Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Technology hates me

Sad story to follow, and it doesn't directly involve papercrafting, so feel free to ignore this. I just need to vent.

I haven't done a whole lot of anything fun in the last couple of days. Back in early February, I placed an order for two new fairly high-end machines through a company called "iBuyPower". Now, I will admit the name sounds goofy, but I found them through some big box stores, and they have a good BBB rating, so I figure at some level they are a legit operation. Both my computer and my wife's computer have been showing their age, so I wanted to buy something that would be fast, not be constrained by memory, and be able to support some heavy graphics from games and what not. I ended up configuring two identical systems with high end cpus and graphics cards, and 16 GB of memory. Should be just fine for the Mrs. to check email and watch YouTube videos, right?

Their site says typically machines are delivered in 5 - 10 business days, and they claim that the machines go through a multi-step process with emails to me at each step. When I placed the order, I got an email telling me that they were processing my purchase. Two days later, I got another email saying that my purchase was approved, and it was moving onto some validation step where they make sure the parts will work together. That was all I heard for a while. I had waited 2 full weeks before calling them, figuring I should give them the 10 business days they claim before asking for an update. When I called, they said the machines were all set, and would probably be shipped out early the next week. I specifically asked if any parts were back-ordered or if there was anything getting in the way. They said no, and said they'd upgrade me to 3-day shipping for nothing so I would get the machine by the end of the next week. Around the time I expected the machine to be shipped (because they said they were 'all set') I got an email telling me they were entering the parts acquisition phase. That was the first red flag. 'Acquiring parts' doesn't mean 'all set' in my language.

I think it was two days later - a Friday I believe - the day I was supposed to GET the machines according to their sales guy, I got an email telling me some parts were back-ordered. There was no information about WHAT was back-ordered, or how long they expect it would take. Of course, I got this email late enough on Friday that I had resigned to having to wait until Monday to even complain about this. A sales guy called me that Saturday, and told me that it was just the computer case that was back-ordered. Ugh - seriously? They're this late sending me my machines because of the case? So, they "upgraded" my case for free (a $5 value!) and said the machines should be assembled over the weekend and probably ship out Monday or Tuesday, so I should get them by Friday.

I think it was maybe Tuesday that I got the email telling me the parts were all acquired, and so I was in the assembly phase. It was the next day that the machine was assembled, and entered the testing phase. Then from testing it went into a burn-in phase where they are supposed to make sure everything is working. This whole process took several days. Finally I got a tracking number saying my order was shipped.

When the machines arrived, I picked them up at a nearby FedEx store. The shipment contained one monitor, and one computer. Where was my other system?!? I called iBuyPower, and the saleswoman said quite like there was no issue that the other machine was "wrapping up testing, and should ship out in a day or two". What the hell?!? According to their website, the order was shipped and received, and yet 50% of it hasn't even been sent out yet?

Oh well, what can I do? I'm kind of screwed at this point, and I've already waited this long. I got home, and focused on setting up the first machine. I spent maybe 2 hours fiddling with Windows 7 and installing a couple open source pieces of software. The last thing I did was install a game for one of my kids, and went to bed. In the morning, the kids split their time on the new machine. Kid #1 was on the machine for 30 minutes. Kid #2 took over, and started by trying to fire up Firefox to play some web-based game. Firefox wouldn't launch. I came in and tried a couple other programs, and nothing would launch. Ugh. All this before my morning coffee!

I rebooted the machine, and Windows 7 locked up during the little animated Windows logo screen. I rebooted again, and this time I was presented with a welcome-for-the-first-time kind of message, and Windows was acting like I had never configured it. I turned it off, and we had breakfast. When I came back to check it out, Windows went right to a hey-this-windows-isn't-legal-you-pirate! message. I talked to one of iBuyPower's tech support guys about the issue. We started by juggling the memory modules around to see if that was the problem. Then he wanted me to try to repair Windows to see if that was the problem. That failed, so he wanted me to reformat the hard drive and try a clean install of Windows. When THAT failed, he had me run some Seagate diagnostic tools to check the hard drive. 99 errors later, they put in an 'advance RMA' for me to get me a new hard drive. This means they charge my credit card for a new hard drive, and they refund it when they get the bad one back. OK.

It turns out it still took over a week to get the hard drive delivered. In the mean time, the second computer is finally delivered. First thing I do is set up the monitor, and I immediately notice dead pixels. My mood was not good. I figured I'd deal with the monitor issue AFTER resolving the hard drive issue. So, I help the Mrs. get her files and stuff transferred to the new machine, and make sure all the apps are working and what not. I set her up with the monitor that lacks dead pixels, and she's reasonably happy.

Hard drive arrives! I'm thinking things are gonna start working out, so I call their customer service folks to ask about the monitor. I can't really transcribe the conversation, because it was so idiotic. It started with the guy reading some rules about standards in the LCD industry for allowable defects and what not, citing paragraphs and subsections and such. He tells me that he doesn't *want* to let me exchange the monitor, because "what would happen if that one has dead pixels too?" It seemed like a crazy thing to start the conversation with, to me. He suggested I just buy a new monitor locally, and return the monitor I bought from them. I said I'd rather they send me a working monitor. According to him, iBuyPower can make some claims with the vendor if it's returned as defective, but not if they exchange it? That made no sense to me, but at this point the guy was really pissing me off. He was extremely argumentative from the beginning, and contradicting statements constantly, which really bothered me.

A couple highlights from the conversation that make me feel it was idiotic. He claimed that iBuyPower isn't responsible for the defects in the monitors, and that's why they don't "bundle" them with computers. I don't see any indication on my bill of sale that I purchased a monitor separately, or that it's somehow unrelated to the system I purchased. My bill of sale indicates one system that includes the monitor.

At one point, he told me I would be better off just buying the monitor locally. He said that "if I buy something that isn't expensive, it isn't going to be good quality". Now, I bought this *from his company* and he's telling me that what they sell isn't going to be good quality. Also, he's telling me that I've made a mistake from purchasing from them, and that I *should* not buy from them, but instead find another company to buy from.

Fed up, I tell him to put in an RMA to replace the monitor. He says it will take about a week to get a monitor out. The sales guy tells me he's "doing me a favor" by replacing the monitor. This is what being a customer means? It's a "favor" to get working hardware? Wow. Maybe returning the monitor rather than exchanging it is the best they can do, but this guy is so awful at working *with* me... Argh!

When I get home, I have this deja vu feeling all over again - if I can just focus on getting the good hard drive installed, maybe I'll cancel the RMA and live with a couple dead pixels. I don't like having to fight with a company that clearly doesn't care about it's customers. I carefully remove the first hard drive, install the new one, and put the first one back in the exact packaging that they used to deliver the replacement. I call their tech support line to make sure I follow their instructions for installing the necessary software and drivers. I was 4th in the queue... After about an hour, I was next in line to get someone. I had my iPhone on speakerphone while I waited, and when I heard I was next, I went to grab my phone. My palm accidentally hits the "end call" button. D'OH! Can this get any worse? Of course I only blame myself for that. I call back immediately, and find I'm 5th in the queue. Another 90 minutes go by before I talk to a human.

My other exchanges with tech support were good enough that they kind of made up for the lousy customer service and sales experiences. This time, I get a guy on the phone who can't seem to understand why I'm calling. I explain that I received a replacement hard drive, and I wanted to know if there were specific steps I should follow to install the software. His first questions were about why the drive was bad. I recounted the WHOLE hard drive experience to bring him up to speed (though I know this is on-file with them, a previous tech guy told me I didn't have to explain, and he read me the history back to me instead to make sure it was correct!). He then asked if I needed help installing the hard drive. I told him a third time that I've installed the hard drive in the case just fine, and it's the software I wanted to ask about. His response was "just install the stuff from the CDs". I had to be really specific and ask things like "Do I install Windows 7 before installing anything for the motherboard? Or should I try booting off of a CD first to install something before Windows is installed, maybe to do some diagnostics to make sure the drive is OK? Do they recommend partitioning the drive a certain way?" I just wanted to make sure I didn't do something with the machine that would make later support more difficult. The guy was terse: "Just install Windows, then install the other stuff. Ok? Are you all set?"

I had him cancel the RMA for the monitor, and asked about the RMA label I keep hearing about for the hard drive. It turns out they need to email me something to send the hard drive back, and never did. So, he emailed me that, and canceled the monitor RMA. I figure I'm tired of dealing with these people, and will live with dead pixels. I only spent close to $4k with them - why should I expect *all* the hardware to work?

I spent the evening getting Windows installed, and it seemed to go smoothly. I got all my open source tools installed, migrated my email and chat accounts over, etc. I must have spent maybe two or three hours total with the machine. And then.

BLUE SCREEN.

It's late. I'm tired. And now I'm totally demoralized. BLUE SCREEN? Seriously? I give up. I'm planning on reformatting the drive, boxing the whole thing up and asking for my money back.

But what about the other system? Well, the next morning (that's today) I focus on trying to figure out how to get one unified inbox in Outlook. Not something Outlook *helps* you with, as far as I can tell. I won't digress into what a miserable cluster#$%@ the ribbon UI is, but I wasted a lot of time trying to figure out how to translate some blog instructions for performing a "search" in Outlook 2010. I finally found a hotkey that caused a new section of the ribbon to appear, but there's no way my wife would be able to do this. At least with the old menus and toolbars, she could look for stuff and disco... oh wait! See? I'm digressing.

After about 30 minutes of unproductive experimenting in Outlook, the machine froze up. Solid. No mouse. No keyboard. I let it sit for another 10 minutes to see if it would un-wedge itself. Nope. I had to hit the reset button on the case.

So, now what? I've got one machine that blue screens, and one that just froze up. I haven't been able to spend more than a couple hours on each machine, so I don't have a lot of experience to say these weren't just flukes. But a blue screen in Windows 7 isn't a fluke. It's probably that one of the memory modules is crap or something. And, I was running IE and Outlook on the other machine. That's it. No updates were going on. No funny plug-ins were running. What the hell should lock up the machine? I don't know. Could be anything. I write software for a living - I know things go wrong. So, I have to commit to really spending time hitting the machine to see if it's a persistent problem.

But, really, I'm done. I'm thinking I'm going to try to wipe the machines and box them both up. I'll find a local store and pay through the nose so that I can get *working* hardware. Seriously, this experience has been a mental drain on me. It's made me take time away from my work. It's made me take time away from my wife and kids. It's kept me from my hobbies. I spent $4k for that? (and that's why being told they are "doing me a favor" rubs me the wrong way...)

Friday, March 23, 2012

New fold-flat roof pieces?

While waiting for my code to compile at work, I broke out a couple pages from last year's daily cat calendar and mocked up a system for making some roof pieces that could fold flat, but easily form some more interesting roof lines.






I rough-cut four triangles and taped them together. In reality, I assume I'll be able to either cut this all out of a single sheet of cardstock, or if I can get get a two-ply piece off of one sheet, I'll design it so it's half on one page, half on another and have a tab to glue them into one piece.

I added a couple pieces that look a lot like the tabs that are on the sides of the Terrainlinx walls.The idea is that these would fold inward, and I'd slide a cardstock piece over them to lock them together. Here it is assembled:


Nothing radical, but it does make me believe I should be able to make more roof pieces that fold flat, but let me cap off different types of tiles.

I will make a full scale 3" tile-based roof out of cardstock to night to see how it would really fit.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Round Himmelveil Tiles Update

It feels like things move very slowly, when you can only work on them in 30 minute chunks...

Tonight, I printed out some of the railing walls, and I made a sheet of 1" three-way posts. On the sheet, I also included full-height 3-way posts, where one of the connectors on each was low enough for a 1" wall. Here are some new pictures:

Not too shabby for a first print! The low posts came out nice, and the railings looks right at home. It's funny, I had to use more dwarven walls since I still don't have any *regular* Himmelveil walls or posts! Anyway, you can see in the back there's a low wall attached to a post with a regular wall. I think I want to tweak the post so that it has a tab at the top as well as the bottom to hold it's shape. Right now, it's got a tiny tab at the bottom holding it together, which is OK, but the top opens up a little too much.

I need to make another sheet of anchors for the streets tiles. Understand, though, that I had a marathon anchor making streak. I cut, glued and edged six or seven sheets of anchors in order to retrofit all of my Hinterland and Himmelveil tiles, as well as to add anchors to some miscellaneous tiles that have been kicking around unfinished. I'm going to go back to finishing more Hinterland Cliffs stuff, then I'll try to make a complete inventory of things "to do" to get this curved walls endeavor complete.

Tiles
    6" half-circle (done)
    6" half-circle with 6"x3" extension (done)
    3" quarter-circle
    Not sure if I can pull off the inverse of the 3" quarter-circle...

Posts
    1" high 2-way posts
    1" high 3-way posts (done)
    1" high 4-way posts
    2" high 2-way post variants for 1" connections
    2" high 3-way post variants for 1" connections (done)
    2" high 2-way post variants for 1" connections

Walls
    2" high curved HV Streets walls
    1" high curved HV Streets walls
    1" high curved HV Streets railing walls (done)
    1" high 3" HV Streets walls
    1" high 3" HV Streets railing walls
    1" high 6" HV Streets walls
    1" high 6" HV Streets railing walls


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Round Himmelveil Tiles Update

I only had a little time this evening, but I think I:
  • Fixed the edging around the round tile edge, so it should be long enough
  • Created a 3-way, half-height post
  • Created a 4" arch railing
Still not sure anchors at the front of the round tile will look right, but I'll find out soon enough! I'm going to try to make 3-way posts that will allow for 2" walls on one side, and 1" walls on the other. If that goes well, I'll do 2-way posts too.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Round Himmeveil Tiles

Progress on one kitbash idea!

In the upper-left, you can see a rounded Streets tile! I don't have any walls at all, let alone kitbashed curved walls, but I did have a couple of curved Dwarven Hall walls floating around. It worked pretty well! I'm not sure it will work at all to design some walls that would extend above the tile to make a railing, so I think I might want to try kitbashing 1/2" high curved walls, and short posts. I'll keep playing.

Kitbash Ideas

Another idea hit me - slopes for Hinterland Cliffs. Rather than having the cliffs shoot straight up, and rather than having stairs, I wonder if I could cut the walls at a slope, and retool the supports on the wall to support the same tiles. Then again, I'm sure there's some geometry issues I'll run into between the bends in the wall and the bends in the tile, since they won't line up anymore...

OK. Another thought - a terraced hillside piece? Take a wall, cut it up to make steps going down... Then dice up a floor tile so it fits on top. Use cliff wall textures to make the faces of the "steps"? Or even stone textures from Thoumont's? Of course, what other pieces will I need to make for this? I'll need to doodle some.

Wide river tiles a bust

Well, I thought I might try kitbashing some Hinterland Forest wide river tiles, but I don't think I'm going to get far with that idea. If I had the layers that they had used originally, it'd be a piece of cake. Unfortunately, I don't think I have enough texture to make the water wider, and the riverbanks are really curvy, and hard to work with. Keeping everything aligned with a 1" grid is a little wonky too.

At least I had a chance to really look at how the tile textures were made. It looks like they have layers for leaves, grass, dirt, pebbles and water, and they use layer masks to expose each texture. I'd be doing exactly the same thing, but I'd have to try to recreate the texture layers from scraps which just doesn't seem worth it.

I'll focus on other kitbash ideas.

Crotale Fleet

This past Sunday I printed out three Crotale ships and assembled them for some kids in the family. I thought they might enjoy them as cool models, or they might integrate them into their battles they often have with LEGO Star Wars stuff. If any of the kids are interested, I might have them come down for a weekend of papercrafting to teach them some basics.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Kitbash Ideas

Normally I just email myself with some ideas, but I'm starting to lose track of those ideas. So, now I'm going to post them here, and tag them with "kitbash ideas." Hopefully that will help me. If I complete a kitbash, I'll edit the post with a link to the post where it's displayed.

So, here are some more kitbash ideas:

  1. Curved walls for Himmelveil Streets.
    Specifically, I'd like to try out curved walls that span 6" and 3" tiles.
  2. Curved walls for Thoumonts.
    I think maybe just plaster walls to start with. Not sure what to do with the windows - maybe omit them on the curved walls? Also, I think just the plaster walls? I don't know. I'll have to play a little. Another alternative might be angled walls rather than curved walls, like making octagonal sides?
  3. Floor tiles to go with curved walls.
    This would include 1/2 circle tiles, 1/4 tiles for 6" floors, 1/4 tiles for 3" floors, and maybe 3/4 tiles for them too.
    UPDATE: I made a Himmelveil Streets rounded tile. I think it's coming along well, and will try some other ideas.
  4. A curved stairway? And a floor to complement it?
    Not sure if I can pull this off, but I'd like it if I could make a 1" wide stairway to go along the curved walls. With that, I'd like it if I could make a 1/2 circle tile with a section cut out for the stairs below.
  5. Wide river tiles for Hinterland Forest.
    I'd like river tiles that are at least 2" wide, maybe 3" wide. I was looking at a water mill building from Fat Dragon Games, and it gave me the idea for wider river sections. Of course, I think I'd only do wide straight rivers (maybe 2 types to include some with big rocks in em), a river bend, and a transition tile between the wide and the narrow river. Four tiles isn't so bad.
    UPDATE: I think the wide river tiles idea is a bust.
  6.  A 6" half-hex tile for Thoumont's
    I think this warrants hex walls like kinda mentioned in #2. The walls should have a little anti-warp ledge for the tile to rest on. To this, I'd like a railing system that would let me construct wood-beam railings that wrap around the half-hex tile. I think making this three pieces that plug into each side of the hex tile would be interesting. They should each have anti-warp ledges along the tops, possibly allowing another floor on top of it to rest comfortably. I think making 3" and 6" versions as well would be a nice kitbash. Then I'll need a half-hex roof cap. I think this will fit into the normal roof system pieces.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Space Vehicles

I pulled off some posts for the cliffs set, and I spent some time just arranging stuff in my office. The place has been a mess for so long, with tiles strewn about. I also changed things up a little bit, and put together some spacecraft designed by Chris Roe (aka Mel Ebbles). I don't remember where I got the patterns, and they're now available via the WorldWorksGames storefront, so I'll probably buy them from there just to be on the level.

Here's a shot of a ship called the Crotale:


It's such a cool looking ship! And pretty easy to build. I imagine I'll build some more of these. They are sweet!

After this, I built the Onager:

Oof. What a lousy photo. It's the curse of using a cell phone as a camera. Well, the Onager took even less time than the Crotale. LOVE these vehicles!

Lastly, I built a Trilateral Suppressor:
Ok. This is just plain cool. I thought it'd be a pain in the butt putting the little legs together, or that they wouldn't come out even or something. It worked out better than fine.

These are the smaller ships - the ones I thought I could do while the kids were around. I'm excited to now start some of the larger ships, and surprise the kids with them when they're done.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Cliff update

Over the last couple of days, I've cut (well, with the help of the robo cutter!) edged and glued four or five pages of anchors, primarily so I can get some tiles ready for the cliffs. I did enough to feel comfortable moving onto making some posts.

Last night, I cut, edged and glued up 18 regular posts in the 2-, 3- and 4-way varieties. Also finished were 12 of the regular walls. I did a test print and cut of my kitbashed Lost Halls entrance wall, and it was almost perfect! I was afraid I wasn't going to like how the stones blended together, but frankly when printed out, it looks good enough for me. There is a minor goof in the way the wall textures go set up, but it should be easy to correct. I have to do it, though, before I forget and print another one!

Today, I've assembled my first set of cliffs. I'm always pleased with the assembly of the stuff WorldWorksGames produces - they have clever solutions to structural issues, and the end result always feels solid. Now, I'm letting my cutter prep some double-height posts, before I move onto the other types of cliffs.

The printer and cutter have both been performing REALLY well lately. I kind of don't want to slow down for fear that something will be broken the next time I start working!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Lost Halls... Found!

I am continuing to experiment with combining different tiles. This time, it's actually walls that I'm combining.
I've taken an archway from the Lost Halls of the Dwarven Kings set and applied it to a Hinterland Cliffs wall. I then applied a double-height wall from one of the Lost Halls expansion sets to create a cliff on the outside, and a dwarven area on the inside. Here's where I ended up:

I still haven't even gotten to the point where I'm building walls for my cliffs set. As I sit here, I've got two pages of anchors cut and edged, and about to be glued...

I fear my OCD will get the better of me, and I'll have to kitbash anchors for tiles that don't otherwise have them. Things like the water tiles from the Canals set, or the roads from the Streets set. I'll make them, just because.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Hinterland Ruins kitbash

Hot on the heals of the Hinterland Waterfront kitbash, I whipped up a couple more tiles. The first was simply a tile that let the path blend into the grass.

Someone on the WorldWorksGames forums requested this as a hallway tile, so I made a narrow one as well.

I also took the grass tile and blended into it some Himmelveil Streets:

That's the effect I was going for - I spent a bunch of time trying to round off the bricks to make them look more warn, and I wanted a LOT of grass. The hope was for this tile to be showing some really OLD ruins. People on the forum wanted to see more street showing through, so I did this:


It's hard to gauge what people were hoping for. I'm not sure if it's the right level of street-to-grass ratio. It's easy enough to play with. One comment on this was to have more grass showing between the stones. I think that will be easy to do if I layered on a gridless grass tile. I had used a gridded tile, which meant the *dirt* of the grass tile's grid lines lined up where I wanted grass instead. Anyway, something to play with.

Another request was to make a series of Himmelveil tiles that had grass peeking through. I got a pretty good list of the subset of desired tiles, so I'll try that too.

Lastly, I thought this tile would be particularly useful for adventure hooks:


Who wouldn't want to stumble onto a grate out among the ruins? What's under there? A sewer system? A passageway into a dungeon? Just a big old pile of gold? Who knows!

Hinterland Waterfront kitbash

The guys over at WorldWorksGames offered the Himmelveil Canals set for free for a couple days. Having owned the set for quite some time but not actually getting much use out of it, I had a thought... What if I could kitbash the water tiles from the set with the Hinterland Forest tiles, giving me an option for some coastline pieces? Well, here's the result:

Ok. That is a tiny picture, but what it's showing are four new tiles. A straight land tile, a 1/4 land tile, a 3/4 land tile and a tile which blends a river into the open water. Good enough for making lakes and oceans, right? Well, I made one more tile to go with it:

I am not sure the dock is long enough, but I think it's good enough.  I'll use these for my own builds.  At this point, I'm not sure if the WorldWorksGames folks will get their kitbashing story straight enough to warrant me doing all the packaging work to formally submit them.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Little Box cut files available

I've made available some free cut files for Silhouette Studio to make the little box I've been working on. They glue together pretty quickly, and hold little pieces that otherwise might get lost in a larger shoebox.

Feel free to download the little box and play with it. If you find something majorly wrong with it, or if you improve the design significantly, please let me know.

Weekend roundup

I've been making slow and steady progress putting together Hinterland Cliff tiles. These are the top tiles for the cliffs. I really like how they go together. The WorldWorksGames folks are very clever.

I'm going to start the next phase, which is making the posts. I'm also going to print out a bunch of anchors for my existing Hinterland Forest tiles. I foolishly decided to go without anchors on them because it was MUCH faster, and I thought I wouldn't be using posts for the forest sets. WRONG!

I had another tile lying around from one of the Lost Halls of the Dwarven Kings sets that I never put anchors on, so I printed out a page of anchors for that too. I've gotten into a groove with edging and gluing the anchors, so I think it'll be nice to have a pile of extras lying around. They do tend to weaken over time.

It looks like a mess, but they've all been edged, and a couple have been glued. I can glue them while doing other things, so I'll just try to have a pile sitting around for whenever I have time. I want to add tiles to my Himmelveil Streets tiles too, so I'll print those out soon too.

Lastly, I spent some time making a pattern for my Silhouette SD cutter. It was designed based on a business card holder, and I'm using them to store props and small items. I'll probably make one just for the extra anchors.

I haven't quite perfected the bottom of the box yet. I'd like to get it to the point where I don't have to glue the bottom, but instead just clip things in place. As it stands, I'm off by something small, like 1/16" on the tabs. It adds up, though, and the corners tend to open up a little. Almost there, though. The cover fits nice and snug finally, and I have an insert for the inside bottom to make it nice and flat so none of the small pieces get snagged on anything. The font panel has slots now so I can put in replaceable labels. I'll continue to fine-tune the box until I'm happy.


So, the remainder of the weekend will see some posts made for Hinterland tiles, and I might cheat and get some cliff walls made, for motivation.