Wednesday, August 26, 2015

WPA 2015 - Thursday

I did actually make it to the Writers' Police Academy this year! I know I say I'm going every year, but then something always comes up and I can't make it. Instead, I end up as a sponsor. Finally, all of the stars lined up and I flew into Wisconsin. In years past, WPA has been hosted by GTCC in Greensboro, North Carolina, but we've outgrown that facility.

Fox Valley Technical College Public Safety Training Center is the new site of WPA and what a phenomenal facility it is. Since I work at a career college, I might appreciate their facility a bit more than others. I would love to be able to build a similar facility in my area of expertise, so in addition to learning a lot, I did some serious day-dreaming about what my "dream campus" would be.

"River City" - complete with houses, motel, gas station, and bank
I flew in on Thursday, in time for registration, orientation, and the first session: 3D Crime Scene Mapping presented by Dr. Joe LeFevre.

The technology available to law enforcement is astounding. Using a Leica scanner, a 3D map of a crime scene can be generated.


I was surprised to learn that the technology is not actually new - it's been around since the 70s! However, it was not used a law enforcement capacity. Geological survey crews were using these scanners and a brilliant state patrolman saw the opportunity to use it at car accidents to recreate the scenes.

It's essentially a giant laser range finder that takes 50,000 measurements a second and can complete a scan in as little as 2-3 minutes or up to 15 minutes, depending on the settings.

The scan takes the error out of mapping a crime scene; nothing is overlooked or mis-interpreted. Fox Valley was instrumental in developing a new technique in which still crime scene photos can be overlaid into the scan, which is helpful if the victim has been removed from the scene. Overlaying the crime scene photos on the scan helps juries "see" exactly what happened in instances where the scan wasn't done until much later in the investigation.

Though the scan takes just a few minutes, working with the raw data to make a file to work with can take several hours.

In fact, a 3D scanner (different manufacturer) was used by the FBI to collect evidence in the recent Aurora Theater Shooting. Eight days with the scanner ensured that the scene was properly mapped and nothing missed. I have to think that it played a small part in putting the bastard away for the rest of his (hopefully short) life.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

WPA-bound

You know, for a writer, I don't get much writing done. I always have grand intentions of breaking out the computer when I get home from work, but it rarely happens.

I am currently revising TALES FROM THE TRAIL, adding about ten stories, including Estes' final chapter. It should have been included in the first edition, but her death was too raw and I'm just now ready to write about it.

The second book in the LYON'S ROAR series in flitting around in my brain. I even have the first chapter written, but it scares me a bit, so I'm finding it difficult to move forward. Next week, I'll be headed to Wisconsin to the Writers' Police Academy - a move I hope will help light the fire under my butt to sit down and get the next book out.

It was at the 2010 WPA that I learned the method by which Faceless Bad Guy used to enter Stacy Lyon's house. Each year, the WPA gets bigger and better, so I have no doubt I will return full of ideas that will appear in future books.

I leave on the 20th bright and early and return bright and early on the 23rd. The only decent price I could get back was at the butt-crack of dawn, so I'm going to miss the debrief on Sunday, but I'll have two and a half days of learning under my belt by then. (And I'll be back in time to see the premier of Fear the Walking Dead!)

I am pretty bad at posting to Twitter (@CSWilson_Author), but I'm going to work on it while at WPA. If you want to follow along with me and the other 299 authors who will be attending, watch #2015WPA for updates.

I'll also be posting cool things on Instagram (AuthorCSWilson), and my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/AuthorCSWilson), so if you think about it, jump on over to follow along.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Robot Fail

This morning when I started Salome, a weird warning popped up on her screen. It said, "Battery Discharge Warning: please use system with engine running".

Completely weird, but I shrugged it off because I'd just started the car and knew the alternator would recharge the battery. Except that a mile down the road the same warning popped up. I started to get worried about the third or fourth time it popped up. The warning continued to pop up every thirty seconds (yes, I timed it) for my entire commute. I was convinced that I was driving on borrowed time, that something had happened to the alternator and that I was driving on battery power. I even skipped stopping for breakfast because I was concerned that Salome would die any second.

I made it to work without getting stranded on the side of the road and after class, I called the service department at the dealership, who agreed that it was worrisome and that I should take Salome in. After some finagling, I managed to arrange for Monster to borrow the Ashinator's car to follow me to the dealership just in case she died.

I had intended to just drop her off and go back to work, but they assured me it would take just a few minutes, so I sent Monster back home. By the way, "just a few minutes" translated into two hours - but they were productive hours.

The service manager came out to tell me I was past due for my oil change, which I knew and had scheduled an appointment for next week. He offered to just do it while they had her, so I agreed. Then he told me there was a recall on one of the throttle pieces, which I also knew, and he offered to go ahead and do it. As he was walking away, I asked about my passenger seatbelt.

From the first week, Salome's front passenger seatbelt wouldn't retract all the way and I'd complained about it at every oil change. The first time, they kind of patted me on the head and told me that the detail people hadn't removed all of the protective tape and that's what was binding it up. They removed the tape and sent me on the way.

But it didn't fix the problem, so the next time, I raised a little bigger stink about it. They kind of patted me on the head and sent me on my way again. The third time I went it, I raised an even bigger stink and they agreed to order a new seatbelt mechanism.

I explained the whole thing again to the service manager and he agreed to fix that as well.

Some time went by.

More time went by.

My phone, which I was reading a book on, died. 

A bit more time went by.

Finally, the service manager reappeared with a stack of papers and I got excited, thinking Salome was finished. Instead, he had one heck of a story for me.

First, they couldn't figure out why the sensor kept throwing up the battery discharge warning, but the battery and alternator were in good shape. No problem, they checked it out and that's all I asked.

The recall work went smoothly.

The oil change went smoothly.

The seatbelt, though...

Salome was assembled in Georgia by robots on an assembly line. No big deal, I knew that. However, what I didn't know, and what they were surprised to find, was the cause of the seatbelt issue. It seems that the robot responsible for bolting on the seatbelt mechanism lost it's socket. It tightened the nut on the bolt and the socket apparently broke off and went with the car. Honestly, that's not too surprising, I mean, how many times have you snapped the socket off of a wrench?

I bet it happens a lot and then the socket probably just falls off before the next stop on the assembly line/conveyor belt. But Salome must have really liked that socket and held onto it. When the body panel robot put the body panel on, the socket didn't break free, it was jammed between the A-post and the body panel. The panel torqued the socket just a bit, just enough to knock the seatbelt mechanism out of alignment, so it wouldn't retract.

I wasn't crazy, and I wasn't making it up, and they really couldn't just pat me on the head and send me on my way. While it's one crazy-ass story, at least I feel a bit vindicated.

But so help me if that damn warning light comes back on ...

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Ecclectic Me

I like lots of things. Sometimes I even have time to do the things I like. For instance, today I took the Glock out to play. It was frustrating and wonderful

The evil Dot Torture, right handed

Dot Torture, left handed
I did not do so well, but it was a great way to blow through 100 rounds of ammo and get some "me" time on the range.

Then I crashed my niece's birthday party. I hadn't really been invited, but Mom let it slip that she was going to have a faerie garden party and I wanted a faerie garden, so I called Nebalee and invited myself along.

Pre-planning

Laying it out with rocks

Unicorn

Pegasus

I couldn't decide between a faerie forest or a faerie beach, so they got both.
I love Sand Beach Lake - it's one of my all-time favorite destinations, so I built the little faeries their own version of Sand Beach lake. It doesn't look quite this good after the car ride home, but it's still cute. Here's hoping Speed Racer doesn't find it and help himself to, well, everything.

Asset's garden turned out really cute - what a great idea to have a faerie garden party.



It was so much fun, I want a faerie garden party for my birthday too! I'm going to have to plan a "girls' day" very soon.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

In which I get all artsy-fartsy

I saw a post on Cowgirl Shepard a few weeks ago of a wine bottle holder made of old stirrups.  I *loved* the idea, but not for wine.  We keep sunscreen and bug spray right outside our front door, just thrown on a chair.  I loved the wine holder idea so much, I thought I'd try it with the sunscreen and bug spray.

I called Mom and Bill to see if they had any old, unused stirrups.  Mom has a whole shed of "someday" tack.  You know, the tack you don't want to get rid of because you might need it someday.  Turns out she didn't have a spare set of stirrups, but Bill did.  Weird, I didn't expect him to be the one with the spare stuff, but I wasn't going to question it.

I took the old stirrups and screwed them to the wall outside of our front door and voila! sunscreen and bug spray holders.  I love them and they make me smile every time I pull up to the house.

Aren't they the cutest?
Close up just in case you couldn't see them properly :)
Now we have what we need within easy reach.  We can step outside, grab what we need, spray up and be on our way.

With all of the work we're doing under the tree with the picnic table and stuff, I thought I'd find another set of stirrups to put on a post there so we could have easy access there, too.  I stuck it in the back of my mind to find a consignment store to pick up another pair of used stirrups cheap.

As with so many of my brilliant ideas, my second set of bug spray holders got changed when I bought new boots.  I'd been dreading buying new boots for a couple of reasons: 1) boots are expensive and 2) I loved my blue Justin Gypsies.  But those boots had finally worn out.  I threatened to get them re-soled, but the insides were falling apart, too.  It was just plain time to suck it up and buy new boots.

Don't get me wrong, I love my new boots.  I do.  Now that I bit the bullet and bought them, they're lovely.  Less obnoxious than my blue ones, but lovely.  When it was time to throw my old boots out, I just couldn't do it.  I physically could not put those boots I've had since before Jay and I met into the trash can.  Instead, I decided to make the bug spray and sunscreen holders out of them.

Well-loved boots

I was surprised at how easy it was to cut these apart.

Jay punched holes for me and I stitched the bottoms shut with leather lacing.

A couple of screws to hold them to the post.
I would be lying if I denied being pretty proud of my artsy-fartsy crafts.  I love this place and told our neighbor L.E. that we were "nesting" and that she wasn't going to get rid of us any time soon.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Pallet Projects

Last year, when we moved in, we refinished what used to be the kitchen table and turned it into our picnic table.  It was quite the project and we planned to eventually make benches to go with the table. Eventually did not happen last yer, but thanks to Deejo it happened this year.

Deejo has been amazing about dropping off the world's greatest pallets for any projects I can think of.  He brought us the pallet collars for the garden and then dropped off some pallets of various sizes.  The large ones were supposed to be used as a backstop for a knife-throwing target I wanted to make, but when we leaned them up against the picnic table, we realized they were perfect for our benches.

Bad picture, due to the rain, but you can see how they're just the right length.
Jay put the benches together while I worked on the horse garden.





Admittedly, they're a bit on the clunky side, but they're sturdy and they each seat four.  Now, instead of everyone bringing their own butt spaces, eight people can now sit at the table, but anyone more than eight will have to bring a chair.

They still needed stained.

Stained and in use!  They're beautimous.
After we had a gathering to try them out, we decided that the plates and plasticware took up far too much real estate at the end of the table.  It's no use being able to finally seat eight (ten when we make benches for the ends of the table) if we can't use the whole table.

The very next day, Jay used a small pallet and whipped up a side table specifically for the plates and plasticware.

It's functional, but not quite as finished as Jay wants it to be.
Jay's going to add some 1"x3" slats across the bottom supports to make a shelf.  We can put the plasticware containers on the shelf like drawers and put food up on top.  We have a dumpster less than twenty feet from the picnic table, but we'll probably add a trash receptacle to make it a bit easier for everyone.

Our goal is to have a yard where we can have impromptu gatherings with our family and friends.  I think we're well on our way.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Our Own Garden!

I swear, I blinked and it's June.  How does that happen?  It's frustrating the heck out of me, that's for sure.

Jay and I haven't been idle, though.  As soon as the depressing rain let up (seriously, something like 6" of rain in May), we got started on our outdoor projects.

I was chomping at the bit to get our very own garden in.  The last two years, we've shared a garden with his parents, but having to drive 40 minutes to harvest anything out of it wasn't ideal.  Deejo has been amazing with supplying all of the wood I need for my "projects".  We were going to build boxes for the garden and were talking to him about it, and he said, "just use some pallet collars".  I had no idea what a pallet collar was, but agreed that if he could get me some, I'd use them.  Let me tell you, they are the bestest things in the world!  We didn't have to do any construction, really.  We just unfolded them and stuck them down into the ground (after Jay leveled a bit and laid out some weed barrier).

The folded up things are the pallet collars

We planted mosquito-repellant plants

A couple of weeks after it went in; there's some baby lettuce peeking up on the right.

To make it a little prettier, we laid some sand and gravel down between the boxes.  We also moved the round planters off of the table and put them "temporarily" between the boxes, but liked them so much they're going to live there.



I got so excited about the lettuce and the possibility of not having to buy my salad mix from the store, that I cut some to use on a five-layer dip.  The next day, I went back out to the garden and the rabbits (I didn't even know we had rabbits!) had eaten it down.  I stomped around for a bit and then headed to Home Depot to remedy the situation.

No more critters eating my lettuce!

The garden is doing okay, with the exception of my carrots.  I bought fancy carrots because they made me giggle, and planted two rows of them, but only three have come up.  I'm really sad about that, not because I love to eat carrots, but because I wanted to see if they really grew the colors the package said they would.  But now I'll probably never know because only three damn seeds sprouted, and I think it's too late to plant more, but I might just because.

Wouldn't these be cool?