with power tools and hand sanding and all sorts. But sanding is boring and messy, and despite the extraction system I put in my workshop, sawdust gets everywhere. And I don’t have the time to stand and sand this thing for as long as it needs to turn from scrap wood to decent wood. That’s a long, long time sanding, and it’ll still be badly hinged and poorly measured. Some things, you can’t polish.

The clasps I had bought, the ONLY clasps that Rona sell, were flimsy brass things. Fitting them proved a horribly fiddly task, where they were askew, and either didn’t close, or closed and left the boxes slightly open. Fine, whatever. I replaced the duff hinge, and now every hinged part had two hinges. Much more secure.

I turned my attention to the inside. I had originally wanted to use all four segments of the case to store things, but my random decision to make the boxes only 2 inches deep meant I could only use one side. I have an abundance of cheap camping mat foam, which I cut to approximate shape and tried to glue into the boxes. Glue, by the way, does not work for me. It is only ever a temporary measure, regardless of the material. At some point, it will give way.

It was obvious that the single layer of foam would not do. I needed a second layer, with the shapes cut out, in some cases right down to the base wood. This would hold the items safely, and stop them rattling about. It also meant they became smeared with the glue that had not dried on the base wood layer.

My original plan to have the thing lacquered and polished was a non-starter. The wood was too rough, the sides were not square or neatly jointed…It was a mess of different levels and gaping gaps. Instead, I deconstructed a prop I had made for Mrs Dim to take to ECCC last year, one that has connections with Doctor Who, because after all, this is the case where I carry my Dalek maintenance tools. It supplied four corner pieces, and decoration for the two flat sides of the folded case.

I needed handles, partly for carrying, but mostly to hold the thing together because the top clasp was NOT doing the job. I picked out a couple of plumbing hoses, made of metal weave, and cut them to length, then secured them in place with four screws. I’ll have to cap the ends with something soon, because there are sharp edges poking out, but they are good handles otherwise.

And that’s it. Another dumb idea out of my brain and into the world. Something someone else could have done a LOT better. Hey, maybe even something I could have done a lot better, if I had a budget and allowed myself the time? Who knows? And really, who cares?

Making the most of my time

It’s my day off again, but with Mrs Dim going back to work, there’s no lazy lie in for me. And that’s a good thing, because FanExpo Vancouver is only two weeks away, and I have a lot to do. Most of Mrs Dim’s costume is done:

This photo is actually a little behind the times, since I have completed and painted the toe caps (the white thing in the front of the picture) and I also managed to produce the apron/skirt thing:

If all this is looking a bit weird, maybe I should post the picture of what we’re aiming at:

I’m left with the belt and boot tops to produce (the gauntlets came in the post the other day, and can be used for gardening after Fan Expo is over, much to Mrs Dim’s delight.)

For Tiny Weasel, I have to produce the character pictured at the top of the post. That’s Hollow Knight. Tricky as it may seem, I already have the helmet, made for a past Fan Expo but never used. I also made the sword. Today’s real task is coming up with the cloak. I had a plan for that, but then I decided to do my research properly and I’m having to rethink things. At rest, the cloak looks like a leaf:

But in motion, as at the top, it’s lots of separate…what? Tentacles? Strips? Anyway, Tiny Weasel has had the material and the sewing machine for a fortnight and hasn’t touched either of them, so I guess it’s down to me. Luckily, Derek the Dalek looks like this:

He has a working voice box, sound-reactive undersill lighting, and a compressed air canister to squirt out of his gun. He doesn’t need any more work, just a test run when Eldest Weasel comes over for brunch on Sunday.

For once, I’m glad I don’t have a costume to wear. Life is busy enough!

That was 2022

About a month ago I had an idea to write a round up of the year. I think maybe the reason I didn’t, was that there isn’t a great list of successes and achievements. No matter how many times I try to revise my expectations, or review what I count as “success”, there’s still an insistence that I must produce new work every year, and by produce I mean “finish and publish”. This only applies to plays, of course, because I’ve given up on the notion of the e-books being anything but a way of storing information about my prop-building exploits.

But it’s the year end, and Spotify have sent out emails showing you what you listened to. Authors will be reviewing their favourite books of the year, there’ll be “Best Movies of 2022” articles everywhere, video games reviews and so on. All in all, it’s a strong incentive to look at our own achievements and put things in “pro” or “con” columns.

Mrs Dim said the other day that she’d found a note that said our word for 2022 was “Optimism”. You have to remember that, back at the start of this year, we had no idea how she would be affected by her stroke long term. There was no projected date for a return to work. There was a faint chance I could move up to a full-time position, but that turned out to be too long a shot to pull off. So we’ve spent the year being optimistic. We managed to buy the apartment, allowing the elder two Weasels to move out and still live within their means. Fluctuating interest rates have made that harder, but now we know Mrs Dim has the chance to return to work in January, our income may rise a little to offset that again.

My brother came through his health scare with some terrific new scars, but a working heart. My mum and dad have got through the worst (hopefully) of the UK winter, despite a Conservative government actively trying to kill off large sections of the population.

We went to Seattle and showed off Derek to an actual DOCTOR. If I ever need to smile, I just watch the video of Derek trundling around. He only got motorised this last summer! That seems incredible to me. I’m resigned to the fact that most of his renovation work won’t be completed by Fan Expo in Feb, but he MIGHT be talking…

Anyway, we were optimistic right up to Christmas Day. We had gather the kids together for a nice lunch and to open presents, when I got a resurgence of what I had thought was a grumbling appendix. When it hadn’t stopped grumbling after a few hours, we went into Emergency, and they finally determined it was a kidney stone. I came out with some medication, the advice to pee through a strainer, and someone else’s cold, which I then passed on to Mrs Dim.

None of this has made the last week of 2022 any more optimistic, but I don’t think it’s knocked us down either. I made it into work today, and I won’t need to come back until next Tuesday if I don’t feel up to it. Mrs Dim has a similar timeline before her trial return to work period starts, and it’s a graduated return too.

We’re aiming for “Stabilisation” next year. Mrs Dim finding her footing in work again, Tiny Weasel doing the same in her job at the library. The elder two weasels are wrestling with work and college still, and I obviously have health issues to work out. And Daleks to renovate.

Maybe we don’t have a laundry list of accomplishments for the year, but maybe we don’t need one. Maybe we can just stand on the mountaintop and appreciate the view before we start the next climb.

Silly Seasonal Traditions

It’s December, so we’re sat here watching seasonal movies. (Mrs Dim watched “Sleepless in Seattle” while I was at work, so we’re rounding out the Nora Ephron canon with “You’ve got mail”). I don’t know that watching seasonal movies counts as a tradition, because everybody does it.

Anyway, we do have some traditions that we chose to make our own. Christmas Eve afternoon, we have a “picky tea” – food you can pile on a plate and eat with your fingers – and we watch two very special things – Muppet Christmas Carol, and Simon Callow reading extracts from Dickens.

Again, maybe not wildly original, but something we have come to love doing.

And then there’s this:

I know it looks like a collection of crazy toys, but it all started with a beautiful Christmas village set that a friend gave us soon after we arrived in Canada. For several years,we laid out the fake snow material and put out the houses and bought the odd small addition – streetlights, raccoons in a bin…And then one year, I forget why, we decided we were going to tell a story about what was happening in the village. We would write one short installment each day on Facebook, and include a photo. We’d start December the first and finish on Christmas Day

Most of the stories centre on Boots McGee (she’s the one in the hat, next to the Minion dressed as a Napoleonic soldier). She’s a brave orphan who usually has to struggle against great odds to solve a problem of some kind. Some years there are specific themes or running gags. One year I tried to work in a line from a Christmas carol into every day without disrupting the storyline. Last year, we hid titles from festive movies in every installment – Boots McGee had taken up with the criminal shorty Gnome Malone, for example.

Over time, the original inhabitants of the village have been joined by Lego figures, Star Wars figures, a T-Rex skeleton, toy cars, and even a model of the van I use for my day job.

If you look closely, you might just be able to see that Boots is wearing a false mustache in this picture. She was in disguise.

But the big issue this year is more of a logistical problem than a storytelling one. Part of our house renos during 2022 was removing the living room fireplace and, therefore, the mantelpiece that went over it. We’ve gone from this:

….to this:

There isn’t room under the TV to assemble the village, so we’re probably going to be using the shelves…I don’t really know how it’s going to work this year, but we have to figure it out soon… The Nuns of St Frideswide have just set out from the niche in the hallway, intent on leading the donkey and camels they confiscated from the Three Kings with the aid of The Bad Batch from Star Wars back to Mantelpiece Village…

All this is a very roundabout way to say, keep only those traditions that bring you joy, or connect you to things or people you hold dear. Quite a few people seem to have found the phrase “Traditions are just peer pressure from the dead” this year, and I think that’s worth reflecting on. We’ve chosen traditions that bring our family together, that raise a smile. I hope we always will.

Fear of Failure

Thmoas Edison – one of the men who invented the lightbulb. Yes, “one of” because it was ALSO invented in Sunderland, UK. As was I.

It feels like the last fifteen years have been filled with positive messages about failure. My generation seem to have arrived at our peak (ahead at work, senior in many things, making decisions for our communities) and taken time to reassure one another that failure is a part of the process. That if you’re not failing, you’re not trying.

I’m the one on the right, looking down at the ball I just dropped.

As a juggler, I’m very familiar with that kind of mindset. We used to say “A drop is a sign of improvement” and “a touch is as good as a catch” and other such encouraging things. We meant them too.

But it occurs to me now, sitting in my job’s break room, thinking about the debt I have tied up in my house, that we only risk failure willingly when the stakes are not high. No one was forcing me to learn to juggle. Although I tried to make it into a business, nothing major hung on it. I wanted to make a living from juggling, or teaching juggling, but when I couldn’t, I went out and got a regular job. You MIGHT say I failed

The latest upgrades for Derek the dalek are challenging.

Following my own logic, then, I should be willing to risk failure in my hobbies. Eager, even, since there are no real consequences, and no one to disappoint. I can carry on mucking about with upgrading Derek the Dalek and no one minds if it takes ages and goes off the rails from time to time. Right?

Well, no. There’s me. Although the stakes may not be high in terms of life or death, lose the house, bankrupt the family, I DO feel there are stakes involved. Derek earns nothing for the family. We have fun parading him around, but every dollar I spend on him is a sunk cost. The next stage of the upgrade is making a cast of the 3d print I just did of the front half of his shoulders (see picture above). If I get this bit right, we can replace the wood and hardboard construction of his shoulder section with lighter but just as strong fibre glass, giving Laurel much more room inside to work his various functions. But the gear for casting has cost $150. Just making the front half on the printers has cost at least $60. I’ve never done any casting before, and right here is where I am suffering my greatest fear of failure. The next step I take might wreck some of the supplies. I might use too much and have to buy more. I might even get as far as producing the mold, and then get the casting bit wrong. There are SO MANY opportunities to get this wrong and waste money I don’t have, and yet the outcome if it all goes right it just people going “Hey, that looks pretty much the same from outside.”

Mrs Dim sometimes says she doesn’t understand why I have hobbies that make me angry or depressed, but the truth is, it’s not the hobby, it’s ME. I want to do this thing, like fitting Derek’s speech box, and I muck it up. I might not even know HOW I mucked it up, but I do know I’m not learning anything from the experience other than that I can’t trust myself to get these jobs right. I’m fifty now, and I think the real fear of failure is that I can’t learn a new skill, can’t master something I didn’t spend time on before.

I don’t want to be afraid of trying, but I really, really don’t want to screw this stuff up.

5 things you should know about 3d Printing

I wrote a post not so long ago about the joy and magic of 3d printing, and how my younger self would have been utterly bewitched by this machine that could produce any action figure you could get plans for. But then the other day, a friend of mine mentioned they were considering getting one, and asked my advice. I wondered what I would have liked to know before I got a 3d printer. Here are the five things I came up with.

  1. It’s still early days. While the technology has been around for a couple of decades, the majority of the 3d printing community are quite techy folks who are happy to tinker and recalibrate and even print new parts and additions for their machines. Furthermore, a lot of printers still arrive in pieces that you have to assemble yourself. It’s not quite soldering circuit boards, but very few are “open the box and go” models.
  2. Perhaps because I’m not very techy or willing to tinker, my results can vary immensely when it comes to printing. In the recent spell of hot weather, a lot of my prints went sideways. Because of the hot weather? Well, maybe. Again, this is a young field, so there’s a lot of opinions and not a lot of established lore. Should I enclose my printers to try and control their climate? Maybe. That’s a good, solid maybe, you understand.
  3. Filament. Filament is the plastic string that you feed into your printer to be turned into your masterpieces. It comes on reels, in 0.5kg and 1kg rolls (mostly). The stuff I get tends to cost around $30 a reel, but I can’t tell you how long it lasts because each print uses a different amount, and what you’re printing doesn’t often have a real world equivalent. What would it cost me to buy the segment of Dalek that’s in the photo above? I don’t know, you can’t buy it. Well, except from someone who’d 3d print it for you.

But here’s the thing about filament: It comes on plastic reels, every time. After a little while, you have a lot of plastic reels that you really can’t use for anything else. If you ask, people will point you to projects like this:

Yet I don’t need all the storage things I already have, so I’m not keen on using MORE filament to make MORE storage I don’t need. I have used a few reels to store Christmas lights, but the rest are just stacked on a pole in the corner of the basement. And here’s the OTHER thing about filament: You won’t always use all of a reel, so you’ll be left with a few turns. The logical thing is to link all these pieces together to use them in another project, but if you are not a tinkerer, there are NO straightforward, reliable methods for joining filament. People may want to argue that point, but I will stand by it. The devices for sale on Amazon that claim to do it all (heat, connect, smooth and release) have terrible reviews – they’re described as shoddy and unreliable and overpriced. All the DIY methods I have tried have failed. It’s a shame, because I reckon I have at least a kilogram of odds and ends of filament that I would LOVE to re-use.

4. You don’t just download a file from the internet and print it. Most of the files you’ll find in places like are .STL. You take that file and import it into a slicing program, which converts it for your printer. My FlashForge Finder has a specific slicing program which is great – intuitive and easy to use, for the most part. My Tinkerine Ditto has an online-only slicing program which is less user friendly and has fewer features. For example, the Finder program can actually cut up large pieces into smaller units for printing on a small print bed. The Tinkerine can’t. So if I have something that’s too large, but I want to print it on the Tink, I have to slice it in the Finder program, export the sliced pieces as .STLs and then slice them individually in the Tinkerine program before saving them as .GX files for printing. Then I put them on a storage device – an SD card for the Tink, a USB stick for the Finder – and take them to the printer.

5. My final tip may not come as a surprise: 3d modelling is difficult. In the early days of the pandemic, I spent two weeks or more doing an online tutorial in Blender, because I have that program already. I learned a lot, then forgot most of it. I have designed and modelled a few things which I went on to print. All were very simple shapes. Some worked first time. Some were complete disasters. I need more practice to make it easier, but I don’t want to practice because it’s difficult. A bit of a circular issue there, I know.

The main point I want to make is that the best printers out there are not the simplest to use. But if you’re thinking of getting one because you want to do something awesome, like 3d printed armour, or helmets or hey, a life-size dalek? Then aim high, grit your teeth and prepare to do the work. You may find you take to it like a duck to water, but if you don’t, there are plenty of people out there in internetland who would LOVE to help you out. The 3d maker community is NOT an exclusive club – they are very keen to spread the joy and answer your questions.