A Little Experimentation with Photography

Over the last year or so, photography has become one of my favorite hobbies. I don’t have any formal training; I’ve been teaching myself through practice and the wealth of knowledge available on the internet.

Anyway, I’ve been having fun experimenting a bit with photography lately. Here are a few of those experiments:

Long exposure

Long exposure of a lake at night
Long exposure of a lake at night

At my grandparents’ cabin a few weeks ago, Nick and I experimented with long exposure photography for the first time. We took some photos of a fire in the cabin’s wood-burning stove and then we went down to the dock to take some photos of the lake.

It was completely dark and nearly freezing, but we had a lot of fun. Because it was so dark, we couldn’t really see what the camera was pointed at until the photo was taken. We tried to take photos of the stars, too, but there was too much light from the full moon.

See the rest of the photos in my Long Exposure album on Flickr.

Aluminum foil bokeh

Lego motorcyclist with aluminum foil bokeh
Lego motorcyclist with aluminum foil bokeh

I read an article about using aluminum foil to create a bokeh effect and decided to try it out. I set up Lego minifigures on my kitchen counter so there would be a reflection from the granite. Then I crumpled up a piece of aluminum foil and used it as a background with a shallow depth of field to get the bokeh effect.

I don’t have any flashes or other lighting equipment yet, so the lighting was just overhead lighting from the kitchen. I wanted extra lighting on the Lego, though, so I turned on the flashlight app on my phone and pointed it at the Lego while I was taking the photos. Pretty crude, but it was fun to use just what I had lying around. 😛 I already have a few ideas for when I try again.

See the rest of the photos in my Aluminum Foil Bokeh album on Flickr.

Selective color

Selective color Columbine
Selective color Columbine

This one is less exciting to write about, but I’m really happy with how the photo turned out.

I took a photo of a columbine plant in my backyard and I wanted to be creative with the editing. I made the background black and white, leaving only the purple flowers in color.

See the Columbine photo on Flickr.

Pickle It Updates

Since I published the Don’t Starve Together (multiplayer) version of Pickle It two weeks ago, we’ve already updated it several times to add new features. We also back ported our changes to the Don’t Starve (single player) version of Pickle It.

Pickle It additions since release

  • Pickle sword! A fairly powerful sword that eventually spoils. You can eat it if you get desperate, too.
  • Golden pickle! Pickles have a rare chance of turning into golden pickles when pickling, which provide better stats than regular pickles.
  • Potatoes! Potatoes have a totally unique mechanic. Wild potatoes must be dug up with a shovel and you have to use potatoes to grow more potato plants.

We’ve also made a lot of less interesting changes to improve balancing and fix minor bugs.

Pickle It additions
Some of the new additions to Pickle It

Subscriber feedback

Feedback has been really positive so far. Players have been happy to see the Pickle It mod get updated and ported to Don’t Starve Together. We’ve gotten some great suggestions, some of which have worked their way into the mod already. We’ve also had some totally invaluable comments like “derp” and “pickle it.” 😛

One comment I liked was: “oooooh XD i got this mod very early in dont starve and i just thought that beets and onions were already in the game! I was wondering why i didnt see any in dont starve together…” I’m so happy our mod integrates with the game so well that people think it’s part of the actual game!

We’re currently up to over 34,000 subscribers of the Don’t Starve version and over 5,000 subscribers of the Don’t Starve Together version, including both Steam and Klei. Not bad, especially since Don’t Starve Together is still in beta. We also have 100% positive ratings on both mods, which I think is really cool.

What’s next?

We have some more ideas for Pickle It, which will hopefully show up in updates soon. We’re waiting on art for now (*nudges Sean*). We also have ideas for several more mods, so we’ll be busy for a while. 🙂

The Reign of Giants DLC from Don’t Starve is going to be integrated into Don’t Starve Together soon. Klei announced a public test of the RoG content over the weekend. Pickle It shouldn’t have any compatibility problems with RoG in DST, but we still need to test everything. We even have pickling recipes for some of the RoG foods in the mod already.

Pickle It: Don’t Starve Together Mod

Pickle It IconLast night, we released Pickle It for Don’t Starve Together! Pickle It is a mod that adds a pickling component to the game, making it last longer.

Don’t Starve Together

Don’t Starve Together is an early access version of Don’t Starve that supports multiplayer. It is an open world survival crafting game. The goal is to survive in the strange world as long as you can while maintaining both physical and mental health.

Pickle It

Pickle It is a mod I made with my husband (Nick) and our friend (Sean). Nick and I designed the mod and did the coding, while Sean supplied the art assets. We initially made it for the original Don’t Starve game and knew we had to port it to Don’t Starve Together.

Pickle It adds a pickle barrel that lets players pickle their food to make it last longer (especially useful in winter!). It also adds new vegetables, some of which can be found growing wild in the world. Others have a random chance of growing from generic seeds.

It was important to us to balance the pickle barrel so that it wasn’t overpowered. While it makes food last longer, there is a trade-off with the pickled versions of most foods.

Pickle It: Version 1.3.1

The code for Don’t Starve Together changed significantly from Don’t Starve, so it took almost a complete overhaul of Pickle It to make it work in DST. Adding multiplayer support was tricky, but eventually we figured it out. There isn’t a lot of documentation out there for making mods for Don’t Starve (at least for our mod, which was unlike any other mod out there when we released it), so it wasn’t easy making it work.

We added Xbox controller support, fixed a few things that had gotten broken in game updates, and tweaked the food values.

Since I uploaded the new version of Pickle It to Steam last night, 155 players are already using it. 🙂 I hope it will be even more popular than our original Don’t Starve version, which currently has 24,301 people using it. It’s so cool to have so many people using something I made!

Pickle It mod for Don't Starve Together

Future Plans

We want to back port our changes so they work in the original Don’t Starve version of Pickle It. Unfortunately, it seems like Don’t Starve is still using an old version of the code, so we don’t foresee it being easy.

We also want to add some new things to the mod: more vegetables, new pickled foods, pickled food recipes, pickle equipment, and new craftable items.

Get the Mod

Please check out the mod at the links below and rate, favorite, comment, subscribe, etc. We’d love to hear your feedback!

Updated Don’t Starve Together version of Pickle It:

And here are some links to the original Don’t Starve version of Pickle It (which didn’t get updated):

Tuft & Needle Mattress Review

Nick and I had been talking about getting a new mattress for years. The one we’d been using was 12 years old and had known 5 different homes on both sides of the country. Getting a new mattress was daunting, though. What kind do we get: spring, memory foam, latex? How do we get a quality mattress without getting ripped off? I read reviews and articles about mattresses online, but they often conflicted and we just kept putting off buying a new mattress.

That is, until one day last month when I serendipitously saw Tuft & Needle mentioned in a comment on a blog I follow. Promising quality mattresses for a fraction of the price of what you see in a mattress store, I decided to investigate.

Tuft & Needle logo

American-made mattresses for reasonable prices

Tuft & Needle is a company founded by two software engineers from Silicon Valley. They are dedicated to making quality mattresses without gimmicks and price gouging. Their foam mattresses are made in the USA using American materials, eco-friendly, and 100% recyclable. They have a 30 night trial during which you can get a full refund for any reason and rather than returning the mattress to them, they hook you up with a charity to donate the mattress to. They also have a 7 year warranty to cover any defects or malfunctions.

That all sounded fantastic and then I saw the reviews and I was blown away. Everyone was raving about it and the few who didn’t love it were still impressed by Tuft & Needle’s customer service.

Tuft & Needle makes two different mattress models: 5″ thick ($200-$500) and 10″ thick ($300-$600). At just $500 for the 10″ thick queen size mattress, it seemed like a fairly safe gamble, especially with the 30 night trial. It even came with free shipping. Nick was skeptical about buying a mattress online, but having grown up with the internet, it didn’t seem that strange to me. I used a referral code I found online and got $50 off. Nice.

Referral codes: Gift $50, Get $50

Mattress compressed and wrapped in plastic
Mattress arrived compressed and wrapped in plastic

Speaking of referral codes, I found out that using one not only gives you $50 off; Tuft & Needle also refunds $50 to the person whose referral code was used… up to the full price of the mattress. Holy cow. I posted my referral code a few places online and within a day or two, three people had already used it. The next day, I saw my credit card had been refunded $150 and my mattress hadn’t even shipped yet! O_O

Super fast delivery

Four days (two business days) after I placed the order, Tuft & Needle emailed me to let me know the mattress was on its way. It arrived via Fedex three days later (one week after I ordered it).

It came in a 67 pound box that measured 67″ x 15″ x 15″. The foam mattress inside was super compressed and rolled up in plastic. We took it upstairs, put it on our box spring, and began removing the plastic. When we cut through the inner plastic, the mattress started to suck in air and expand, which was pretty cool. The unboxing took no more than five minutes and probably a couple hours for the mattress to fully expand (though most of it happened within a matter of minutes).

Nick trying out the mattress
Nick trying out the new mattress

A good night’s rest

Nick and I have been sleeping on the mattress for three weeks now and it has been great. My main concern with a foam mattress was that it would sleep hot, but the foam Tuft & Needle uses is breathable and heat hasn’t been a problem. The firmness suits us well (we’d give it 7 or 8/10 in firmness) and our quality of sleep has improved. Definitely worth the buy.

Thinking about getting one?

If you’re looking for a new mattress, Nick and I highly recommend that you check out Tuft & Needle. Make sure to use our referral link to get $50 off! 🙂



September 17, 2014 – Referral program ended: Tuft & Needle ended their referral program today, so the $50 off referral links will no longer work. You can read Tuft & Needle’s statement on ending the referral program on their website. It’s a bummer that they aren’t doing referrals anymore, but I get why they ended it. Nick and I are still very happy with our mattress and think it’s still a bargain even at full price. 🙂

August 6, 2015 – Extended trial: Tuft & Needle’s trial period has been extended to 100 nights. It’s been a year now that we’ve had our mattress. We still love it and haven’t had any issues.


(Cross-posted on my other blog, http://westsgowest.com)

Pickle It’s First Review on YouTube

Someone posted a review of Pickle It on YouTube earlier today; how cool is that? 😀

Here are the current stats of Pickle It on Steam:

  • 1584 current subscribers
  • 98.4% retention rate (people who have stayed subscribed)
  • 84 ratings (100% are positive ratings)

We also have 153 downloads from Klei’s site.

Version 1.2

Pickle It: Beets, Onions, & Radishes

We just updated Pickle It to add some new veggies (beets, onions, and radishes), which can be found growing wild in the world.

We also added pigs feet, which can be cooked and pickled.

Pickle It: Initial Response

Wow! We’re blown away by the feedback we’ve been getting on Pickle It, the pickling mod Nick, Sean, and I published on Sunday for Don’t Starve.

We currently have 718 subscribers and a 100% positive rating on Steam. From Klei’s site, we have 117 downloads and a 5/5 star rating.


We’re so geeked by how much people are loving this mod. One person went so far as to say:

I love this so much! This is the best mod in the steam workshop by far!

Someone else even recommended that Klei Entertainment incorporate our mod with the core game. ^^ Another person asked if they could use our pickled food in their mod (of course you can!). We’ve seen several references to the Portlandia sketch, too:

And we’ve had some great ideas!

Now we just need pickled pig’s feet ;D

We’re going to work on this in an upcoming update. There are humanoid pigs in the game, but they only drop meat and pigskin at the moment, so we’ll have to figure out how to add pigs feet to their loot.

Would it be possible to see crockpot recipes using the pickled food in the future?

This was an idea we’d tossed around, but seeing someone request crockpot recipes with pickled food made us want to do it. So far, we only have a few recipe ideas, but I’m sure people will suggest more once we put this in the mod.

Version 1.1

Pickle It Version 1.1

On Monday, we updated the mod with 5 new pickling recipes: carrot, corn, eggplant, mushroom, and pumpkin.

We’ll have a new update soon that will add some more veggies. Then, we’ll move onto some of the more fun things on our to do list. 😀

Pickle It: Don’t Starve Mod

Pickle It IconMy husband (Nick), our buddy (Sean), and I published a mod for Don’t Starve today! As its name would imply, “Pickle It” lets you pickle food, so that it lasts longer.

Don’t Starve

Don’t Starve is an open world wilderness survival game developed by Klei Entertainment. You are thrown into a strange world with the goal of surviving as long as you can while maintaining both physical and mental health. You can gather resources and craft items and structures to help you survive.

Pickle It

Don’t Starve has a big fan base and Klei made it fairly easy to mod the game; all but the very basic elements of the game are written in Lua. We got to work as soon as we had a mod idea, which was to add a pickling system to the game. Nick and I experimented with pickling cucumbers IRL this year, so that’s how we came up with the idea. 🙂 Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of documentation yet for anything other than characters, creatures, and equippable items, so our mod was a bit challenging.

Pickle It Mod Screenshot

The current version (version 1.0) of our mod introduces the pickle barrel, two new vegetables (cabbage and cucumber), four pickled food recipes (sauerkraut, pickle, pickled egg, and pickled herring), as well as pickled mush for invalid/failed pickling attempts.

Future Plans

We already have some more ideas for the mod in the works. We’ll be adding new vegetables and pickling recipes soon and I’m sure we’ll be fine tuning stats and whatnot as we get comments from other players. We have a few surprises planned, too. 😉

Get the Mod

Please check out the mod at the links below and rate, favorite, comment, subscribe, etc. We’d love to hear your feedback! 😀

Steam Workshop: http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=196051302

Klei Forums: http://forums.kleientertainment.com/files/file/392-pickle-it/

GitHub Repo: https://github.com/mariewest/Pickle-It-Dont-Starve-Mod

Gigabit Internet, AOE, and Bike Parking

A collection of interesting tech-related news from yesterday:

Gigabit Internet coming to Seattle for $80/month

Gigabit Seattle announced its speed/price plans on Monday (source):

  • 5 Mbps download/1 Mbps upload free for 5 years (thereafter, 10 Mbps download/10 Mbps upload for $10/month)
  • 100 Mbps download/100 Mbps upload for $45/month
  • 1000 Mbps download/1000 Mbps upload for $80/month

Unfortunately, I’m not in one of the neighborhoods that will be getting initial coverage, but I’m hopeful that I’ll have access to gigabit Internet soon. 🙂

Age of Empires is coming to Android and iOS

Microsoft announced on Monday that it is working on a mobile version of “Age of Emprires” which will be released by March of next year (source). AOE is one of my favorite games of all time, so I’m excited to see how this turns out. Wololo!

Japan has an amazing underground bicycle parking system

Okay, maybe this isn’t news, but I found out about Japan’s incredible space-saving underground bicycle parking system yesterday. Just take your bike to a parking machine, which will read a chip on the bike and store it underground automatically. When you want your bike back, tap a card to the machine and it will retrieve your bike in seconds.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Whoops, a post slipped through my fingers! I finished reading Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple a month ago, but I forgot to publish my post about it. Here it is:

Where'd You Go, BernadetteSince it was released in 2012, Where’d You Go, Bernadette, a novel by Maria Semple, has been getting a lot of attention. A film studio has even already gotten film rights to make it into a movie.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is an epistolary novel about a wacky architect named Bernadette who goes missing just before a family trip to Antarctica. The story is told from the perspective of Bernadette’s 14-year-old daughter, Bee, and a collection of emails, letters, etc. she acquired. The book takes place in Seattle and Bernadette, a transplant from L.A., can’t stand Seattle and has no problem poking fun at the city.

In one such rant about Seattle, Bernadette complains about the slow drivers,  “athletic do-gooders,” Microsoft, and the locals’ lack of attention to physical appearance. And she says:

Whoever laid out this city never met a four-way intersection they didn’t turn into a five-way intersection.

I have to admit there is some truth to that; there are some pretty bizarre intersections in Seattle. 😛

Bernadette complains about Seattle frequently (though she came to love it in the end), but it was fun to see the local references scattered throughout the book. She mentions things like Beecher’s Cheese, “Go Huskies!”U Village, the Seattle Freeze, and the blackberry bushes that grow like weeds. Bernadette even says “the 405,” which is something Californian transplants are notorious for doing.

While gossipy, self-absorbed, passive-aggressive  private school mothers aren’t really my thing, I enjoyed the novel. It’s not particularly cerebral, but it was an entertaining and easy read.

Woodland Park Zoo

I went to the Woodland Park Zoo last weekend with friends and family. There are lots of babies at the zoo right now, so it was a fun time to visit. Gavin the porcupette was hiding, but we caught a glimpse of him. I wanted to see the twin sloth bear cubs, but the sloth bears were M.I.A. while we were there. The adorable, fuzzy tree kangaroo joey isn’t on exhibit yet, but you can watch him via webcam. The quadruplet lion cubs were definitely the most fun to see.

Some of the photos I took at the zoo are below:

Lion Cub Lion Cubs Lion Cubs Lion Cubs Lion Cubs Elephant Gazelles Hippopotamus