Sunday, October 12, 2008

More Snow

Well, it continued to snow slowly but steadily throughout the night. So we got treated to more snow, and I just feel compelled to share.

My poor car. It has had to put up with a lot of crap lately.

More peacock action.

A lone peahen contemplating her choices in life... Or maybe I'm projecting.

This is just a glob of snow, but it built up in a way that is openly defiant of gravity. The glob is built up on a fence post, but the fence post is under it on the right. There is nothing holding it up on the left except its own internal structure. I'm sure somebody out there understands how snow/ice structures like this can build up, but to me it is just mysterious. And being ice and snow, also crappy. It is mysterious and crappy.

This one is just further proof that there was quite a bit of snow. Nothing like they get in Buffalo, NY (thank goodness), but quite enough for me.

This is an expanded view of where the peacock parade was yesterday. You'll notice that that the tree in the background appears to be leaning against a power line. In fact, what you can't see is that there is a peacock sitting on the power line right up there just behind the top of the tree. The tree is actually not leaning against the power line. Regardless, we later attempted to shake off the tree and shoo away the peacock. In the process, I was covered in snow. Good times... Good times...

Fortunately the storm seems to be over, and the snow on the ground is already melting. Although it might take a while for it to go away completely. Thankfully we never lost power and were able to stay safe and warm.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Moving Around

As many of you know, I am currently footloose upon the world. Sort of. I've moved from one Mountain time zone state to spend some time in another Mountain time zone state. Eventually I will likely leave the Mountain time zone all together.

But that is not today, my friends. Today my current Mountain time zone state has given me, and the rest of the people in this state, an early winter warning of sorts. It has dumped snow. Those of you who know me know that I consider any amount of snow unacceptable. I just don't care for it. The only white christmas I like is the movie. The only white powder I enjoy is the powdered sugar I use in orange cookie frosting. The only skiing I like to do is none. I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

I won't attempt to judge the harshness of this situation because I am clearly not objective. I'll just give you pictures, and you can decide whether you wish to shiver in empathy or fume in minor jealousy.

As you can see, even the trees were caught off guard. They still have most of their leaves and had only just begun to turn colors for fall.

The peacocks were trying to make the most of it. Most of them were up and out of the way of the snow, and when they had to walk, they stuck to the snow free areas.

If you aren't being hit with the same sort of snowy weather as I am, I urge you to enjoy the crap out of it. And when you do, think of me for just a moment.

This is unrelated to the snow but related to the move. I thought you might find it funny that just prior to moving from my previous state of residence my workstation/entertainment center was reduced to this:

Truthfully, it probably could be reduced even more. Certainly it could be made to look cleaner. One of these days I might strive to go back to something like that for my full time setup. Its efficiency and simplicity are appealing.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


I use too many words sometimes. I know this. You know this (just see my last post for an example). In fact, I'm doing it right now.

I'll try to keep this post brief. While looking for that old character design doodle in my previous post, I came across a bunch of other doodles that I had put aside. I guess I thought I'd have a use for them later? Like putting on a traveling show of little office pad doodles that are taped into a notebook. Instead of viewing art on a wall, you just get to sit down in a bean bag chair with the notebook and a pretentious audio tour headset and... quickly fall asleep.

I'm just kidding. Nobody knows why I saved them. Nobody. I've asked around.

Anyway, I decided to get some practice with my graphics tablet and cleanup (sort of) one of the doodles I made of a seemingly irritated, anthropomorphic gator. I show you both before and after. Before looks like ball point on some old engineering graph paper. After was done with ArtRage 2.5 using the pencil tool on "cel" paper.

Rough sketches and doodles have a certain energy that always seems to disappear when the ideas are finished. Even in the case of my still rough looking "clean up", the doodle still has a little more something.

In this case, part of it has to do with some choices I made about the gator's right hand that changes the mood a little (also the background is completely white), but maybe doodles and rough sketches leave more for the brain to fill in, making them more interesting than finished pieces? That implies that as the artist's "vision" becomes clearer, the interest of his audience could decline (that'll be my excuse anyway). That's a sobering thought.

Oh right. Fewer words. I'll get right on that.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Story Time

Well over a decade ago, I had just graduated from college. I went straight from college into a job. Which is great in some respects, but my college buddies and I had always talked about going into business for ourselves. Even before graduation we'd all had some experience working as human resources in our chosen majors. Without getting into specifics, let's just say our experiences gave us the impetus to pursue the idea of starting our own business.

We used to brainstorm all sorts of ideas. Some of these ideas were actually a little ahead of their time (meaning they didn't exist at the time, but do now), and I'm sure there were some that would have made money, but some of these same ideas also were not... savory... (I take the blame for most of those.) But these were brainstorming sessions. So, we tried not to rule anything out to start with. Just throw stuff out there and see what sticks. One of the ideas we had was to develop an advanced 2D side-scroller game for the PC.

Keep in mind, that this was before 3D games were the norm. This was before hardware 3D accelerators were readily available. 320x200x256 with an 80486 or Pentium processor ruled the PC gaming universe, and Sound Blaster compatibility was a requirement of all sound cards.

In short, a side-scroller game still stood a chance of some success, but this wasn't going to be just any simple side-scroller. Being ambitious, technically minded geeks, we cooked up all sorts of specs for the game engine. It was going to have arbitrary number of layers with parallax scrolling. It was going to have an arbitrary number of sprites. It was going to have advanced physics models to allow us to create ice levels or sand levels or sticky theater floor levels!

And if you just understood those past two paragraphs, I weep for your misspent youth.

Actually, I have to admit that although I would have been capable of helping, I provided very little input into the engine creation or planning. It was all I could do to find time to graduate between all the hackey sack sessions. This was my senior year. The best I could muster was moral support. Additionally, my college buddies happened to be a year behind me in school, and one of them was even two years behind (I've always been immature for my age). When I graduated and went to work, I had to leave my friends behind.

However, my friends decided to spend the summer working on this game engine. They allowed me to participate. I already had a full time job writing software and documentation and designing logic for CPLDs and FPGAs and being our company's IT guy (I have a modicum amount of useful skills), and I found it difficult to gather my energies to work on technical things in the evening after work. (I'm not as big of a nerd as I would have liked. I get picked on a lot by the other nerds. *sigh*)

Considering these issues, we decided I should work on implementing a sound library. The stuff that allows games to play music and sound effects. I did manage to get something going during that summer. As I recall, I mainly managed to get somebody else's example code to compile using our compiler of choice and have it play sound files. In summary, what I accomplished was pretty much nothing.

Truthfully, I spent more time dreaming up story lines and back stories for the game than I did working on the sound library (sorry guys!). I wanted a compelling reason to use all the features that my friends were cramming into their game engine. I actually came up with two stories I thought might work, but I only remember one of them now, and I'm not going to detail that story at the moment. This post is already too long.

Along with the story lines, I tried my hand at some character designs. I came up with a character that was going to be a sort of guide but also an integral part of the story. I had in mind a comic character capable of exaggerated (if alien) expressions. He also needed to be a character that was literally out of his element. He needed to be ineffectual for the predicament he found himself in the game. That's where the hero character (player) would come in.

Anyway, I was remembering all this stuff the other night while I was doodling in a sketchbook, and I doodled a version of this character. This made me want to track down my original design so I could compare it. I was surprised that I was actually able to find the original. I'm sure there were other versions, but I think the original captured a little energy and fun that were probably lost in any others I may have attempted. The first is the original doodle, and the second is the one I drew the other night.

Sometimes I think all these side activities should tell me something, but I have no idea what that would be. Doodling is a waste of time? Fear is the mind killer? New Coke sucked?

My friends did actually finish a lot of work on the game engine. As far as I can remember, it worked quite well, and they accomplished many of their objectives. Of course, a game engine is only a part of the work that goes into a game. At that point, what they really needed was some content. Unfortunately, going to an engineering college isn't conducive to meeting many artists.

The game, unfortunately, was never completed. They had to start school again, and I still had my job. I still think the game was a good idea, but we just couldn't pull it off (not that I helped much anyway). Some time later, I ended up working for a game development company, but you guys already know how that turned out...

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Screw the Doodles

Screw the doodles. I have something more interesting to share. I'd heard about the following item a while ago, but I only recently heard about this nice compact demo of it. A fellow by the name of Johnny Lee found some novel and innovative uses for the controllers that come with Nintendo's Wii game system. He basically turned the control system on its head to provide for some novel input devices. You can see or download the demo here.

I certainly admire Mr. Lee for his clever use of existing technology. However, what really interested me about this is that I had been reading The Brain That Changes Itself, and I began to wonder about the possibly using Mr. Lee's ideas in inexpensive rehabilitation devices. I think that would be tremendously cool.

And just for the heck of it, I found this really nice performance by Rokia Traore. It's the first I'd heard of her, and I have no idea what she is singing, but it is a lovely, soulful sound.

By the way, TED has a lot of cool and interesting videos of presentations given by all sorts of passionate and intelligent people. It's enough to give a guy hope. You can find more about TED here.

I think this presentation given by Sir Ken Robinson was the first TED talk I had ever seen, and it is a favorite of mine. This presentation by Jill Bolte Taylor is a recent video which may be of some special interest to people in my family.

More Doodles

You know, I do other things (e.g. I am actually working on my stone sculptures), but for some reason I'd rather just show you some doodles. I've been watching too much "Daily Show" lately. I was trying to capture the likenesses of some of the cast with just a few lines of a calligraphy pen. I think John Oliver is a win, but I somehow managed to screw up Stewart's hair and placed his eyes too far apart. And you get two flavors of Stewart: "young" and "old".

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Vacation Pictures

Last summer I went to visit my sister's family in Chicago. I'm usually camera shy both in front of and behind the camera, but I managed to snap a few photos. I was going through those pictures tonight, and spotted two I really like. These are from our trip to the aquarium.

I don't know what variety of fish this is, but I do remember he was very active. He was very quickly swimming laps in his tank. Additionally, the lighting in the aquarium was pretty dim and we weren't allowed to use a camera's flash. So to capture this, I had to pan my camera with him as he swam back and forth and hope for the best. I think it came out rather well. He really is a strikingly beautiful fish, and I like the little blue "eyebrow" that makes him look a little serious as he swims forward. I'm glad he was so willing to show us his full profile like this.

I won't swear to it, but I think this next fellow is a variety of iguana. Iguanas are interesting lizards to begin with, but I thought this photo captured a certain dignity and showed a more handsome side of the animal. Iguanas have great faces.

I have a few more photos I might share. I can't promise they'll be as nice as these two, but I'll do my best.

Monday, February 25, 2008


Since you guys suffered through my poor examples of pen and ink, I thought I'd share the work of a true skilled hand. I don't remember how I came across Chris Sanders' blog, but I am glad that I did. He recently started a weekly strip called "Kiskaloo" which he posts on his blog. Start at the bottom with #1 and work your way up.

(I just noticed that his strips open up within a frame on his blog. Be sure to open the images in a new window or tab for easier viewing.)

According to at least one of his posts, Sanders uses brush and pen and ink. His lines are luscious, and the drawings clean. His characters have perceptible life and volume even though they are "cartoonish". He's also very skilled at composing his panels (or shots), and he's not afraid of dynamic scenes (i.e. not always drawn 3/4 view at about eye level). He makes good use of darks and shadows. He shows how much energy and zest you can get out of just black and white. His animation background really shows in the emotive qualities of his characters faces and poses. In short, absolutely terrific in every way and something for me to aspire to.

Also, I find the strips very funny. I find #7 especially delightful. Hopefully you will too.

You may find that his work looks familiar. If you check out his bio page, you'll see he's worked in feature animation at Disney for a while. Notably, it says he directed Lilo & Stitch, and I'd have to assume that he had a large influence on the look of that film.

While you're at his site, don't forget to check out his sketchs. There's more fine work there.

It's terrific that people like Sanders are willing to share their work like this. In the past (before the internet), it wouldn't be so easy for him to share his more personal work nor for us to get to see it. We live in a time of many problems, but we also live in a time of ample opportunities. For some reason, little things like "Kiskaloo" really help me remember that. Great art and good times.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Custom Greeting Cards - $500 each

This past week was the last week at work for a friend of mine. She had decided to pursue another opportunity (a good opportunity). So, I'm really happy for her. It's good to see people pursuing things they want to do. I see them as role models.

Anyway, I wanted to give her a memento of some sort. I wanted it to be personalized, so I decided to make her a card. There just some things you can't find in the greeting card aisle. It appears I'm becoming a regular HallmarkTM. This is my second card in a month. Of course, it's silly humor because I don't know any other type of humor (besides silly humor is almost always appropriate). Also, you should know she is a chemist, otherwise the gag might not make any sense.

This is the outside of the card. The back is on the left (with my fake imprint). The front is on the right. I blurred out where I wrote her name. To read the blurred part, I suggest substituting "nice lady" in your best recolection of Professor Frink's voice.

This is the interior.

I wrote some other things like you would any normal card, but I scanned it before I did that because I'm all about privacy and stuff (except for this blog, I guess).

It was fun to do this one, but it's killer to work on these things for friends. I want them to enjoy it, and I really want to do a good job, and it really stresses me out! But it's a good stress. Builds character.

I think these cards turned out well, but I noticed how simple I kept everything. Simple is effective, but I sort of feel that I stick to simple because it's safe not because it's the best choice. Also, I want to use some color. Maybe if I can find a way to motivate myself to practice more, I'll have more skills to draw on. Uh... Pun intended only in retrospect.

Materials: Hobby Lobby card stock, various pens and brushes, and india ink.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Happy New Year! (again)

This past week saw the beginning of the Chinese New Year. I admit that it is not a holiday that I normally celebrate. However, for the Chinese, the New Year seems to be as big a deal as the Christmas holiday is for many people in the U.S. (especially with regards to families getting together). If you're curious, you can find more information about the Chinese New Year here.

I was talking to a friend of mine who is Chinese about the New Year's holiday. We were talking about all sorts of things, about the way it is celebrated, about the Chinese zodiac, and about the horrendous weather China was experiencing a couple of weeks back and how that might impact people's travel plans (at the very least).

It wasn't until I talked to her and read the weather reports that I started to understand how important the holiday is for people. I also realized that the New Year is practically a nonevent in the states. So, I decided I wanted to do a little something for my friend since she is so far from family this year. For some reason, despite the serious potential for unintended cultural insensitivy, I decided I'd make her a card.

My friend has given me permission to post a scan of the card here so I could share it with you guys. I thought you might enjoy seeing it and gaining whatever minimal cultural insight I can provide. The gold ink loses a little luster in the scanning, but what can you do?

The red paper was chosen because red is used liberally during the New Year. So, I went with it for purposes of the festivities.

The Chinese symbol means "good fortune". I am unclear as to whether the symbol itself represents good fortune or rendering it in gold confers "good" to the meaning of the symbol. I wasn't sure. The internet makes a terrible resource for learning about certain things. So, I went with the gold just to be on the safe side. Also, gold appears to be a festive color as well.

The next part was the less than traditional part. It was also the part fraught with potential misunderstanding since (as far as I know) it was my own invention and not backed up by anything I read about. It was more of my idea of what a Chinese version of the whole old man/baby new year thing might look like. An attempt at light hearted humor.

The pig represents the year that is passing. Last year was the year of the pig (the golden pig to be more precise). Apparently it was the end of the sixty year cycle. The new year is the year of the rat and the beginning of a whole new sixty cycles. So, the rat is chasing the pig off as part of his cleaning for the New Year (that's why he's chasing the pig with a broom). He's taking charge now, baby!

That's a lot of words to explain a single symbol and a couple of scampering cartoon animals. Fortunately for me, my friend appeared to understand the intent immediately and appreciated it (*phew*). So, the card appears to have been successful and caused no international, interpersonal disasters.


P.S. I did all this stuff with brush and ink. The smudge you see at the bottom of the rat's leading foot was partially corrected prior to giving the card. That's the risks you take when you work with ink on paper (and haven't done so in years). When I slipped up, I felt a deep despair that I think anybody who has worked with pen/brush and ink can understand. I almost scrapped the whole card in a fit of disgust to start over. I would have done that in the past, but age has apparently mellowed me. I managed to salvage the card with a light use of an X-acto blade. A sort of poor man's electric eraser.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Christmas Confessions

So, this post is a little late. I kept meaning to post it, but my camera and my computer always seemed so far apart, and I wanted pictures. You've probably had enough of holiday talk and revelry and want to get on with a new year. But if you'll indulge me, I'll make this quick.

I don't bake or cook very much, but each year around Christmas I try to make some Christmas goodies, and I usually give them away to friends and coworkers (some of whom act skeptical when a guy gives them homemade holiday treats). This year I didn't do too much. I only made orange cookies (as depicted in the above left) and some fudge (as seen below).

The orange cookies turned out great. Most people like them quite a bit. The secret is in the icing. I may be a bit too generous with the icing, but I don't really believe that is possible. The only real trouble I have with the orange cookies is that it seems like I make them bigger each year. This year you pretty much needed two hands to eat them. But they turned out pretty well regardless. And in truth, I like my Christmas goodies to have a little gusto to them. Not dainty, wimpy confections. But big treats that demand attention and make you worry about your weight while you can't stop eating them... Yeah! *ahem* Anyway...

The fudge also turned out pretty well, and I made two batches (one with mint extract and one with pecans). But while I was making the fudge, I couldn't help shake the feeling I was forgetting something. But everything seemed to be going well. So, I shrugged it off.

The next day, when I went to cut the fudge, I noticed it was really rather soft. Not in an entirely bad way, but my family's fudge recipe is usually fairly firm. I knew then that I had screwed something up, but I still couldn't figure it out. It tasted fine, so I took the fudge to work anyway. Everybody really liked it, but I was still curious as to what had happened.

That night I happened to be talking to my mom on the phone about something, and I brought up what happened with the fudge. And she says something along the lines of, "You boiled it for five minutes?" And I say something like, "What? The recipe doesn't say to boil it for five minutes" (even while remembering that is what I've done in the past). Then she says, "I'm pretty sure it does." And I'm all, "Let me check" because I think I couldn't have possibly missed this.

So, I go to check, and what do I see in the first line of the recipe?

I mean, it's underlined! How'd I miss that? Keep in mind that I have made this recipe many times before. So, I don't really have any excuses except for the fact that my mind wasn't entirely on the fudge, which is really more of an indictment than an excuse.

Also I shouldn't argue with my mother about the contents of the cookbook she wrote for our family. Sheesh! You'd think I'd at least know better than that.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The Risks of Global Climate Change

This video is over seven months old, but I only recently became aware of it. (Link here if it's not embedding.)

It's a cool example of how people can use the internet for something other than LOLCATS (not that there is anything wrong with LOLCATS). In this case, I think this gentleman makes an excellent attempt at shifting the discussion about global climate change away from whether humans are having an impact towards the idea of risk management.

Of course, while I think that's the proper discussion to be having, I am aware that it will be very difficult to stay on topic. Risk management can be a dry subject that really requires cool heads and responsible, humane leadership. Controversy, on the other hand, can be incited by any chucklehead with a radio program, newspaper column, or blog (this chucklehead included if this blog were read by somebody besides my mom). Unfortunately, controversy trumps dry discussion anytime. But I do agree with the video that if we want to work on this issue in a realistic manner we can make it happen.

I haven't had a chance to look at his other videos that he uses to bolster his arguments. So, I have no comment on those.