Sunday, December 16, 2007

My Decadent Lifestyle

I was going to title this post "Winter, My Nemesis", but it really has nothing to do with winter. I simply have strong, negative feelings about winter that sometimes manifest themselves in mildly inappropriate ways (like shaking my fist at a snowing sky or beating up skiers for lunch money). Fortunately, winter has so far been mild where I am. It has been snowing primarily in the mountains like God intended. This means the lowlands are mostly easy to navigate, we'll have water next year, and those people who've invented many ways of sliding down snow covered hills have an outlet for their strange and unnatural passions.

What this post is really about is my decadence. As many of you already know, I recently purchased a new vehicle. This is after almost nine years of driving an '83 utility van, and a prior five or six years of driving a '79 El Camino with an impressive pompadour of a camper shell. (Sorry. I can't find any pictures, but let me assure you that my El Camino was ridiculous.)

Neither of those vehicles were what you would call fun, comfortable, efficient, or even remotely nice. In fact, my van apparently scares people to a certain degree considering the number of off color jokes I've received about it over the years. I received enough of them that I started to beat people to the punch with self-deprecating jokes about the thing. Of course, when it comes to moving something, well, people like the van just fine. Hey! Screw you guys! No offense. ;)

My main motive for buying the van was that I thought I was some sort of nomad, and the ability to throw all my possessions in my vehicle and just go whenever I pleased appealed to me. I've only recently realized I'm not much of a nomad, and I've only run off to nowhere a few times, and the last time I did that was a while ago. So, my van is almost always entirely empty except for the sandbags I carry around during the winter.

I decided to go in a more efficient direction with my new car and picked up a Honda Fit. Everybody that sees it seems to be concerned with whether I fit in the thing. Actually, I fit just fine (unlike the Toyota Corolla I test drove). It is quite comfortable and is a little easier to get in and out of than the El Camino was. (It's not fair to compare the Fit to the van in this case, because, for me, the van is the easiest vehicle I've ever gotten into. I practically just walk into it.) Honda has done a remarkable job of making use of the available room. Of course, thinking about it now, the Fit is nearly form fitting for me. It's comfortably snug while I'm wearing my normal winter clothes. I guess I'll just have to watch my figure.

People have requested some pictures. So, I took some with the Fit next to my van for comparison.





I've only had it since Wednesday, but I've been enjoying it (especially the maneuverability). It seems well designed and well engineered. I don't know what a person who drives a "luxury" car would think about it, but it feels downright luxurious to me. Luxurious to the point I feel a little guilty about it and worry that I'm going soft. I mean, it has AM and FM! Of course, for nine years I have been driving a noisy, metal box whose main redeeming feature is that the heater does work. So, my perspective may be a little different from other people's.

Now that I've been driving this car, I do wonder that if recent cars hadn't become so comfortable and well engineered, whether the nation's average commute time would have continued increasing. Think about it. If you hated driving your vehicle like I did, you'd want to limit how much time you spent in it. I know I did. Maybe instead of mandating better fuel efficiency, congress should mandate less comfortable cars. I bet that would have a greater impact on driven miles and gas consumed than any fuel efficiency standard! Okay, maybe not.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Idealism and the Internet?

Over the years as the internet has been rapidly developed by many eager individuals, it has become clear that, despite extensive commercialization, there is a persistent streak of idealism about one-to-one and one-to-many communications that runs through many online activities and much of the internet development. I use idealism in its positive sense but with reservations. I don't think this idealism is misplaced so much as it might sometimes be overheated. The ability of anyone with internet access to send out messages to be received by anybody else with internet access without being vetted by a corporate or government authority is a very powerful tool that I would argue is almost the definition of the internet (although I admit many people would like to change that).

Of course, this powerful tool isn't always used towards idealistic ends, and in fact can even be abused. However, it can be used towards idealistic ends, and that's what I'm posting about here. I'm not endorsing the following websites. I'm just pointing them out for you to consider.

First up is the site 10 Questions which I found out about via this post from Susan Crawford. The site's goal is to have the public vote on ten user submitted questions and to attempt to get the U.S. presidential candidates to answer those questions. I don't know how successful this will be, but I like the idea of using the internet to "directly" ask questions of the candidates (although the fact that the questions have to be delivered in videos is an unnecessary and unhelpful restriction). How many of us have sat through televised presidential "debates" waiting for the press to ask a question you'd like to ask or waiting for the press to call bullshit on a candidate's non-answer? Yeah, that's what I thought. I've been sitting on this link for a while, so it might be too late to participate in the question phase (sorry).

This next site is called Congresspedia. It's attempting to be a Wikipedia for the U.S. Congress. Unlike the Wikipedia, you have to be a registered user to edit the Congresspedia. I assume this is to attempt to reduce on vandalism and other undesirable activities. It's hard to know how well Congresspedia will work out since the U.S. Congress has to be one of the most hairy and deliberately obfuscated legislatures in the world, but I applaud any attempt to make the inner workings of the legislative branch of the U.S. federal government more accessible.

Last but not least, many people use the internet to bypass traditional corporate and government media to try and communicate directly with an audience. A site was recently announced call The Hub claiming to be the "YouTube for human rights". It's supposed to be a site where people can post videos documenting human rights abuses and other human rights related issues. It's a potentially grim topic but an important one, and a good use of the internet. I don't link directly to the site because I want you to read the announcement which uncharacteristically endorses skepticism when considering any content on the site. That's good advice when considering any source.

So, how about you guys? Do you know of any sites or online resources attempting to achieve idealistic goals?

P.S. I was just thinking that 10 Questions could be extended to be something that goes on yearly or quarterly and could be applied to the legislative branches as well as the executive branch. We can bypass all those media people who claim to know what's on our minds or ask inane poll questions to attempt to discern what's on our minds. Instead, we can just tell them what's on our minds. He he he... No. Wait. We should be nice. ;)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Helix Wind Turbine

This wind turbine design seems cool. I don't know enough about energy production to really evaluate the turbine. However, energy production and use is complicated by circumstances. So, I imagine what would work for one person won't work for somebody else. But I take it as an encouraging sign that more and more of energy generators are appearing on the market. The more alternatives we have, the more choices we have which increases the potential to have a true "energy market".

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Mariza


So, have you heard of Fado? I hadn't heard of it until several years ago when I was introduced to the music of Mariza. I don't remember the introduction itself. The only thing I do remember is that whoever I was listening to at the time described Fado as the Portuguese Blues.

This comparison is apt in capturing a certain essence of Fado for American audiences, but in the process it falls far short of really conveying the power of the art form. But then, most prose fails when attempting to convey the power of music.

The reason I bring this up is that a little while ago David Letterman had Mariza on as the musical guest. Up to that point, I had only heard Mariza from her CDs and hadn't seen her perform. She sang only one song for Letterman, but what a performance! Normally YouTube makes a poor first introduction for musical talent, but in this case the transfer is good, and Mariza's performance is powerful enough that it shines through the obscuring veil of aggressive compression. (For those of you using a feed reader that doesn't show the embedded video, see here.)



When I watched that on TV, I literally got goose bumps around 2:49. It still moves me even though I've watched it several times now. I hope I can catch a live performance sometime.

I have the CD whose cover you see above. I know she has newer music, but I have yet to listen to it (I will now that I've been reminded). However, if you want to give her version of Fado a try, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend anything from "Fado Em Mim". Also, it appears that Mariza's music is available on both iTunes and as an MP3 download from Amazon. Pick a track and see what you think. If you insist on a suggestion, try "Barco Negro".

Thursday, September 6, 2007

You Tried to Reach for the Stars...

So, you may have noticed that I'm a fan of music, and you may have further noticed that I'm a fan of music delivery services that don't try to "enhance" my experience with digital restriction management schemes (a.k.a. DRM). For that reason, I've been subscribing to Emusic for a while. Emusic is cool and has wonderful selection and gets new stuff all the time, but it doesn't have everything, especially independent artists.

Well, I just found out some fantastic news the other day. CD Baby (my favorite retailer of independent music) has started to sell MP3s of the albums that they sell! Along with the CDs they have for sale, they sell the album ripped as a series of high quality MP3 files in one big archive.

The really interesting bit is that CD Baby is being very upfront about how they money from the MP3 downloads gets distributed to the artists: 91% to the artists and 9% to CD Baby (more details here). I assume that serves two purposes. One, artists potentially wanting to sell their content through CD Baby will know the deal right up front. Two, customers (like myself) can tell exactly how much of the money they're spending is getting to the artists. That second is very important to me. I like knowing that I'm directly financing the artists whose work I enjoy.

At the same time I heard about CD Baby's foray into MP3 sales, I found out that my favorite Lovecraftian band Darkest of the Hillside Thickets have released a new album on CD Baby called The Shadow Out Of Tim. So, I decided to give the MP3 purchase a shot. All I can say is that it worked as advertised, and I have absolutely no complaints (oh yeah, I'm enjoying the music too). The nice thing about MP3 downloads is that you get instant gratification (or delayed instant gratification in my case since I only have 256k DSL). No waiting for a CD to ship.

The only thing that may turn people off from CD Baby's MP3s is that they've decided to sell the entire albums in one archive. You can't pick individual songs. For me, that's fine. I tend to pick up entire albums anyway. I download the occasional single from Emusic, but most of the time when I find a new artist that interests me, I just grab their whole album. I give the artist plenty of opportunities to woo me. If CD Baby didn't offer the MP3s, I'd just end up buying the CDs anyway. Support the musicians, man!

Anyway, I haven't said much about Darkest of the Hillside Thickets, but if your curiosity is piqued, I'd suggest starting with their Spaceship Zero album (you can play some samples by clicking the little play buttons). It's cheaper than their latest, and I've spent a lot of time listening to it. It's my favorite album from them and full of examples of nerd rock at its finest. So, if you've got a spare ten bucks burning a hole in your pocket, give it a try. If you don't support nerd rock, who will?

--

I found out about the CD Baby news via a post from Jonathan Coulton. Mr. Coulton is a musician in his own right. Feel free to check out some of his stuff. His listening suggestions are a good place to start.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Play: It's Not Just for Kids

Hey, did you know we have a National Institute for Play? No? Neither did I until today, and now that I know about it, I'm all for it. It appears that play isn't just important for children, but it is also important for adults (and no you don't have to play like children, but it doesn't hurt either). Play apparently helps keep us healthy and mentally flexible.

The founder of the institute gave an interview on "Speaking of Faith" which you can download by following the previous link or this one. It makes an interesting listen.

I write this post more for me than for anybody else since I know I can be a bit of a stick-in-the-mud. Like a lot of people, I used to denigrate play as useless, but I have been trying to loosen up lately if for no other reason than to actually enjoy myself a little. As such I've been in the process of trying to identify the fun things I used to do that I no longer do. It's become an embarrassingly long list.

Now that I know how important play is to one's health, I will use that knowledge to let go of those inhibitions that I've developed that prevent me from doing something when the only reason to do it is simply because I enjoy it.

Anyway, play a little today and every day.

--

I found out about this stuff from Summer Pierre.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Blobs Become Doodles II

I've been traveling around this past month visiting various members of my family. Any of you that know me realize that traveling to somewhere besides Montana has been a rare thing for me. I actually managed to visit my sister and her family in Chicago. I even took a plane to get there! I know! I'm surprised too.

Now I have no fear of flying, but I am wary of the airline industry and its too often exposed callous disregard for passengers, and its frequent overbooking and mishandling of flight schedules. I realize most of the time things work, but that doesn't change the fact that I don't enjoy submitting myself to the airlines. It's like getting digested by some monstrous process in the hopes that my belongings and I will eventually be crapped out at my destination. But I'll put aside my neurotic dislike of airlines for the sake of this blog and just say that I don't enjoy flying the friendly skies.

Anyway, I survived the flights, and enjoyed the trips. But the traveling is part of the reason why there has been so few posts here in the past month. But I'd like to point you to the doodles that other people made in response to that blob doodle exercise. There's some fun, creative stuff there.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Blobs become doodles

I can't remember how or when I found Kevin Cornell's blog, but I've been following it because he posts some pretty charming little comics and artwork. Some of his comics involve a sock monkey named Mojo which are always fairly awesome. At least I think so, and that's all that matters in this part of the internet. Ha! Take that Andrew Keen. I'm killing culture! HA HA HA HA HA!

*cough*

Anyway, Cornell's latest post invited people to try a little drawing game. Start with some blobs, hopefully be inspired by their shape, and doodle whatever comes to mind. I decided to give it a shot in an effort to clean the cobwebs out of my head.



I actually had a hard time with blob C (upper right hand corner of image above). I tried several different things and hated them all. So, you're left with that strange fellow with a tooth infection. However, I also considered this dinosaur guy.



And this guy is apparently me just channeling pure frustration onto the page. It's like you're seeing right into my mind...



I feel sorry for the guy. He's apparently having a severe alergic reaction. So, "pfft" is really all he can say.

Sorry if the pictures seems a little washed out. I played with the levels a bit but decided to leave them alone in the end. Also, if you're feeling up to it, you should give the little doodle exercise a shot. You don't have to post anything and embarrass yourself like I did. You can just doodle for the fun of it (but it'd be cool if you did post something).

Friday, July 20, 2007

Google to enter 700MHz auction?

[Update: Further comments from Google about the reasoning behind their offer.]

Talk about putting your money where your mouth is. With regard to the auction of the 700MHz band here in the U.S., it looks like Google is interested in using its monetary muscle to shift the balance of power and take a stand for open networks. You can see the news here.

It's an interesting development. Too bad it might take power plays from private companies to get the U.S. government to do the right thing. I suppose it has always been that way for any government, and, of course, the auction rules may not change despite Google's efforts.

A cynical part of me thinks Google expects no change in the rules with appropriately cynical analysis as to why they would make their offer anyway. But I think analyzing people's hidden motivations is usually fruitless and ultimately incorrect. So, I'll take the offer at face value and say that, regardless of the outcome, at least there was one company that went on record to say, "Yes. Open networks and spectrum are valuable to us, and we are willing to spend money on it." Which is quite contrary to what the incumbent telcos have been saying.

Of course, if Google did win the auction, you'd still have the problem of a network carrier who also delivers services. As other people have pointed out, even with the rules in place at first, eventually the "owner" of the spectrum gets more and more control over time through lobbying of the government.

Susan Crawford (as usual) has a concise summary of what Google wants to do with the spectrum. If Google really intends to make money off of realtime auctions of spectrum, then perhaps the problem of "owner" lobbying wouldn't be an issue since Google's income would be increased by having more services and applications using their network. They would have an incentive to be open which is the opposite of the incentive incumbent's currently have. Is it possible for a network to be optimized for both billing and innovation? It would be interesting to find out.

Finally, here's Google's letter.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Wholphin

I don't have an update to the stone sculptures I've been working on. They have become informally on hold. I don't want them to slip into abandoned. So, I will be working on them this week.

In the meantime, I thought I'd share an interesting little find. You know how I enjoy short films? Well, I found a recently launched quarterly "magazine" called Wholphin which is devoted to short films. Their masthead claims "DVD magazine of rare and unseen short films", but considering the limited venues available for short films, I think "rare and unseen" is a bit redundant. Of course, it does have a certain ring to it.

I picked up the first three issues. I haven't watched everything, but I've definitely enjoyed what I've seen so far (except for "The Passion of Martin" on disk 3). It's difficult to give a taste of what Wholphin offers using just words, and I suspect that if you're into short films, you probably followed the link above and haven't looked back. However, I will say that if you're into watching things like Dennis Hopper's explosive performance art, a guy singing "Stairway to Heaven" backwards, God taking potshots at unseen targets with a rifle, or even touching or just interesting documentaries, then you should give Wholphin a shot.

In fact, if you were willing to check out just one issue of Wholphin, I would suggest issue 3. That one contains a documentary called "A Stranger in Her Own City" that follows a young girl named Najmia for a couple of days. Najmia lives in Sanaa, Yemen and is 13 at the time of the filming. She's apparently come to the age that she is supposed to wear a veil, but she refuses. Najmia is practically the definition of indomitable, and watching her made me realize just how easy I have it. But while viewing the film, I just "knew" that spirit couldn't last much longer as the cost of resisting society's demands can be very high, but I was probably projecting onto her my own weak response to societal demands that I reject. Regardless, it's the first documentary that had me on the edge of my seat wondering what was going to happen next.

Anyway, it's interesting to watch the incredulous and spontaneous reactions people have to Najmia. Where she lives, the idea that a woman should wear a veil and disappear into her home is the norm and taken very seriously, and rejecting it seems to be considered either an insult or a challenge. Many reactions are angry, but some are surprisingly not. I did find a short clip on Youtube to give you taste. Also, there is some good news about Najmia, but I think you should pick up issue 3 to find out about it. Yes, I'm a jerk.

Here are some other clips to give you a little more of an idea of what to expect with Wholphin:

Part one and two of a "documentary" that was apparently supposed to be part of Gore's presidential campaign. For some reason, it was never released. Honestly, I've never seen the man so natural and relaxed as he appeared to be in this video, and as much as I decry how superficial most American political discourse has become (especially during campaigns), it would have been interesting to know if that small documentary could have changed people's perceptions of Gore. Probably not...

A quick clip of people playing volleyball using part of the never completed wall that separates San Diego from Tijuana.

I'm not grinding any political axes with either of those videos. They just happen to be the ones I could find. Just watch them if you're interested. By the way, according to Wolphin, the U.S. taxpayers (or maybe future taxpayers?) spent 3.4 billion dollars on that wall you see in the video. I feel so embarrassed right now.

Hey, I found that video about God I mentioned earlier. You probably shouldn't watch it if you don't have a good sense of humor about religion. You know who you are. "Tactical Advantage".

---

P.S. The other wholphin.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Street Painting


There was recently an "Italian Street Painting Festival" in San Rafael, California. Apparently it is an annual event, and this year's featured artists were Mark Wagner and Clayton Thiel. They collaborated on a piece that mixed sculpture with the more traditional form of street painting. The picture is a concept sketch of the final piece.

I heard about this festival and would have loved to see it, but I obviously wasn't there. However, Wagner and Thiel have been gracious enough to post photos of not just the final piece but of some of the process leading up to the final piece. Check 'em out. I think you'll really like the final result.

I'd been thinking about posting about both these artists at some point. So, now seemed like a good time.

Links via Endicott Studio.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Internet Policy and You

I was reading this post from Susan Crawford's blog, and I thought I would pass along this brief explanation of why it is important to keep the business of carrying network packets separate from the business of providing services using those packets. If what I just said didn't make any sense, but you have an interest in the internet, do yourself a favor and read that explanation.

I realize there are many other worthy and worrisome things in the world, but technology policies happen to be something I watch closely and think are important to our lives. However, I'm also aware that I'm just as misinformed and opinionated as everybody else. So, I try not to indulge in expressing my opinion too often. It seems there is no shortage of people willing to do that without actually being edifying and without moving any discussions forward. Like I said, I try not to be that way myself, but I trust you'll forgive my indulgence...

I've been following the developments in the U.S. internet policies for a while now, and there is clear movement away from the policies and ideas that the internet was built on. Policies that led to an almost literal explosion of services. Policies that freed subscribers of internet services (i.e. you, me, and anybody with an internet connection) to not just choose any service they wanted to use that was available but to also create new services that didn't yet exist.

If you wanted to use Amazon, go for it! If you'd rather use Barnes & Noble, go for it! If you wanted to establish a used book store clearing house like Alibris, pay to connect to the internet, start up your business, and go! If you want to wear your heart on a blog, nobody is stopping you! Publish a webcomic, start a search service, provide an online feed reading service for all those blogs. And that's all just the tip of the iceberg of the possible services and ways to use the internet. I mean, I haven't talked about all the different ways people use to communicate and coordinate with one another using forums, and email, and any number of other things...

Besides being on the internet, what's the one thing all those services and tools have in common? You and I and the other parties involved didn't have to get advance permission from the network service providers (the entities that carry the packets). You pay for your connection, and you go. Regardless of who provides your internet connection, regardless of how you are connected, you can communicate with anybody else on the internet. You can use free services, or you can use paid services. You can communicate whatever you want (within the limits of the protocols and the law, of course). You can do all this, and all the while your service provider stays the hell out of the way.

Contrast that with how other networks work. Do you have a cell phone? What sort of services can you access with your cell phone? Only those that your cell phone service provider is willing to let you have. Do you have a cable television (or equivalent)? What sort of services can you access there? Only those services that your cable television provider is willing to let you have. If you had an idea for a new cell phone service, how would you go about implementing it? Well, first you'd probably have to approach the various cell phone providers and see if any of them are interested. If none of them are, too bad. If you have an idea for a new internet service, pay for your hosting service and go for it!

Additionally think about what several decades of monopoly on radio waves, phone service, and cable companies provided in terms of innovation of services, and compare it against what has happened on the internet since about the mid 90's. That's the difference I'm talking about. Closed networks versus open networks.

Another way to think about it, and I'm pretty sure I got this from Susan Crawford, is that closed networks, like your cell phone provider, are optimized for billing, while the internet was optimized for innovation. That isn't a flippant comment about "greedy corporations". It's simply an observable fact about the different intent of the design of these networks. An observation that raises the question: is it okay if all networks end up closed or, knowing what we know now, should we make an effort to keep at least one network open?

I don't know what will happen in the future. I'm not making any predictions, but if you don't want the internet to turn into just another cable or cell phone service or quietly languish while it is demoted to a second class service by the service providers, you may want to keep an eye on policy developments, not just here in the U.S., but wherever in the world you may be. And I'd recommend that you pay attention not only to your government policies but also to the policies of your service providers. Those are just as important.

---

P.S. Susan Crawford's blog is a good place to stay abreast of U.S. communications policies as well as international internet policies.

P.P.S. Believe it or not, I tried to limit my comments. I also considered ranting about how policies developed around the limits of technology circa 1920 have hampered innovative developments in the use of the radio spectrum, but that's another topic. However, it is related to internet policy. So, I'll refer you to this Wired article about the upcoming auction of the UHF spectrum. The part of the spectrum that is being vacated by TV broadcasters (a horrible use of spectrum in my opinion) as they move to so-called digital broadcasting. Actually, the first paragraph of that article brings up a good point about the devices we use to connect to networks that I didn't even touch on.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

If I Were a Simpsons Character

I was visiting here and found out about the little create-an-avatar feature of the Simpsons Movie website. I decided to give it a shot, and this is what I came up with.



The only thing I added were the wire frame glasses. I thought about touching up some other things (like maybe a little more hair), but then I realized that this probably is how I would be rendered in the Simpsons world.

The funny thing is that I actually own a shirt similar to the one above. Only in the real world it is the mascot of the OpenBSD project.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Some Favorite Songs

Despite the advent of downloadable music tracks, I am still a fan of albums. However, in this post I want to highlight some favorite songs that I've heard in recent years that stand up very well all on their own. It's highly likely that you'd be able to find these songs on one of the music download services (you know my current favorite).

In no particular order:

1) "I Just Don't Think I'll Ever Get Over You" by Colin Hay from Men at Work fame. This is actually the song that made me decided to do a post like this. I've been listening to this song for a good long while now, and every time I hear it, it never fails to touch me. In fact, it's one of those rare songs that I try very hard not to interrupt once I've started to listen to it. It's a spare and intimate acoustic song with incredible sincerity. He's never explicit about what happened, and it is clear that he means what he says, but he's not singing to us. You have to hear it for yourself. If you go looking for this track, try to get the extended version from "Transcendental Highway" that's over 7 minutes long. There is a shorter track that contains the complete song, but the longer track has a little bonus ending that I really think adds something. [Update: Hmmm... Googling around for links and such has led me to discover that this song appears on the "Garden State" soundtrack. I haven't heard the soundtrack or watched the movie. So, I don't know what version of that song you'd get on that disc].

2) "Won't Give In" by the Finn Brothers. I was initially exposed to this song by issue #14 of Paste Magazine. It was actually in the DVD. So, I first heard this song by watching their video. Normally, I prefer to hear a song before watching a video because videos often have nothing to do with the song and can forever taint the experience. But in this case, I think the video compliments the song nicely. I don't know how other people will feel about the song, but there's a sentiment expressed in the chorus that resonates strongly with my own experience.

3) "Fisherman's Blues" by The Waterboys - An achy fiddle, a lamenting mandolin, and some full throated singing (and some great hollerin'). It's the only song that's ever made me feel, even for a moment, that I might want to be a fisherman. Anyway, it's a great song that absolutely revels in its tragic ways. The version I have came from the "Good Will Hunting" soundtrack, but it looks like the song was the title track for an album.

4) "Wish You Well" by Bernard Fanning. This was a another Paste Magazine introduction from issue #25. This song is a very upbeat and pumping and seems to be about forgiving and moving on despite being hurt and rejected. Who can't use a good theme song for times like that? Anyway, if you aren't smiling, bopping around, and singing along to the chorus while you listen to it, I would consider looking for your misplaced soul. You can hear a version of the song in the player on his myspace page.

5) "Song No. 6" by Ane Brun (with Ron Sexsmith). This song was also on the sampler CD for issue #25 of Paste Magzine (that was a particularly good issue). This is one of those rare, sweet love songs that don't make you cringe when you listen to it. I think that's partly because there is a duo singing to one another. So, the love isn't unrequited within the song. Also, it's not all coos and sighs, but has clever lyrics. It's good fun with just enough sincerity to make it legit. Neat! You can also hear this song on her myspace page.


This was fun for me. I might do this again. Maybe next time I'll try to make sure you can readily hear all the songs I'm talking about.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Sheldon

I obviously enjoy the occasional comic strip. However, I no longer get my comics in the traditional, printed form. All the strips I read are accessible via the web like God intended. In fact, most of the strips I read aren't even syndicated. There's one in particular that started out syndicated but has since gone independent. I think the strip has actually become better since that change. Maybe that's just a coincidence, but I like to think that with the creator firmly in control of his creation that his creativity has been let loose.

Anyway, the strip I'm talking about is Sheldon by Dave Kellett. In particular, if you are a Star Trek fan, check out this strip and the next one.

Hey! His site has a feed. So, if you already use a feed reader, you can just subscribe to his feed and never miss a day.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Earth Nativist Movement

Just in case you thought this post was a joke, I provide you with photographic evidence that it is not. This is a picture of what my bumper used to look like. As you can see, it bears the mark of the previous owner's declaration of fealty to a hospital in New Mexico.



After some application of razor blades and rubbing alcohol, I managed to clear away the remains of that old sticker. In its place I give you the Earth Nativist Movement sticker.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Maybe I'm Amazed

I'm once again delivering stale music news, but just in case you hadn't heard, Paul McCartney (Sir Paul McCartney?) has a new album called "Memory Almost Full". I haven't listened to it yet. However, I already consider it notable for one reason. The album is available on emusic. It might also be available for download elsewhere, but emusic provides DRM free mp3s. If an "old" school dude like McCartney can get on board with providing his music in customer friendly formats, I think that's a positive sign for the music industry as a whole. Hopefully it will pan out monetarily for him.

Maybe this event is more psychologically significant than actually significant, but it just seems like an indicator of the way things are going in the music world. You know, finally giving customers what they want. Yay!

Monday, June 4, 2007

Fishy Things II

I'm sure you've been waiting for this with bated breath: more progress photos.

After working that clay into a form roughly like the stone, I proceeded to carve out something similar to what I have in mind for the final sculpture. This isn't exactly what I'm going for, but it is close enough. I seem to be drawn to the more stylized renderings. I don't know if it is because of time constaints or if it is just what I'm interested in. Probably both.


You'll notice the little blobs of my quick attempts at suggesting water plants on the sides of the fish. I'm thinking about doing that for two reasons. One, I want a solid base for the sculpture to stand up. (This may not be a big deal as the sculpture forms a pretty solid three point stand they way it curves.) Two, I'm a little worried about making the sculpture too thin towards the back end. I'm still pretty new at this stuff. So, we'll see what happens.


And in case you doubt my working method with the clay. Here's a picture of the fish along side all the clay that I removed in the process.


By the way, the clay I used above is a firm Klean Klay. It's the same clay I used while making the model for my bronze bas-relief. I pick this stuff up from Sculpture Depot since it's a short drive away.

The nice thing about this clay is you can work it easily, but it holds form very well. The down side is that it doesn't harden nor can you "bake" it in any fashion. I have used sculpey in the past, and I may return to it in the future. I mean, the Klean Klay models I've made hold up fine, but if you want to keep the model around for reference, like I do, and not simply make a mold or something out of it, you probably want a more durable form.

Anyway, after making the clay model, I of course worked on the stone.




I've just noticed that I may have been too close to the sculptures when I took the photos. They appear flatter in the images than the do in life. In my humble opinion, the fish form is really taking shape. It has a very pleasing curve at this point. I'm hoping to be able to keep that curve and accentuate it on the concave side. I'm also hoping to be able to accentuate it with a few other touches as I go.

I'm struggling a bit on the concave side as the grinder may not be the best tool to work on that side. In fact, the entire sculpture may not be ideal for just the grinder. I guess I'll see as I go.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Fishy Things

I have been working on my fish sculpture. I have made some progress as you can see here.


I will probably change the shape of the head some more. Bring down the forehead a little and incline it more sharply so it isn't so rounded.

I'm struggling a bit with this one. This stone already has a very specific shape and it already feels like a fish. I fear the only thing I can possibly do is screw it up. I can see how I can utilize the shape, but I'm lacking confidence. Especially with the fins. So I've decided to try to model in clay where I can go with it.


In the past when I've done this, I found that I actually like to work the clay like I work stone. Take away and not build up. I mean, I'll add clay to build up an initial chunk, and I'll add clay if I go too far while removing something, but I feel best when I'm removing the clay to reveal the form rather than just trying to build it up. Sort of like problem solving how I might actually tackle the stone. Anyway, that's what I've done above. I created a (crude) model of my stone as it currently stands, and now I'll try to figure out how to make the most of it.

By the way, while I was working with the clay the other night, I was watching a terrific program on PBS called Craft in America. There was quite a bit of wonderful work on display in all manner of styles and media. Inspiring stuff. You should catch it if you're into that sort of thing.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

My Fellow Earthicans

UPDATE: It appears we have a winner: #2! As Nate said, "Yay for #2!" Interestingly (for me), when I first posted these candidates, I was initially thinking that #1 was the best (which didn't even get a single vote). Then after seeing all three of them together on the blog I started to think #3 was better, but primarly for the reason everyone mentioned: it's pretty. However, it is now clear that #2 is superior since it meets both criteria mentioned as well as being a subtle dig on that other loathed bumper sticker. I am convinced. Come to think of it, I like that the map in #2 doesn't quite stand out like the other two. It will require more attention from the viewer which will hopefully lead to the AH HA moment I'm looking for.

Thanks to everyone who voted. I'm off to get some stickers made.

Original Post

After moving to Colorado, one of the first things I noticed were the occasional "NATIVE" bumper stickers like the one displayed here. Not being "NATIVE" to anyplace other than the U.S., I tend to take these particular bumper sticker statements a little more seriously than I know I should. It just bugs me that somebody who happened to be born in this state or can perhaps trace their family back a couple of generations thinks they are somehow better than the rest of us filthy new comers coming here improving the economy like a bunch of lousy so-and-sos.

I know these bumper stickers aren't all the frequent these days, and I'm sure the people who bother to put these bumper stickers on their cars actually mean it in a joking way or more in the silly, possessive way people will make sure you know they were into something before you were. However, as anonymous statements on the rear end of cars, they don't quite come off that way. Especially if you happen to be the non-native.

Anyway, I have an inclination to want to stamp out all the useless, needlessly divisive tribal allegiances I come across. I prefer to be as inclusive as I can. I claim all of humanity as my tribe. We're all natives of earth. I'm sure my attitude is just a defensive mechanism to avoid being rejected (or whatever dismissive rationale you wish to apply). Of course, it doesn't work very well for that end since as far as I can tell most people don't feel the way I do.

Regardless, I too wish to wear my heart on my bumper just like the Colorado nativist movement, but I can't seem to find an appropriately designed bumper sticker. So, I came up with my own. I'm attempting to match the feel of the other bumper sticker as much as possible to make it clear that I'm poking fun at stupid bumper stickers, but at the same time I want to make clear my own position.

So, I need your help, friends and family. Help me choose which bumper sticker I will place on my vehicle. You can vote in the comments or email me. I know these designs leave a little to be desired, and if I was willing to spend more time than what I already have, I would probably try to fix them, but these are the finalists.

Number 1:


Number 2:


Number 3:


I already have my own opinion, but I don't want to bias your own. I'm not necessarily looking for the prettiest image. I'm looking for the image that reads most readily. So, it needs to do two things. 1) Scream WORLD MAP! and 2) NATIVE needs to be legible from a large distance. I think if the sticker can do those two things, then it will probably get my view across while simultaneously giving the hand gesture of their choice to all those native Colorado bumper sticker people out there.

So, what say you, people of earth? Which of these stickers works to those ends?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

A Little Quarrel



He who quarrels with himself will never lack for a dispute.


That doodle above is an illustration of a fight I had with myself. I thought I made some good points early on. But in the end I became frustrated and shamefully resorted to name calling. Eventually I had to just agree to disagree with myself.

My red pen finally ran out of ink. Anyway, I'm working on more substantial things, but this will have to tide me over for a bit.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Short Stories are the Best Stories

I was going to post this later, but I didn't want the previous post to be the first thing on my blog for very long. Even though I only linked to a trailer, and even thought I don't think we should be afraid to explore topics (especially in stories), there are some things I don't necessarily want to dwell on either.

I don't know if I really believe that short stories are better than all other stories in some absolute sense, but I really do appreciate short stories. Perhaps it is the focus? (Not to keep harping on that.)

Anyway, I found a cute short story that I would like to share. I hope you enjoy it. Notice how much is not said in this story. Of course, this time the author expects you to already know what he is referring to. It's useful to have a shared context with your audience.

Focus in Stories

I was reading this post about elements of story. In particular, how much you can leave unstated while telling a story. I consider this a variation of focus (something the writers of Spider-Man 3 should have really worked on). For many of our media today like movies, TV, and other short form story telling, focus must be nearly relentless. Decide what your story is about and strip away everything that doesn't serve to tell it.

Of course, leaving some things suggested or mysterious can also be a powerful way of drawing an audience in. Your brain will latch on to the mystery and mull it over. So, it's not just about focus. But mystery in a story can only take you so far. I admit that whole TV series have been based entirely on mysteries (e.g. X-Files, The Pretender, Lost, etc.). In the end, if all you have is mystery with no forward progress, the story is likely to be unsatisfying because, well, there isn't a story. All you have is a fictionalized mystery.

Anyway, I realize I'm being vague. Maybe I'll expand more on that some other time should I ever feel sufficiently proficient in story telling. What I really want to point to is this trailer for "Day Night Day Night" linked to in the aforementioned post. It's just a trailer, but it suggests the movie has a relentless and intense focus and probably hasn't bothered to explain the whole context.

One thing about leaving something unstated is that sometimes it's not meant to really be mysterious. Sometimes the story writer knows you will readily fill in your own experiences or fears. In fact, leaving something unstated can actually make it more powerful because of that. You don't know what it is, but you can't help but fill in the blank with your own personal demons.

P.S. Honestly, the trailer made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Considering the nature of the film, I don't know if I'll want to see it when it does arrive. Horror movies don't scare me. They just turn my stomach, and I usually don't bother watching them. But movies like what "Day Night Day Night" seems to be like can be very unsettling. They're the stuff of my nightmares. Imaginary monsters don't scare me. What people are capable of doing scares me. Having said that, I would probably see it given the chance. I don't believe we should be afraid to examine these sorts of topics. That gives them more power over us than they deserve.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Steve Canyon

In the days before TV dominated all media, a newspaper's comics pages used to have a pretty good representation of genres. It wasn't all a gag a day or the occasional long form drama. Among other things, there was also adventure comics. Well the adventure is back, baby! Sorta.

The adventure I'm referring to is not actually on the printed comics page. A site called Humorous Maximus is "reprinting" the Steve Canyon series a day at a time as it originally appeared. They started reprinting the series sometime in January of this year. Apparently the starting date was the 50th anniversary of the original beginning of Steve Canyon. You can get more information about the long running comic here.

I'm not familiar with the comic myself. I know that Steve Canyon was well known and well regarded in its time. I've read a little bit of the series that they've revealed on the site, and I've enjoyed what I've seen. Considering the limitations of the comics form, Caniff seems to have done an excellent job moving the story forward without losing the thread. His drawing and inking style is effective as well, but I have to wonder if people actually ever talked like his characters do. The dialogue seems highly exaggerated, but it is entertaining. Anyway, if you like such things, don't miss it.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Madame Tutli Putli

If you're interested in stop motion animation, you should check out this trailer for a recently completed short film called "Madame Tutli Putli".



I found the trailer from this post on the Drawn! blog. There's more information on the official Madame Tutli Putli site.

If you watched the trailer, you may have noticed something striking about the character. The thing that stood out for me were the eyes. They looked too human. Sure enough if you look here you'll see that they have combined real actors with the stop motion animation. Pretty cool. That will really add an extra element of life to the animation.

I don't know if the story is going to be any good, but too bad films like this (especially ones five years in the making) get very little distribution outside of film festival circles and the occasional DVD. I wish they'd show short films prior to the main feature when you go to the movies, but apparently cramming more advertising and trailers is more profitable. Too bad. Short films can be quite wonderful, but we don't have many venues for them.

P.S. This is off topic, but since we're talking about advertising: Anybody notice that DVDs increasingly have more advertising sections that lock you out and prevent you from skipping them? That's a nice way to treat your paying customers. This makes me wonder who owns my DVD player (I know I shouldn't be so naive). This particular feature (and its abuse) is part of what has led me to mostly stop buying DVDs. It's also part of the reason why I'm not going to bother to upgrade to HD-DVD or Blu-Ray. I don't like being treated like a chump. I hope someday I get to meet some of the people who either made the decision to incorporate this control lockout feature into the DVD spec or who decided to use it. I will heap scorn and insults on them. I will try to refrain from kicking them in the balls. ;-)

Saturday, May 12, 2007

A Boy and His Stone

I'm continuing my stone carving education by taking a power tools class. I'll be using an angle grinder primarily. I just had my first class today. Using the angle grinder is definitely different from using just hammer and chisel. For one thing, you can remove material much more quickly. About as quickly as using a cold knife on cold butter. Which is pretty fast if you think about the fact that the butter in this case is actually stone. It works quickly enough that I need to plan more carefully. The other aspect is just the fact that the broad spinning disk is just different, dang it, from using a variety of pointy chisels.

Anyway, I had a couple of spare stones to work with. I had intended to use them as experimental pieces. So, I'm not even sure how good the stones actually are. I chose this one just because it is so interesting.


After initially toying with some other ideas, I've decided that it will be a fish. Probably modeled after a koi. I've always liked koi. They have an aspect of grace and peace about them. The gray stone won't do the koi's color justice, but that's alright. I'm going for form. I don't know if I'll be able to pull off the graceful curve I'm looking for (not to mention the fins), but we'll see. And besides, as the fortune in the cookie says:


I live my life by these fortunes.

This is me at the end of the first day. Can you believe that shirt started out black? Oh... Alright, alright... I'm lying. It was beige to start with, but it is holding about a pound of stone dust in its fibers.


As you can see, we are practicing proper safety procedures in this class: safety goggles, respirator, and ear plugs. That bench I'm leaning against was designed (and mostly built) by one of the previous students who is skilled in carpentry. It's a good little bench. We built several of them, and I have one just like it that I use at home.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Mountain Views

I thought I'd push that ugly picture of my van's dash out of the main page of my blog. This is a picture of what I see when I step out my front door today. It's a hazy day. So, it's not the best picture. But I guess I can see why people like it here. This really wasn't the reason I came here. Having grown up in the mountain states, I tend to take all this grandeur for granted. My loss.


I have to say that I was disappointed with sunsets when I moved here (that mountain is to the west of me). It's hard to compete with the sunsets of New Mexico. Especially the sunlight filtered through a gypsum haze (Yo, Alamo, what's up?!). However, the place I currently live has given me unencumbered views of that mountain, and I've learned that there is more to a sunset than pretty colors. Given the right cloud cover, that mountain produces dramatic scenes. I'll try to capture one before the summer is out.

What the heck. Here's another doodle in ArtRage. I hadn't intended to draw a werewolf. I simply started by drawing a stick form (which you can still see), and somehow the werewolf came to mind. I'm trying to carve out more time for this sort of thing.


Now I need to try my hand at finishing some of these. My doodle's tend to look better than my finished jobs. Oh well. Practice make perfect, and the cool thing with all this digital technology is that it is so easy to save these images and use them as reference. In the bad ol' days, I had to use a light table which tended to limit what I could render on to only what I could shine a light through. And forget about the despair involved in spilling ink all over a piece. Anyway, enough about the dark ages.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

This is an ArtRage!

You may have noticed I am playing with some things like scanners, hammers, chisels, clay, and cameras. I suppose people of a certain bent would identify a theme there and attempt to reduce my activities to a word or two, but I'm not one of those sorts of people. I refuse to acknowledge any such theme. There is no unifying thread in this blog other than I'm writing all these posts.

However, if I were the type of person who attempts to reduce everything to some sort of identified pattern so that it can be quickly dismissed out of hand, I would probably recognize a continuation of the purported theme with this: ArtRage. I've been playing with that program recently. I've only had a little bit of time to use it, but I like what I've seen so far.

In a nutshell, ArtRage is an art materials simulator. In other words, you can create images with your computer using methods very similar to painting and drawing. It goes so far as to attempt to simulate things like paint drying (insert joke here), the type of material your canvas is made of, how different material blend and mix together, and how much paint you have loaded on your "brush". It seems to do an admirable job at these things. A person with experience working in physical media would probably be initially frustrated since you don't get all the normal sensory feedback, but if they gave it a chance, I think they would quickly adjust to the program. A person with no experience working in physical media may also be initially frustrated (at least with the more esoteric features of the various media), but I think they could also quickly adapt.

Keep in mind that the program is strictly a painting/drawing program. It doesn't bother with frivolous things like region selections or box/circle/line drawing tools. It's not a pixel perfect image editor. There's not even a way to type text. The program is solely focused on mimicking traditional methods. The only computer-like features ArtRage gives you while working on your images are undo/redo, layers, and a surprisingly useful reference photo pin up feature. You won't be using this program to create diagrams for your next business meeting or touching up your photos, but that's not what it is for.

While Ambient Design has put a lot of effort into simulating the various materials, it is still possible to tweak the various media and materials to achieve not-so-traditional effects if that is what you want. I just throw that out there for those of you who might find the idea of a true simulator a little daunting.

To give just the most bare minimum taste of what this program can do, I've uploaded a very rough sketch I drew in a minute or so using the pencil and paper capabilities of ArtRage. When I say a minute, I'm not bragging about my skills (I am so not bragging). I just want to emphasize how simple it was for me to just pick up and use. Other than using a tablet (more on that in a second), creating this rough sketch was about as close as you can get to feeling like drawing on paper while working with a computer.


If I hadn't told you I had drawn that directly in ArtRage, you probably would have assumed it was a scanned image of a real world pencil and paper sketch.


The above picture is a screenshot of the ArtRage application window. You can see the reference picture feature in action. I placed a self-portrait (also created in ArtRage) in the upper left-hand corner while I worked on a crummy cartoon self-portrait. The long window hovering in the center shows the other layers that I had created. The only thing you can't see is the color picker which I tucked away in the right hand corner.

The interface is a little off-putting at first if you are used to applications looking a certain way, but I think Ambient Design has done an excellent job with the design and implementation. Most features are accessible from the application window and the little sub windows. You can work quite efficiently within the screen and never have to give things too much thought or jump to the menu. Which is exactly what you want while you are deep in throes of artistic passion. By the way, all the hovering windows you see are smart. If you are drawing on the canvas, and you approach one of the windows, they will instantly disappear to get out of the way.

I've played with some of the other media that ArtRage supplies, but I only did so with an eye for achieving other effects. So, I can't comment on how well the paint simulation appears to work. However, other people have stated they like the paint media ArtRage provides even better than its pencils.

ArtRage provides a complete little art studio in your computer for only $20, and you don't ever have to clean up when you're done! In fact, it's probably the best little painting software you can buy at that price (it's certainly the most fun). To get more features and capabilities with competing programs will likely require you to drop at least five times that amount (most likely ten times that amount). So, what's not to like?

The only downside to ArtRage isn't really the fault of ArtRage. To really get the most of this program, you will want to have a graphics tablet (or maybe a tablet PC). You can use all the features of ArtRage with a mouse, but you will lose the pressure sensitivity that a tablet provides that makes painting programs work as well as they do. You can adjust the default sensitivity for the mouse, but the ArtRage experience won't be as smooth.

Of course, if all you have is a mouse, and you really want a program like ArtRage. Go for it. There's a free preview, and if you like it, it's $20! I'm sure you've spent more money on other occasions and received much less in return. If you already have a tablet, you should give ArtRage a spin. At the very least it will provide a nice break from all the expensive tools you are probably already using.

By the way, that little self-portrait I've just installed as my user profile picture was drawn using ArtRage. The fact that it appears like something you might see while watching America's Most Wanted (insert joke here) is not the fault of ArtRage.

Here's some examples of what an experienced artist can do with ArtRage.

Here's a review that compares ArtRage to a more expensive alternative.

And one more link to ArtRage itself.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

A Softer World

I'll try to refrain from turning this blog into some sort of link dump. Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of cool, link-worthy things out there. But I'm trying to be somewhat selective with what I link. I want to only pick things that I think may actually be worth your time to look at should you be so inclined. (I'm just creating artificial scarcity so that you find my links more valuable than they rally are. Wait. Did I just blog that out loud? Crud.)

Anyway, I had linked to this particular site earlier (over on the right), but took it down shortly after. However, I think this particular panel is definitely worth a small amount of your time. Don't forget to hover your mouse over the image for even more fun! It's a good way to start your week.

I like A Softer World's dark humor, but it may not be to everyone's taste. You should feel free to try some of their other stuff, but be prepared. It ain't all puppies and kittens. Sometimes it's zombies!

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Scanner Doodles

Despite my long career as a Human Resource what works with computers and such, I have lost touch with the price/value ratio of pretty much all computers and accessories. I just lost enthusiasm for tracking that crap a long time ago.

However, I was recently in the market for a scanner. So, I started looking around and was completely surprised that many scanners are well under $100. Heck, some laser printers were $99 at the brick and mortar stores. Toner cartridges used to cost twice that! (A friend has pointed out that some still are which reveals a bit more than any of us want to know about certain business practices.)

But I wasn't looking for a printer. Just a scanner. They did have some combo units (scanner, printer, etc.) at the $100 price point, but I decided to just focus on what I wanted to get right now: a scanner.

I came across the CanoScan LiDE70 which you can find selling from $70 to $90. It's just a scanner and it doesn't require yet another power brick. It is powered from the USB bus.

I picked one up. I haven't used it much, but it seems to work well and fast (compared to my experience with previous generation models). The main beef I have with it right now is that it generates a highly annoying whine while it scans. Luckily I'm not scanning tons of documents, but if I knew it was going to sound like it does, I would have seriously considered another model (maybe the HP G3010).

I didn't mean this to sound like a review or anything. I haven't used that scanner enough to call it good or bad. I just wanted to express my astonishment of how inexpensive some technologies have become. I suppose it was inevitable, and certainly moving all manufacturing overseas seems to have paid off. Hopefully inexpensive does not mean shoddy in this case.

Anyway, when I need to take a mental break from my work as a Human Resource, you can often find me "mindlessly" filling pages of graph paper with doodles. Lately I've been using a red micro rollerball pen from Uniball that seems to be slowly running out of ink. The doodles are often tiny (I guess I'm trying to be inconspicuous), but here's a couple of silly examples of what my new scanner can pick up.



The grid, if you can make it out, is spaced at centimeter intervals. Teeny-tiny.

Lawrence Northey



The image to the left is a sculpture by Lawrence Northey. I've seen his work presented in the Spectrum annual. I've always enjoyed his works when I've seen them in print. I've yet to see them in person, but his works are clearly imaginative and whimsical.

Anyway, I hadn't thought about his work in a while, but Charley Parker of Lines and Colors (one of my favorite blogs) recently posted some good comments which made me realize you guys may also be interested. I won't say any more since Mr. Parker has already said it better than I would have. Check 'em out.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

In progress

I've been working on another sculpture for a while now. Actually, this is the second time I've started this particular sculpture. The first time didn't quite work out.

I made the mistake of making my clay model larger than the stone I was going to sculpt. Oops! Somehow I find scaling something down harder than scaling something up. Additionally, the stone had a nasty flaw that prevented me from continuing with my original idea.

In the end, I think the mistakes and the flaws were for the best. The sculpture really wanted to be larger than it would have been with the first stone. I picked up a larger stone and started again. Things have gone much better.

I don't want to reveal it all just yet. So, here's just a taste.


More to come.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Feist - Somebody else said it better

Man, I wasted a lot of words in my own post about Feist. Jeffrey Rowland really hits the nail on the head.
"New Feist album is out today! If it's half as good as her last one it'll still be three times better than the average album. Feist is not one of those musicians who just makes as many notes as possible all willy-nilly and calls it is a song. She also doesn't make songs where she just speaks loudly and crudely about cars that cost more than houses and compulsory, frequent coitus with numerous, anonymous partners. Feist places each note exactly where it is supposed to go and sings like an angel with a new puppy."

Exactly!

You can see the full post here (which doesn't discuss Feist any further), but only click that link if you aren't bothered by comics that discuss internet addiction while simultaneously implying a murder on a golf course. I can't believe I just wrote that sentence.

I Hate Cars

Do you want to see something gross? Too late:


OK. So, it's not really gross. I just figured I'd let you guys laugh at the consequences of my intransigent refusal to buy a new car. The above picture is what I currently see when I'm in the driver's seat of my van. Don't worry. It'll probably be fixed tomorrow. I'd tell you the rest of the story involving broken speedometer cables (followed by broken speedometer head), u-joints, and power steering pump hoses that required machining because they no longer make the parts, but I've already bored you.

Maybe this is finally the last major repair I have done to the beast. Maybe it really is time to blow a wad of cash on a future POS.

Man, I hate cars.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Not Your Father's Car

I know this was news a couple of weeks ago, but I still want to bring it to your attention just in case you missed it. The same people who brought us the Ansari X Prize are now bringing us the Automotive X Prize. The idea is to try to spur development of a commercially viable 100 MPG car.

I think that is awesome! I love creative ideas for trying to promote innovation. The X Prize for the rocket was cool and all, but this Automotive X Prize has the real possibility of impacting all our lives in the near future not just the lives of billionaires and hundred millionaires. The more ideas we can get for this and other problems, the better off we will be.

However, while looking at ways to improve existing transportation methods, I hope we are also able to spur a diverse marketplace of automotive technologies. Too many people seem to be looking for a silver bullet solution to our traffic woes and our gasoline dependence. For example, the "hydrogen economy" was all the rage at the water cooler a while back. Well, the water cooler where I work anyway.

I think this narrow view (at least here in the US) is caused by the fact that we've basically had one solution our whole lives: gasoline powered automobiles. We're so dependent on these things, that almost any city that has seen significant growth since the '40s has a design that basically only accommodates cars and is hostile to any other form of transportation including pedestrians. So, when we think of solutions, we tend to think that there must be just one solution when in fact there are many solutions to our problem. At least, I'd like to think so.

I'd like to see a true marketplace for transportation. Not just a marketplace for conventional cars and trucks and sometimes motorcycles. I'd like to see whole new categories of automobiles and cities that accommodate them. So, with that segue, did you hear that the Smart Car is coming to the US next year? I'm keeping my eye on that.

Feist - Let It Die

Let It Die Album Cover, Copyright Respective Owner
I'm a little late to the party with this particular "review". Let It Die has a copyright date of 2005, and while it doesn't feel like it was that long ago since I first became aware of Leslie Feist's music, it probably has been two years. Time flies...

When I first heard Feist, I was initially attracted, but somehow she failed to capture my heart and mind enough for me to put down the cash. But I admit that my own moods can affect my perceptions about new music, and after two years, I finally came around and picked up Let It Die.

You may have heard "Mushaboom" and "Secret Heart" on standard commercial radio, and if you listen to the excellent World Cafe, you've had multiple opportunities to hear more of the music off this album.

Most of the tracks on Let It Die have a spare and open arrangement. Feist's voice takes center stage. She's not a loud singer, but her voice is steady and clear and effective (and probably stronger than it seems). Combining the minimal music with her distinctive voice creates a somewhat intimate listening experience. This is especially true when using headphones. The music wouldn't be out of place in a small room with a handful of appreciative listeners.

A few of the songs remind me of something you might have heard on the radio in the seventies. "One Evening" and "Inside and Out" especially give me that feeling. Looking at the liner notes reveals that "Inside and Out" is a Bee Gees cover. I suppose that explains that song and some of her apparent influences. I have to admit that the seventies influence I detected two years ago prevented me from really giving her music a chance. I got over it.

I think "When I Was a Young Girl" is my favorite track on Let It Die. Oddly enough it is a traditional song but may be the most rhythmically complex on the CD. Feist also gives one of her stronger performances with that song. Her singing is more full throated and emotional.

Anyway, I obviously like Let It Die. So, I'm sharing as much as I can with you using my meager writing abilities. But there is also an intentional coincidence in the timing of this post. Feist is coming out with a new CD called The Reminder that should be available starting in May. Just a heads-up.

Feist has an offical homepage with some music samples. I always hesitate to send people to MySpace since it is one of the ugliest places on the web and people seem to be busy doing things I don't fully understand (I'm probably too old). However, musicians have been using it effectively. I guess it can't be all bad. Here's her MySpace page with more music samples and the like. Just be careful where you click.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Before Boardacious

In my previous post, I showed off "Boardacious" pretty much in his final form. He still needs polishing, but I'm very unlikely to shape him much more. However, I thought you might like to see "Boardacious" before he was as boardacious as he became. I dug up some pictures that I took with my first camera. I didn't document the whole process, but there's enough here to give you an idea of how things went.

So, I'll start this story in the middle to keep it short. About 13 to 14 billion years after the universe appears to have expanded from nothing, the universe eventually got around to producing a big chunk of what we call alabaster and deposited it in the Colorado foothills around Ft. Collins. It was there that a fellow with a front loader dug out a big chunk of alabaster and dragged it back to his storefront. It was as this storefront where I, stumbling around unsure of myself, spotted a particular piece of the original chunk that looked like it would be suitable for what I had in mind. Although I was uncertain of my own vision, I could see its potential.


I humbly, and probably too cautiously, hammered away at this stone and produced what could surely be called a smaller stone.


I eventually began to make noticeable progress. Success or failure felt equally likely at this point. After the ten thousandth hammer blow, my neighbors were voting for failure.


Eventually I did finish as you can see here.

The third image above above shows the setup I used while working in my previous apartment. I crafted a crude dust barrier from PVC tubing and plastic sheets you might normally use as a painter's drop sheet. The PVC barrier was a little taller than I am and when I worked, I arranged them around the opening to my open balcony and draped the plastic sheets over them and along the floor. My carving stand went in the middle on top of the plastic. Once everything including myself was inside the wrap around barrier, I closed it off except for the balcony. I also placed a fan on the floor blowing out through the balcony door. That kept any floating dust moving outside instead of into the apartment. In the third picture you can't see the fan nor the pumping techno music that's playing.

Remarkably it worked pretty well. I only had a little bit of dust outside the barrier, and I think that happened mostly when I took down the plastic sheets. I was surprised that I didn't actually get any complaints from the neighbors while I worked. I know they heard me because somebody commented on it when they saw me moving out. I did try to stop work before prime time. I'm sure that helped.

Here's a more complete picture of the barrier.


You still can't see the pumping techno...