Friday, 22 June 2018

Alchemy Laboratory Diorama Part 1: Making the box

Last year I did a few DIY miniature diorama kits. They came with all the bits and pieces you needed to make a little scene. I enjoyed doing them but wanted to do something bigger of my own design. I wanted to do an alchemy laboratory. I started researching images online (and there are some amazing artists out there). In August I bought the wood for the box frame and got to work.

I worked fairly slowly as I've never done anything like this before and didn't want to make any major mistakes by going to quickly. When it came to the main box a lot of steps had to be done in a certain order.

I don't own a table saw so I had the store where I bought the wood do the major cuts for me ($1/cut). I nailed and glued the boards together and tried to get them as square as possible as they dried. I painted the inside top a mixture of turquoise and blue and then added some bits of glow in the dark flakes and some heat embossed glow in the dark constellations. I added the owl that hangs from the ceiling as I figured it would be harder to put in once the back was on. It was wrapped up so as to not damage itself/the box.

I carved grooves in the other walls for the wires to slot into. I decided to use magnets to hold the glass cover on, so I needed grooves for those to sit. I glued the back panel on (with a cut out door so I could access the electrics) and then painted the interior walls white, except where the corner furnace went, and the floor brown. I then painted the entire outside black and varnished everything.

The next step was adding the wiring for the lights, as the flooring and clay I wanted on the walls were going to cover them. I ran the wires, and added the light fixtures (3D extrusion printed by my husband) and my husband soldered them to the control board. We added a button to change between the different lighting modes he programmed for me. There are 5 candles (2 for each wall sconce and one for the table), a red and yellow light for the furnace, and 3 ultraviolet lights (one above the bookcase, and one for each of the wall shelves).

I used long thin wooden sticks for the flooring, and gave it a coffee stain to make it look more lived in.

The furnace was made out of cardboard, with 2 wooden support beams inside. There's a strip of lantern paper, meant to soften the effect of the red and yellow LEDs that will mimic the fire. I covered the outside with clay and glued it into the box.

I added a black strip of felt to the bottom front for the glass to sit on and glued in the magnets. I finished the back panel, using a magnet to hold it closed. The furnace hides all of the electrics. The USB power cord plugs into the board (which is glued to the opening panel) and comes out the back of the box through a hole that's been covered with felt. The button is glued to the outside.

I used a glass panel from a picture frame and glued metal book protectors to the corners to act as the dust protector on the front.

The next major step was adding clay to the walls. When doing the side walls I smoothed the clay around the wall sconces and then glued those down. For the back wall, I had to mark out where the bookcase and shelves would go and leave space for them. I glued the 3D printed L brackets that would hold the shelves right away so they would be glued into the wall instead of the clay, and not be covered. I added some coffee wash to the clay around the walls (especially above where the candles go).

I added some real ashes around the furnace. I'd made a miniature fire using some twigs and iridescent paper, which I glued in place.

I had already made a bookcase using white masonite and a cardboard backing and then painted.  With the bookcase and shelves glued in, the box itself was finished.

Next Friday I'll show some of the items I made to decorate the laboratory.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Shout-Out: Witchmark by C. L. Polk

In an original world reminiscent of Edwardian England in the shadow of a World War, cabals of noble families use their unique magical gifts to control the fates of nations, while one young man seeks only to live a life of his own.
Magic marked Miles Singer for suffering the day he was born, doomed either to be enslaved to his family's interest or to be committed to a witches' asylum. He went to war to escape his destiny and came home a different man, but he couldn't leave his past behind. The war between Aeland and Laneer leaves men changed, strangers to their friends and family, but even after faking his own death and reinventing himself as a doctor at a cash-strapped veterans' hospital, Miles can't hide what he truly is.
When a fatally poisoned patient exposes Miles' healing gift and his witchmark, he must put his anonymity and freedom at risk to investigate his patient's murder. To find the truth he'll need to rely on the family he despises, and on the kindness of the most gorgeous man he's ever seen.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Video: SAND a Star Wars Story

Schmoyoho's probably best known for their songify the news videos, but they've got some funny songify the movies videos too. If you're not into Star Wars, they've just done The Incredibles and they did one for Loki from the Thor/Avengers films.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Book Review: Summerland by Hannu Rajaniemi

Pros: fleshed-out characters, interesting world, fast paced

Cons: pay close attention or you’ll get lost quickly, some aspects not explained well

This book is pretty complicated so I’m using the synopsis from the book instead of trying to come up with my own:

Loss is a thing of the past. Murder is obsolete. Death is just the beginning.
In 1938, death is no longer feared but exploited. Since the discovery of the afterlife, the British Empire has extended its reach into Summerland, a metropolis for the recently deceased.
Yet Britain isn't the only contender for power in this life and the next. The Soviets have spies in Summerland, and the technology to build their own god.
When SIS agent Rachel White gets a lead on one of the Soviet moles, blowing the whistle puts her hard-earned career at risk. The spy has friends in high places, and she will have to go rogue to bring him in.
But how do you catch a man who's already dead?

Pay very close attention to the first few chapters of the book as you’re dumped into the action with no background information beyond what you can gleam from conversations. Once you’ve got a feel for the players, the world, and the stakes, sit back and enjoy the fast paced ride.

The story is told through mostly alternating chapters from the points of view of Rachel White and Peter Bloom. Note that their timelines don’t match up right away (his story starts a few days after hers). I was impressed at the amount of background detail you eventually learn about the pair, and how that makes you care about them, even while they’re making choices that are hard to sympathize with. I especially liked the difficult relationship Rachel has with her husband. It was great seeing a married woman as a protagonist that took into account the prejudices she faced as well as the sacrifices she made to reach her position.

The worldbuilding is well done and takes into consideration how the discovery of a literal afterlife affects the living. Summerland itself is a little hard to picture (understandably as it’s got a 4th dimension that isn’t time) but adheres to a particular set of rules. I would have liked more information on how the ectotanks and flyers worked, because they sounded terrifyingly awesome.

This is a unique spy thriller that’s worth picking up.

Out June 26th.

Friday, 15 June 2018

Growing Crystals

For Christmas last year I got a crystal growing kit by National Geographic. A few months ago I started making crystals and I'm really impressed with this set.

The kit I got had 10 different coloured seed crystals and crystal packets, 4 silicon containers for growing the crystals, a booklet about crystal formation in nature, and a few real crystals/gemstones. I bought a stainless steel bowl I could use as a double boiler to heat the water and crystals (so I wouldn't ruin a cooking bowl). My first batch was pink and dark green (colours I didn't care about if I messed up somewhere).

I let them grow for a little longer than the 10 days because I wanted larger crystals. Getting the rounded seed crystal out was harder than I expected. I eventually learned that the crystal formations at the base are smaller and softer, and it's easier to just break off that layer entirely than to try and gently pry the seed out. You still have the upper large crystals. I also learned to not wash off the crystals, as it just removes the colour.

I kept all the leftover crystal bits and actually grew several crystals from each packet (one large display crystal plus a few smaller flat layer crystals for future craft uses.

The display base has LED lights (hence why you need to remove the seed crystal, which is rounded (so the finished crystals can hide the LED inside and because it's opaque). I modified the stand by rubbing some gelatos (sort of a cross between crayons and pastels) so it would look a bit more natural and less plastic. 

And here they are all lit up (plus a few of the 'spares').

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Shout-Out: The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts

She believed in the mission with all her heart. But that was sixty million years ago. How do you stage a mutiny when you're only awake one day in a million? How do you conspire when your tiny handful of potential allies changes with each shift? How do you engage an enemy that never sleeps, that sees through your eyes and hears through your ears and relentlessly, honestly, only wants what's best for you? Sunday Ahzmundin is about to find out.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Book Review: Guardian by A. J. Hartley

Pros: lots of politics, complex race relations 


When Willinghouse is framed for murder, Anglet Sutonga, former steeplejack and spy, tries to clear his name. But the white government starts enacting racist policies that disenfranchise the native black Mahweni and brown Lani populations. Meanwhile a mysterious illness strikes the Drowning, where Ang’s sister lives. As tensions in the city increase, Ang starts to wonder if the city she loves can survive.

This book refers often to actions and people from the previous books in the series, so be sure to read them before starting this one.

While Ang isn’t involved with politics herself, the book depends very heavily on the city’s new policies and how people of different races are treated. I loved seeing a variety of leaders from different groups come together at different points trying to create peace and protest the government’s actions.

The book deals very heavily with race relations, showing clear racist actions on the part of the white men in charge. There are peaceful rallies with some frankly brilliant speeches that wouldn’t be out of place at a Black Lives Matter event. The ending is fantastic in this regard, leaving you with a sense of hope that’s desperately needed in today’s political climate.

Ang goes through several emotional upheavals during the book. She’s able to repress her emotions so she can focus on a number of problems, but I liked how the book addressed some of her feelings at the end, once she has time to deal with them.

I really enjoyed this series and while the book deals with heavy subject matter - especially in today’s political climate - its ending of hope really makes it a worthwhile read.