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It's been just shy of 3 years since I added anything to the nodegel. That's a mighty long time to remain relatively silent, but I find myself compelled to speak up at the moment.

A lot has happened in the last few years. I've gotten married, left Nashville and moved back to Texas, inherited 2 children (an 11-year-old son and a 15-year-old daughter), held down a job for 2 years, got evicted from our house, watched my dad fight cancer, became a grandfather and took on the mantle of "Dad", "Grand Dad" and "Husband" with as much care and patience as I could muster. Yes indeed, these last few years have been topsy-turvy like never before. And I can't even begin to account for it all in detail. A summary will simply have to do.

And it only gets more interesting from here.

Due to the loss of our house last October, I have made monumental decision: I have enlisted in the United States Army. My MOS will be 25B, Information Technologies Specialist (I refer to it as "G.I. Geek"). I chose that MOS with calculating care. To wit, I am not interested in killing or being killed. I AM interested, however, in having a career with which I can provide handsomely for my family. When I get out of the Army in six years I will have skills and training at my disposal which will pretty much guarantee me a very well-paying job. No more retail for this old boy, thank you.

I ship out for Basic Combat Training on Monday to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, where I will have my ass handed to me for the next 10 weeks. After that is 20 weeks of AIT at Fort Gordon, Georgia, which promises to be interesting and challenging. Fortunately, I'm no stranger to working with computers of all types, so I'm hoping that my MOS will be something that I'll take to like a duck to water. If nothing else, it should keep me from being on the front lines in Iraq or Afghanistan... I hope. And if it doesn't, well, that's what Basic Combat Training is for, isn't it?

In all my years prior to this I never would have imagined myself joining the military. It's not that I don't like the military or that I have a personal distaste for it. Quite the contrary, actually. I just never felt that the military had much to offer me as an individual. As a family man, though, it offers me and my family a lot of things which are hard to come by in the private sector. I and my wife have struggled for too long in Life. It's about time that some of the burden be taken off our shoulders. Insurance, housing, a definitive career... in today's economy those things are tough to achieve when you don't have a college degree. With the Army's help I can acquire those things in relatively short shrift. At least, that's the idea. We'll see how it goes six years from now. Hell, I might find it so appealing that I'll stay in for a full twenty years and retire at 55. Who knows?

Anyway... I just wanted to pound out one last node before I get out of town. I won't be able to do anything on a computer for the next 10 weeks (which is an eternity for us geeks). And once I start AIT, I will most likely be too busy to even think about checking my E2 account.

I hope that everyone here, people I've met and total strangers alike, do well in Life. If I never come back here again, I at least want to leave y'all with that- my best wishes for success and happiness. Keep noding and node well.

I've been having great fun lately customising USB sticks (thumb drives, flash drives, whatever you want to call them) using epoxy putty. The putty doesn't require any baking, and it seems to be hard enough and strong enough to survive in pockets full of keys for long periods without any visible scratching - although it does accumulate smudge marks very quickly, they're easy to wipe off.

It's an interesting challenge to decorate a USB drive, because you start out with a sort of rectangle a few millimetres thick, and it's probably best not to make the final product very much bigger than that, so that it doesn't take up too much space in pockets and can still be plugged into computers which might not have much space around their USB sockets. That means you're constrained to subjects which can be plausibly fitted into a long, thin cuboid with a minimum of protrusions. You also ideally want things with a head or some other part which can be unobtrusively removed, with a join just at the right distance from one end...

The basic technique is pretty straightforward - you just mix up the epoxy putty with the hardener, roll it into a sheet and cover the drive in it. Leave space for anything you don't want to obscure, like the LEDs most pen drives have that light up to show when they're active, or loops for keyrings. There are two approaches you can take at this stage. One way is to use a thin sheet and add more putty to that - freshly-mixed epoxy putty sticks extremely well to almost anything, but especially itself. The other way is to use more putty to begin with, and extrude or carve from that.

There are many different varieties of epoxy putty available. I've been using Sylmasta A+B (formerly SuperCarve), and so far I'm very happy indeed with the new reformulated version of this - the colours are pure and vivid, where before the blue and the yellow were both slightly greenish (I'm told their white has been reformulated to be brighter, too, but I still haven't used up all of my 500g block of the previous formulation so I haven't tried that yet). They've also extended the range to include brown and black, so it's now possible to mix almost any colour from those available. For about £50 I got 250g of each of five colours, which should go a looong way. I have also had good results using metallic powders you can rub into the putty while it's still soft. Most of the powder sticks well to the putty if it's rubbed in well enough, but it's worth varnishing these afterwards to be safe.

So far I've made three USB monkeys, a couple of aliens, a zombie badger that runs Linux and a fish that really didn't work the way I wanted it to. I might make a crocodile next. Any other suggestions are welcome, whether or not you want to buy them yourself! As ever, I am very happy to take commissions...

If you care enough to read this far, you'll probably be wanting to see pictures - here they are in my sculpture blog.

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