9.30.2012

Lunchtime walks

I've been in the habit of talking walks during the workday for quite a while now, since it gives me time to clear my head and get a little exercise. Since my new job is downtown, it's been kind of fun finding a new place to walk. I started out just walking the streets, which was nice since I get to pass by interesting bars and restaurants, but then I noticed the Texas State Cemetery just a couple blocks from my office. It may seem a little strange to walk around a cemetery, but this is actually an extremely relaxing place! Since it's a historical cemetery, the grounds are immaculate (they have gardeners working there every day), and there are lots of nice winding paved pathways that meander around the various sections beneath beautiful shade trees. It's nice to take a different route each day and see where I went on my RunKeeper map! Even though it sits right in the downtown area, once you're inside the cemetery the sounds of the traffic go away, and I can suddenly hear the birds, the sprinklers, and the breeze blowing through the leaves. There are lots of interesting monuments, and of course several famous graves (including Stephen F. Austin and lots of Civil War soldiers). Since I have to wear dress clothes at my job, my biggest challenge is walking as far as possible without getting too sweaty and stinking up my shirt, but having such a peaceful place to walk in makes me want to keep going! I can't wait for the real Fall weather to get here (and it's not far away) so I can take my time and explore even more.

Visit site: Texas State Cemetary

8.19.2012

Invisible computer cables

Today I finished another decluttering project to hide all of my computer cables, including several adapter bricks and even my power strip! I use very simple Elfa tables as my computer desk, so the view of the floor underneath was clearly visible and messy, since I have two external hard drives and a second monitor, as well as the usual items like a wireless router. The solution was fairly simple (after reading about it on other decluttering websites), and I only had to buy a cheap plastic basket at the Container Store and a few mug hooks at Home Depot. First I had to figure out how to organize everything in the basket, starting with the power strip, but this wasn't too difficult after taking in all the cable slack with Velcro ties. It was convenient that the basket I chose is cheap plastic, since I could easily snip out a few sections on the sides to make it possible to thread in larger plugs. Next I needed to hang the basket under the table, so after drilling some pilot holes, it was easy to screw in the mug hooks. I chose larger hooks so it's easy to remove the basket whenever needed, and I can even hang it from two hooks for easy access to reorganize things inside. Now that everything is suspended under the table, the floor is almost completely clear and it looks essentially cableless! I'm glad I finally made the effort to take on this project, since the result is a dream for a neat-freak like me.

View photos: Computer cables

7.29.2012

S.H. MonsterArts Godzilla figures

It's always a good time to be a Godzilla fan, since Japanese toy companies never seem to stop creating fantastic items for collectors like me! Several months ago I read about a new line of super-deluxe figures (focusing on the Heisei series of Godzilla films) called S.H. MonsterArts, and I simply couldn't believe the incredible photos on their official website. On top of that, they even had the guts to produce two amazing videos using the toys themselves along with live action and other effects. The quality of these Toho-style mini-movies is fantastic, so I highly recommend watching them! Even though these figures are pretty expensive, they are available from Amazon (I guess since they are distributed by Bandai), which made it so easy for me to buy the first figure of the line, Godzilla himself. I soon discovered that everything about these toys is top-notch: the packaging (all in Japanese), the accessories, the articulation (which I have read is supposed to be similar to the movements of the actual kaiju suits used in the films), and the absolutely perfect sculpting by Godzilla expert Yuji Sakai. I was also thrilled that my Godzilla came with a limited edition radioactive breath accessory, which can be positioned on a stand so it actually comes from Godzilla's mouth! Of course, I had to order the next figure in the series (Mechagodzilla) right away, and by then I was completely hooked. I now have every S.H. MonsterArts figure released so far: Godzilla, Mechagodzilla, Space Godzilla, and Moguera, and I've already pre-ordered King Ghidorah (I totally can't wait to get this one), Fire Rodan, and Baby Godzilla (who should arrive very soon). I could go on and on about specific features I love, such as Space Godzilla's huge posable tail, or the long plumes of missile-firing smoke that can attach to Moguera's hands, or Mechagodzilla's actual metal details. I've really been enjoying taking Instagram photos of these (using colored lights to enhance their beam effects), and they look magnificent in my Toy Museum. I have no doubt I'll be buying every single toy in the S.H. MonsterArts line!

Visit site: S.H. MonsterArts (Japanese)
Watch video: S.H. MonsterArts Godzilla commercial
Watch video: S.H. MonsterArts Mechagodzilla commercial

6.16.2012

Decluttering A/V cables

A few weeks ago I completed another decluttering project that has been on my "someday list" for a long time! Although I don't have a super fancy audio/visual setup, I still have quite a few components hooked up to my TV: TiVo with tuning adapter, Blu-ray player, Apple TV, Wii, Playstation 2 (in case I want to play old Dance Dance Revolution games), region-free DVD player (needed for viewing Japanese region-encoded DVDs), plus an Airport Express router to extend my wireless network. Of course, most of these have power adapters, multiple cables, and so on, so I used to have a total mess of wires visible underneath my TV cabinet. My goal was to get all of these hidden behind the cabinet, creating a mostly clear floor, so I started by taking up all the extra slack in each cable and securing them with Velcro cable ties. I also replaced the ethernet cable that connects my Blu-ray to the router with a short 3-foot cable, since I certainly didn't need the crazy long cable I was using before! Next I had to get my power strip off the floor, so I attached it to the back of my cabinet using Exterior Mounting Tape, which is super adhesive stuff designed to stick to things like cars and such. I needed the extra sticky power since all the various plugs get pretty heavy, especially the Airport Express. I used the same technique to attach my other power bricks to the back of the cabinet as well. The only thing I left on the floor is the main cord from the power strip to the wall outlet, because it snakes up very neatly and makes it easy for me to pull the entire cabinet away from the wall for easy access to everything back there. I'm amazed at how nice it looks now! I wish I had a "before" photo, but trust me, it used to look ridiculous under there!

6.03.2012

Managing my DVD collection

Although I rent DVDs and watch streaming movies whenever possible, I still have lots of DVDs, but I try to hold myself to a few strict rules about my collection. First, I've specified a "maximum physical space" for DVDs, so they will never spill out onto other shelves or get stored in multiple areas of the house. If my shelf is full and I want to buy another DVD, I must get rid of another one to make some space (I love to do this anyway, since I think it's fun to use Amazon's trade-in program or sell things on eBay). Second, I try to analyze my DVDs for coolness (incredible movies with amazing bonus features), nostalgia (deeply fond childhood memories that I want to relive), and collectability (getting all titles of a movie series, like Godzilla movies) to decide if they really belong on my shelf. I really do watch my DVDs more than once, and I even try to balance out what I watch by keeping track of it! To help with this, I decided I needed a kind of list or database of my collection, and after looking into a few possible solutions I settled on DVD Aficionado, mainly because it's free (although I did make a donation) and online where I can see it anytime (since I love deciding on a movie to watch before I leave work). DVD Aficionado has an extensive database of just about everything, so it's easy to search and add it to your personal collection, and you can even use "folders" for specialized categorization (so I can put all my Disney movies together, for example). It didn't take long to find all of my DVDs (minus my Jpop concert DVDs, unfortunately), and now I can even keep track of when I watch a film. Since I love statistics, now I know instantly that I own 398 titles on 776 discs, with Animation as my number one genre (followed by Sci-Fi). It's been very helpful to me in the short time I've used the site, so I definitely recommend DVD Aficionado. Be sure to check out my collection at the link below!

View site: DVD Aficionado

5.27.2012

Attic treasures

Last Christmas I helped my Dad clean out the attic, which hadn't been touched since my family moved to Oklahoma City before I started 7th grade. We found lots of old stuff, including several ancient toys that I never knew were up there! Most of the things I discovered weren't too amazing (I can't believe how many magic sets I used to have!), but I did find some great childhood treasures that I brought home for my Toy Museum. I've been slowly taking Instagram photos of these long forgotten items, and it's so much fun remembering all the time I spent with these toys. Here's a few of my favorites:
  • Buck Rogers in the 25th Century action figures (Mego 1978): I found four of these figures, including Buck himself and a tiny little Twiki.
  • The Black Hole action figures (Mego 1979): I found five from the classic Disney movie, including the menacing Maximilian, but I sure wish I had kept V.I.N.CENT.
  • Battlestar Galactica action figures (Mattel 1978): I found two Colonials, a sparkly Cylon (unfortunately without his rifle), and the incredible Ovion with four articulated arms!
  • E.T. The Extra Terrestrial items: I found a cool figure with telescoping neck and little Speak & Spell, plus a weird keychain.
  • Star Trek items: I'm amazed I kept my old cheap Remco phaser with click trigger, and it was so nostalgic to find the Spock ears I used to wear while playing (which I bought at my first Star Trek convention with Dad).
  • Dungeons & Dragons miniatures: Like every D&D player, I used to buy tiny pewter characters and paint them, and surprisingly they were almost all intact (and anything broken was easily glued). I remembered my favorite knight figure right away!
  • Star Wars action figures (Kenner 1978): Although I already have a near complete set of Star Wars figures properly stored in excellent condition, I discovered a bunch of "doubles" that I had forgotten about (extra Stormtroopers and so on). These were in pretty bad shape, but I sold them quickly for a nice price on eBay anyway!
View photos: Instagram

5.20.2012

Cruising on the Disney Dream


For my annual vacation with my parents this year, we decided to give Las Vegas a rest and go on a Disney cruise! We've been on other cruise lines in the past, but that was ages ago, so we were excited to cruise again on the beautiful and huge Disney Dream. Of course, we knew we would have fun, but we were all amazed at how perfect and magical our vacation turned out to be! We flew in the night before and stayed at the Hyatt right at the airport (highly recommended, since they take care of getting your luggage to the ship), so on our cruise day we woke up early and were the first family to check in. Before we knew it we were at the cruise terminal and on the incredible ship! After a hectic lunch at the overcrowded Cabanas buffet (actually the only thing we didn't enjoy), we explored the pools and soon found the adults-only area, which was a heavenly place for margaritas! Next we checked out our room, which was absolutely wonderful and downright huge compared to other ships, and soon it was time for our first deck party. After that was dinner at Animator's Palette (all of the food was fantastic and the selections were great), then our first session of Bingo and my Mom's first win! Then it was showtime for the Golden Mickeys, followed by a nightcap and then Mickey Bars delivered by room service!

Our first port was Nassau, but we had already been there on a previous cruise, so we stayed on the Disney Dream to enjoy the ship. We got to meet the princesses (and I got choked up watching Mom hug them all), play miniature golf, ride the incredible Aqua Duck water coaster, relax by the adult pool, watch a presentation on the making of the ship, get our photos taken with Mickey and the gang, win at Bingo a second time, enjoy dinner at Enchanted Garden, check out the Pirates in the Caribbean deck party, watch Villains Tonight (my least favorite show but still cool), then it was back up to the deck for fireworks and a nighttime ride on the Aqua Duck! What a day!

The next day we arrived at Castaway Cay, Disney's private and perfectly themed island, so we got off the ship to explore for a while. We immediately got to meet Captain Jack Sparrow, then relax on the beach with a beer at 9:30 AM! Next we rode the tram to the adults-only Serenity Bay, where I played in the ocean, had another drink and took a short hammock nap. Back on the ship, we got spiffed up for dress-up night and had a drink, then attended our third Bingo session where Mom won the final snowball jackpot (which was considerably huge)! By this time Mom was friends with the Bingo crew who all loved the "lucky flowers" she wore in her hair each day. Our last dinner was at Royal Palace, and the final show Believe was my favorite (and brought a tear to my eye).

Getting home went perfectly also, from customs to flawless baggage handling. We were all truly impressed with Disney's impecable service, which made our cruise experience on the Disney Dream another cherished family memory to last a lifetime!

View photos: Disney Cruise 2012

5.03.2012

Japanese study update

A couple years ago I decided to stop directing my studies towards the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), since the level I was attempting was starting to include topics that I couldn't stand (like writing formal business letters), so I adopted a new relaxing study philosophy based on fun! Although I never really expect to be "good" at Japanese, it's still one my favorite hobbies that I never want to give up, so I gladly spend some time every day with it. I really don't have a goal for my studying, other than just enjoying the act of learning something new. Each morning I study kanji using KanjiBox on my iPad (a very helpful app that has definitely improved my reading), and I'm a devoted paying customer of iKnow, since I absolutely love the feeling of accomplishment I get from working through their online courses. Most importantly, I meet with my excellent tutor Kumiko every week for reading and translation practice. We have been using a fantastic book that I bought years ago called Issai kara Hyakusai no Yume (1歳から100歳の夢), which contains short essays written by 100 people aged 1 to 100 answering the question "What is your dream?" Most of the essays are fascinating and often touching, and the progression from little kids to adults has been a nice match to my Japanese learning progress! Each essay begins with that person's typical daily schedule, so recently I thought I would write one of my own just for fun. See if you can figure out my exciting day!

5:00 起床
5:30 iPadで漢字を勉強
6:00 朝ご飯
8:15 電話で両親と話す
8:30 出社
8:45 仕事
11:30 家で昼ご飯
12:00 インターネットで単語を勉強
13:00 仕事
14:30 散歩
17:00 帰宅
17:15 趣味(漫画、レゴ)
18:30 晩ご飯
20:00 ビデオを見る(特撮映画、アニメ)
22:30 就寝

4.29.2012

Scanning project

Every year I make a list of projects I want to complete, and I always try to think up a few new decluttering ideas, which is getting difficult since I've done so much in this area! I remembered that in my garage I had a box of all kinds of papers: journals, poetry, high school and college papers, childhood artwork, and so on. Although I had already reduced this to one document box a few years ago, I decided I might as well go all the way, so I decided to scan everything and get rid of the paper for good. It took me a few months, but it was kind of fun to just mechanically do the same thing over and over while watching a video and drinking a beer. It was pretty nostalgic seeing everything I had written and I was kind of amazed the volume of it, covering all the major events in my young life, and now one of my new goals is to actually go back and read it all! I also threw my complete collection of trading cards in the mix, and it was nice to dig through those again. After all that scanning, I have everything backed up in three places (including two offsite), and now it's much easier to enjoy everything since I don't have to dig it out of a dusty box. Here are my final totals, plus a random sample of some of my scans (that aren't too embarrassing to share):

  • 1086 journal pages
  • 1301 trading cards
  • 756 songs and poems
  • 410 school papers
  • 129 drawings and artwork
  • 385 other things
  • 4067 items total

View Trading Cards: Star Wars and other movie cards from my childhood
View Questar: Homemade comic book with hilarious artwork
View Galactic Gazette: Geek newspaper I made with my school friends
View Comic Books: Overachieving high school report with illustrations
View Romeo's Quest: Shakespeare-inspired role playing game I made in college

4.27.2012

LEGO trains update

Several months ago I decided to change my LEGO train track layout. I used to use my switches to make a double-loop, but my Emerald Night had a little trouble navigating those tight curves, so I created a single loop in an "L" shape with more straight sections. I ended up using my switches to make two spurs that I can use to park my Passenger Train and Cargo Train, and I'm pretty happy with the much larger design! I haven't really added many more buildings, but my city is kind of overrun with vehicles now, since I just can't resist buying sets like the Garbage Truck and the Dump Truck. I also had a ton of fun building the huge Public Transport Station (my Black Friday impulse buy last year), which included some cool structures as well as more vehicles, including a cute street cleaner truck with brushes! My Toy Story train is put away for now, but I plan on getting it out again soon since I haven't made a video of it since I motorized it. Speaking of videos, I decided to buy a Hot Wheels Video Racer on a whim, which is a standard size Hot Wheels car with a complete color video camera built right in! I was able to fasten it to each of my trains at various angles to film a "point of view" video of what it looks like to ride around in my LEGO city! Although I mainly love building LEGO sets and marveling at the imaginative design that goes into each model, I relish the times when I can find a way to play with my sets like a kid!

Watch video: LEGO Trains Point of View

4.20.2012

Decluttering via eBay

One of my decluttering goals for this year is to finally sell some collectibles on eBay, and I've been working away at it every weekend! On Friday I pick a new item to sell, do my research of looking at completed auctions to find a good price, take my photos, and post my listing. I stopped collecting Disney pins quite a long time ago, and those have been selling really well (my best went for nearly $30 for a single pin), but I've also listed a few Jpop CDs and DVDs (that I bought when I was collecting more than just Morning Musume) and also some old manga series. It's fun to check how many views and watchers my auctions get, and sometimes the suspense is great! Shipping hasn't been too much of a hassle, since almost everything I've listed will fit in a small flat-rate postage box that ships for five bucks, and I can even use eBay to print the postage at home (I got some special printer labels to make this even easier). I like reading the feedback from my buyers, and it's cool to see my star rating go up (it's certainly not huge, but much bigger than it was a few months ago). I'm definitely not getting rich, but I always make enough to feel satisfied, and I'm glad to sell to someone who is actively interested and appreciates these items. Of course, these sales end up in my PayPal account, which is immediately used to fund my current collections (mostly Godzilla toys), so this is also a nice way to keep buying goodies without going broke! I really like using eBay's iOS app (on both my iPad and iPhone), since it's so fast to check on my auctions, and the notifications about items I'm watching have really helped me win some cool stuff!

4.13.2012

Instagram friends

Since I started using Instagram over a year ago, I've added a new photo almost every day (I'm up to 339 photos so far). Almost all of my pictures are of my toy collection, so lots of other Instagram users have noticed me and started following my photos, since my collection spans a lot of interests like Disney, Star Wars, LEGO, PEZ, and Japanese toys. Most of these followers post fantastic photos as well, so I follow them and see their new posts every day. I really don't know anything about these people, but it's fun to interact with these new "friends" by seeing their daily images and making comments! I'm kind of proud of the eclectic group that enjoys my photos. I have several Japanese followers: two are in Hokkaido (and constantly post beautiful snowy landscape and architecture photos), another is a cute Japanese girl who loves all things Disney and frilly and often posts pictures of her pet rabbit, and two more are fantastic geeks who must visit Akihabara every day to take photos of the latest toys to hit the stores. I have some cool Star Wars followers also, including one hardcore fan with Star Wars tattoos and an amazing costume collection. I love posting a photo each day and seeing "likes" popup (I usually get around 10 per image), and I sometimes comment with my followers (even in Japanese, which gets a surprised reaction). I love my daily routine, and Instagram is a fun part of it! By the way, you can check out my Instagram photos on Statigram or Flickr.

3.25.2012

Yuji Sakai Godzilla dioramas

My latest collecting obsession is miniature Godzilla dioramas sculpted by Yuji Sakai, a famous Japanese toy sculptor who produces amazingly detailed kaiju creations. I stumbled upon one of these toys in Little Tokyo during a Los Angeles trip, and then later I bought a few more at an anime convention, but I've only recently started to seriously grow my collection. Each diorama is only about three or four inches high, so they don't take up much room on a shelf, but just like all collections, they look great when you get a bunch of them together! They each depict a scene from a different Godzilla movie, often based on an actual frame of the film, and the detail is stunning. You may not know that a different Godzilla suit was used in nearly every movie, so there are always differences in the eyes, dorsal plates, and even the "ears". Sakai not only captures these subtle variations in Godzilla perfectly, but he also creates cool landscapes that really bring these toys to life! Several different series of these dioramas were released in Japan around 2007 by Bandai, so I don't even know how many total pieces there are to collect. I have 15 so far, and there are plenty more available on eBay. I've bought most of the cheaper ones, so now I'm faced with shelling out for the expensive ones (some are rarer than others, of course), but I think I'll stick with it! I've been regularly including these Godzilla toys in my daily Instagram photo series, and it's always fun to try to find the best angle for an exciting shot!