My weblog ELECTRON BLUE, which concentrated on science and mathematics, ran from 2004-2008. It is no longer being updated. My current blog, which is more art-related, is here.
Tue, 30 May, 2006
Voices from the other worlds
In the last few days, I've received e-mails from Hildur Elsworth, Hunter Olariu, Pascuala Bickford, Salvador Shoemaker, Ardenia Joyner, Epiphany Shiel, Kelemen Fonte, Tabitha McDonough, Lysandra Purdom, Tertius Ballow, Thaddeus Gentry, Nasira Figueroa, Napoleon Ramirez, Audra Sumner, Theodorus Keglee, Delfina Kelly, and Maximilian Mance, along with hundreds and hundreds of their colleagues. They are, as you readers know by now, spam names, created by combinatoric robot programs from lists of names found in the U.S. Census reports. The robots are sophisticated enough to generate anything from "ordinary" names such as Joseph Williamson or Bettyann Miller or Cathy Simms, to "exotic" and often ethnically mismatched names such as Sharada Padilla, Kunigonde Dockins, or Raelene Littlejohn. My all-time favorite, as of now, is the wonderful New Orleans-nostalgic name of "Eutropia Beausoleil," who wrote me about a month ago. Reasonable people will say that she doesn't exist. But I know she does, even though her old home was destroyed in the hurricane and flood and she now lives in exile somewhere in Spamland.
I have been harvesting these names for some time, both for my own entertainment and from a surrealistic sense of altruistic obligation. They are virtual people, and I want to save them from oblivion. Billions of them are created every day, as spam robots pump their odious swarms of ads into the polluted commons of the Net. Each one has his or her own virtual life and story, which passes into nothingness as soon as the name is deleted. I will save the ones I can, because each one lights up into life for me, a personality, a story, an image.
The obvious comment to this is the classic retort: "Get a life." Well, I do have a life, and it has been endowed with more creativity than I can reasonably use. So I play with words and names and ultimately, worlds. In the science fiction fan community where I have belonged for almost the last thirty years, it is common for people to make up elaborate and well-thought-out imaginary worlds. If the worldbuilders are lucky enough to have skills, they can make art, writing, games, theater, films out of what they imagine. I am also a worldbuilder, though not a very good storyteller. I'm much better at making pictures of my imaginary world and people. And the material for building other worlds is handed to me me every day, often by those very wordbots which generate spamnames attempting to get past the filters.
The spam trend these last couple of weeks has moved away from bizarre and hilarious names created from dictionary words (such as "Sadly A. Camper" or "Ecosystems K. Declining") towards words which are not in any language, created by letter recombinant 'bots. Again, these are more sophisticated than the usual word salad generator. These recombinators generate words which alternate consonants, vowels, and believable consonant combinations, so that the generated words sound as if they came from a plausible language. Not only that, they all seem to come from the same imaginary language, or at least different dialects or relatives of the same language. They appear in place of names, or in place of subject lines, or even as titles for meaningless attachments (never to be clicked on, of course).
I gather them up from the wriggling catch picked up by my spam filter, and record the good ones before I throw them all back into the sea of electrons. Then I string them together. I have almost a whole language's vocabulary now, only I don't know what any of the words mean. "Wigulak moro wiwiby canoh bawbe? Rutyryha zotow qusazido kibivoko devy qygimi. Qexi zokab batahe rekyly gogylife, zexa honabo biboqavy dexok hesiseq." This is not cryptography nor code nor an actual invented language, at least not yet. But even from this sample you can see that the generator follows some sort of rule set. It uses many more q's, z's, and x's than English does, and I suspect that those letters represent sounds that we don't have in English, perhaps like the guttural kh of various Middle Eastern languages or the zhe or sha of Russian. Also, this protolanguage uses a lot of y's, which must be pronounced much of the time as vowels.
Inventing a world with sentient beings in it means inventing languages. The most famous language-maker of modern times is J.R.R. Tolkien, who was a professional at it and so did the most complete job. Star Trek fans nowadays have Klingon. You may find it hard to believe how far the construction of the Klingon language has gone.There is even a guide on the Web (many of them, actually) to making up languages. So I am tempted to invent a language to go with all these pseudo-words which come to me in the hundreds from the spam generators. I restrain myself, however. How much time do I have? I need to do calculus, not play with languages that don't exist.
But the idea of something "not existing" is not as simple as rationalist scientists would like it to be. It's easy enough to say, "This is all philosophical garbage, it's bogus, don't waste your time on it." That's right, stories are meaningless drivel, and art is bogus, because after all, you can't prove anything from them nor do they respond to the scientific method. Do the characters and the languages in fantasy stories and worlds exist? Do mythical beings exist? You can't prove they do; being written about is not enough to establish scientifically that something exists or existed. Who could be so stupid as to actually believe that elves and Klingons exist? Is there another type of "existence" that is "real?" Metaphysical nonsense! Perhaps mathematics and science will "save" me from this morass of creative excess, and set me on the straight and very narrow path of humanistic rationalism and the scientific method.
In conclusion, let me say this: "Dugum qamu murefydo zife napyjawo qani piroji huxu gekuwixi. Nesopy nejo xuque huxu nevykubu bejestytardi ketawon." Or as Eutropia Beausoleil might say, "Chacun a son gout…laissez les bons temps rouler!"
Posted at 3:09 am | link
Mon, 29 May, 2006
I am back from the environs of Baltimore where I was showing my art and doing lots of socializing at Balticon, the region's yearly science fiction convention. And I have pleasant news to report. I sold four out of the seven pictures I displayed there, and two prints as well. I sold two of the larger paintings left over from my 2005 Massachusetts show, "Autumn Galaxy" and "Universe Detector." These can be viewed in my Electron entries for September and October 2005, if your memory needs refreshing. "Autumn Galaxy" was especially popular and I received many positive responses from fans who saw it. I will be selling prints of it if anyone wants one. I also sold "Chaotic Parabolas" which was shown on the previous entry, and "Chrome Probe," which I painted last November. The money was quite nice.
I showed "Deco Fantasy," also painted last fall, but because I had a high price on it, I didn't sell it. I didn't want to sell it very much, because I intend to offer this one to "fine art" galleries or juried shows. My intention is to make "crossover" art that appeals to both the select circle of science fiction fans as well as the larger audience of "gallery" type fine art. You will not see me doing any dragons or winged kittens or Japanese warriors, which are stock figures of current fantasy art. Not that I wouldn't do one of those if someone paid me huge bucks, but why pay me to do it when someone else will do it on the cheap. Currently the American fantasy/comics imagination has been outsourced to the Far East, and just about anything Japanese is wildly popular.
On Saturday afternoon I gave a presentation on how to depict light-effects in art, using colored pencils for my medium. I showed my audience how Thomas Kinkade, the trademarked "Painter of Light," does his shimmery soft glow. I gave away the secrets of how to portray "them damn lampposts" which do so much for a painting, no matter what else is in it. How about a winged kitten dressed in Japanese armor leaning against a lamppost, topped with a glowing lantern, with pink flowers…
Three of my Friendly Mathematicians and two of my Friendly Scientists were there, and I got to sit down with them and do some scribbling and questioning. I am always glad when I get to talk with a "Real Live Physicist" although time at a convention is limited. Much of my convention time is spent marketing my art and persuading people to look at it and buy it. The rest of my convention time is spent socializing and eating at restaurants. I can only do this so often, because it is tiring. I used to go to a lot more conventions, but I don't have the time nor the quantity of art to support that schedule any more.
Now it's back to the drawing board for ongoing projects (graphic novel, imaginary world architecture), commissions and portraits, and more of that colorful, appealing geometric space art that succeeds so efficiently at attracting both fans and non-fans. And my math book is open again to the first chapter on tangents and limits, so I am starting on Real Live Calculus now.
Posted at 2:55 am | link
Wed, 24 May, 2006
Fresh new art
I made some new art, space abstractions for a science fiction convention art show coming up this weekend. These are tiny, experimental pictures where I get to try out new ideas without painting a whole big unsellable board. There's plenty of visual math and implied physics in the images. Recently I received a query from, of all things, a Polish schoolgirl who had somehow come across my website and was looking for mathematical art for a school project. I sent her back a short reply describing how I get my ideas from basic mathematics such as conic sections, and referred her to some nice sites which feature these lines and curves which are so aesthetically pleasing. She wrote back thanking me for my help. At some point I will talk more extensively about how I put these mathematical shapes into compositions and paintings and what I am looking for when I do this. It's much simpler than doing real math or physics.
Here's the first of this set of two. It's catalog number 934A, titled PARTICLE CASCADE, 8 inches by 12 inches, acrylic on illustration board. The board came pre-coated with a blue background color.
And the second of the pair, catalog number 934B, CHAOTIC PARABOLAS, 10 inches by 7 inches; acrylic, pigment markers, and colored pencil on black color-coated illustration board.
Posted at 2:22 am | link
Mon, 22 May, 2006
I gave away two potted plants yesterday. They were spathyphyllium or "peace lily" clusters, which I had separated from two main clusters a couple of years ago. I had four pots of this persistent plant, which was two pots too many, so the lesser ones could go. They will find new homes thanks to Freecycle, a grassroots social program which finds new owners for used but still good things.
This meant that a couple of square feet of table space opened up in my packed house. On Sunday I vacuumed and dusted and cleaned, and re-populated the space that the peace lilies occupied with a collection of African violets and their grow-light. I have had this same fluorescent grow-light fixture now for over thirty years; I first got it when I was a sophomore in college.
The place that the African violets occupied was now open, and I filled that with a lightweight bookcase which is still mostly empty, believe it or not. There is more open space coming as I continue to shift boxes and cases around in my house. I consider it a solid geometry exercise, and also a mathematical "packing" problem. I took my old algebra and geometry homework, sorted through it to keep the nice-looking diagrams or calculation pages and notes, and put the rest in a paper recycling bag. One good thing about math is that it can always be recycled and it will still pop off the page fresh the next time you work with it. Recycling my old sheafs of paper leaves at least two or three shelf inches open. I will take every bit of space I can get.
Behold, the clutter parted, and my math book was revealed. I did the last few problems in the "functions" set. Or rather, I took my chances on them and then looked them up in the teacher's volume to have them explained. The "composition" of one function with another involves running one function process through the other one. It's kind of like processing a process. I suppose you could just keep going if you wanted to, and compose any number of functions together, or keep running one function's results through itself again and again. One of my Friendly Scientists tells me this last action can generate chaotic results, as in chaos theory.
The end of the Functions chapter brings me to the conclusion of the algebra review section, and the next page begins: "Introduction to Calculus: Tangents and velocity." My inspirational bookmark, with a picture of a galaxy on it, is in place.
Posted at 2:58 am | link
Wed, 17 May, 2006
I am currently not doing Art, but art-related activities. I am cutting mats and mounting boards for a print order. I have not done this in some time, as I made plenty of matted prints for Worldcon in 2004 and still have most of them in stock. But this was a special order, so I am back doing it. I cut fifteen 14" x 11" mats and mounts, and will assemble the prints and send them off as soon as I can. I don't have space for a mat-cutter, which takes up a broad flat surface, so I cut them by hand using a mat-knife and a ruler, the old-fashioned way. To offset the tedium I listen to avant-garde electronic drone or a variety of ambient music from a fine Internet "radio station" called Stillstream, devoted entirely to this kind of sound. This music ranges from the delightful to the unlistenable. You never know what they might play, as they have a very wide library of sound, including things which are privately produced and have never been published.
My calculus book is currently buried under matboards and board fragments. In a place as packed as mine that means that until the algorithm of superimposition (i.e. clutter layers) has been worked out, I will not get to my math. Last time I saw my math book, it was teaching me about even and odd functions. It is patiently waiting until I uncover it again.
Posted at 3:27 am | link
Sun, 14 May, 2006
Unlovely Garden Posting
Some scientific blogger types post lavish entries about their gardens and about their work in them. I cannot be considered a true "scientific type" but since I'm a blogger I get to post something about my garden too, even though I won't use the word "lovely" to describe anything in it. On Saturday I moved my plants out onto my terrace. The terrace faces southwest and gets only afternoon sun. It is also very dry because the wide overhanging eave prevents anything but the heaviest rain from watering the plants. So all summer long I am out there faithfully watering them.
The only plants that survive well under my terrace conditions are cacti, succulents, and geraniums (that is, the common Pelargonium type of geraniums.). I have tried to grow other plants but they usually get fried. One year I was able to grow zinnias but that must have been a milder summer than usual.
I have grown geraniums for years. I grew my first crop from seeds sold to me by Thompson and Morgan. I planted the Tango Orange variety because I love the orange color of the flowers. Electron Blue flowers, though they exist, are much harder to grow. This year I've planted the Centaurea "Blue Diadem" variety also known as "bachelor's button," which I've had some success with in the past, but I don't know whether it will grow well. It's easier to grow "Pyracantha Orange" flowers. The dependable geranium plants came up and provided me with many years' worth of brilliant scarlet blooms. The color is more like what artists refer to as "Cadmium Red Light," an orangey red. They survived many cutbacks and re-potting jobs. Geraniums are so tough that you can cut the plant back to a stem and it just puts out new branches. And you can stick the cut-off stem into a pot of moist soil and it, too will put out roots and new branches and become a plant of its own.
This year I was astonished to find that though my geraniums kept blooming, their scarlet blossoms came out a wimpy peachy pink. Pink! Why? Is it because the plants are old? Or because I haven't fertilized them? I've heard of other plants reverting to a less exciting "base" color. In fact, some of my African violets (which stay indoors all year) also lost their stripey blossoms and reverted to plain purple, which was fair enough, but why did it happen? These plants were not grafts or composites, they had a continuous existence with the original plant though they might be offshoots or grown from cuttings of the original. I will try to find out from an online garden forum why such a change might happen.
Meanwhile, the cacti will have some trouble adapting to the stronger light but they usually survive and then start to grow after their winter dormancy. Among them are "Bucky," my Discocactus which bloomed so brilliantly last year and the year before. Some other cacti are spiny pillars which have grown from tiny shoots. Alongside the cacti are a whole lineup of aloes, probably variegatas, all descendants of a few that I grew from seed many years ago. These spiky, ugly potstickers produce big stalks featuring vertical rows of tubular flowers, also pink (Can't get away from it!) and can survive the desert conditions of my terrace. I like my plants to be survivors, even if they aren't the prettiest things in the garden world.
Posted at 3:18 am | link
Sat, 13 May, 2006
It may be May, but I'm still shoveling out from under a heavy fall…of paper. I brought five full shopping bags of recent but discarded magazines and catalogs back from my parents' house. Together they must have weighed a hundred pounds. I heaved them all into the recycling bin. Friday I took my own recycling to the bin, another thirty pounds or so of paper. And now on Saturday the new shopping bag is already filling up. Where does all this paper come from? We were promised a paper-free society, where everyone would somehow keep every document, no matter how trivial, on a digital medium of some kind. It hasn't happened.
If you give even a little bit of charity in this country, you are deluged by mass mailings from every related charity, which has received your address from the one you gave to in an exponentially expanding chain letter. I've discussed this before in regard to name and address labels. I now have well over a thousand of them. But I have received more than just labels. I've gotten handfuls of dainty little note pads, each printed with cute animals or flowers or butterflies (how come I don't get little note pads with motorcycles or radiotelescopes or fire engines on them?) each of them printed with my mundane name. I've gotten cheesy gadgets like calculator clocks, or kitchen scrapers, or packs of seeds, or even real U.S. coins. And all the paper from this ever-needy world goes into the recycle bin. The ever-needy world is recycled, to come back needing again.
It has been a week since I got back to my home, and only now have I made any progress in getting order back into my dwelling. Is it too much to ask for one open space, one clear flat surface somewhere in this overpacked apartment? Most of you readers know exactly what I am talking about, because you live in the same conditions. If any of you have a clear, clean house with nice flat open workspaces, I want to visit you. But then you wouldn't have those nice spaces any more.
I wouldn't call it "claustrophobia," because I am capable of working in the most enclosed and hemmed in of spaces without too much distress. What I experience is a longing for open space. Not only open space to live in, but open space to walk through, open space to gaze into and see a horizon rather than a city. I have been many times to the plains of Kansas, a state I have grown to love. There beyond the cities of Lawrence or Topeka lies an endless surrealistic openness that seemed to me, when I first saw it, as if I had gone off to another planet. But it was Planet Kansas, on this same good Earth. Out there is more space on land than a Bostonian could possibly imagine. You have to see it to believe it.
I would name it "agoraphilia," not claustrophobia. Even a big wide parking lot or an open schoolyard or a modern courtyard here in MidAtlantica sometimes evokes that feeling in me. If I were to drive an hour west of my current location, I would find one of the few flat areas in the state of Virginia, where you can actually see a land horizon rather than hills covered with trees. But that area is already being encroached upon by the city, which one day will stretch all the way from Washington to West Virginia.
Somewhere out in this USA is a place where I could find a dwelling big enough to have open workspaces, without costing a huge amount in rent. I have fantasies of fleeing to a town just big enough to have broadband internet (which I must have, now that it exists) but small enough to still have open land around it. I would like there to be a small college of some kind there, so I could perhaps take courses or at least ask some questions. I have passed through these places in Iowa and Indiana and Missouri and Kansas, states which people from my part of the country look down on as boring, benighted, ignorant, and religion-ridden. Just admitting that I might want to live there is a dangerous thought. Right now it is just a fantasy. It may stay a fantasy forever, but no matter what, I do not want the paper drifts to bury me.
Posted at 3:13 am | link
Wed, 10 May, 2006
Too Much Stuff
I am back home in my studio after a difficult ten days in New England. Difficult for many ways I would rather not talk about here, including a minor car accident in which thankfully no one was injured. The Electron Car is unharmed; the accident happened while I was a passenger in someone else's car. Some of the good things about my trip were that I got to go to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, where I saw an exhibit of David Hockney's portraits. And I did a lot of shopping.
I always shop when I'm up in New England, usually for books and art materials. I also acquire (am given) stuff of various kinds from my parents' collections. This can include everything from housewares to boxes of pasta to clothing. There is a lot of just plain bulk material goods lying around in my family's house, ranging in quality from the shabby to the useful to the unrecognized treasure.
I loaded up the Electron and brought some of the bulk back to my home. Now it is all over my floor. There is a pile of old rags, used to cushion art work in transit. There are magazines and books and clothes. And then there is the art, left over from my Massachusetts show in the late autumn, which is now back with me to be re-cycled into other shows. It's bulk material art product, but it will be someone else's treasure someday soon I hope.
It is not proper (Bostonian) to work in a messy studio. I must put everything away before I can start new work. That's what I've been doing. But after fourteen years of living in my current apartment, there just isn't much room left to stash stuff. That means I must get rid of some of it. I have to sort it out. I don't think I need my algebra homework from 2001, but what if there is some artistic sketch or interesting remark scribbled among the polynomials? I can't just pitch it out without looking at it. Same for other archival papers. If you think that scanning archival papers into digital files and dumping all the paper is a good idea, think again. The paper may last longer than the CD's or DVD's that hold the digital files, not to mention the obsolete machines that read the discs. And what a waste of bytewidth and time to put non-critical documents into digital form. I'd rather concentrate on the more important task of digitizing old sound recordings, which are already almost lost.
Throughout my trip I did at least some work on math, even if it was only one or two problems a night. Solving math problems is so much easier than solving problems of sickness and old age. But right now I must consider the shifting geometries and proportions and configurations of too much stuff and too little space.
Posted at 2:18 am | link
Fri, 05 May, 2006
Sunlight in Harvard Square
The weather cleared, and I finally got into Cambridge yesterday, for my usual luncheon with a friend whom I meet whenever I am there. We ate at a place that had much history for me, an underground restaurant space where I had worked in 1979 and 1980. It is a Thai restaurant now, but back then it was a Mexican fast food place called "Paco's Tacos." I did not work in the kitchen. I was the counter person, selling tacos and burritos and taking in the money at the register. I also did the artistic menu signs which changed every day. It was the closest I have ever come to being a stand-up comedy performer, because I would entertain the customers waiting for their tacos with jokes and rants and funny remarks about Harvard life. I called myself the "Lunch Counter Revolutionary." I often handled Saturday afternoon crowds. At one point, a customer even invited me to perform my Paco's Taco's schtick at a local comedy club, but I wisely refused, since I am not able to be funny deliberately. Nevertheless, I did entertain the taco eaters at the restaurant. The commercial art techniques I learned making menu signs were good training, years later, for my current gig at Trader Joe's, where I am thankfully not required to perform or be funny.
Other of my Cambridge workplaces either have been transformed, or have simply ceased to exist. The "Science Fantasy Bookstore" where I spent many hours and dollars is long gone, as is my other Cambridge work experience, "Sky Light Books." Sky Light sold an odd combination of New Age and Russian Orthodox books, and eventually disappeared when the owners became totally Orthodox Christian, rejecting the New Age. The story of that bookstore, and the esoteric order behind it once known as the "Holy Order of MANS," is a story in itself which I might tell someday if my rationalist scientific readers could stand it. Sky Light's retail space is still there but it is a realty office now.
I spent money on my usual Harvard Square items: art and architecture books and art materials. I only buy things which I can't get where I live. Why schlep it back from Massachusetts if you can get it in Virginia? There are some things, though, which are only present in Harvard Square, or at least in an urban university setting. I love people-watching, and there were plenty of fashion statements, from the chic to the academic dowdy (my fashion role model) to the slick chickies with their bare flat little bellies to the tattooed bourgeois-punk in his expensively ripped jeans. And then there were the professors, always recognizable in their well-dressed decrepitude. I wonder whether any of my own professors are still alive, let alone teaching there. I could not tell whether any of the professors I saw on the street or in the coffee shop were physicists, even though physicists are said to give off visible radiation under the proper conditions.
My trips to Massachusetts, despite pleasant visits to Cambridge and attempts at housework for my parents, don't allow me to do much work, either on art or mathematics. I am still working my way through mathematical functions, contemplating their composition in which one function is processed through another, and their deconstruction, in which a function can be broken down into two separate functions. I will be glad to resume artistic and mathematical efforts with more dedication when I return to my studio in Mid-Atlantica.
Posted at 1:34 am | link
Tue, 02 May, 2006
The Electron comes to you this week from my old home place in the western suburbs of Boston. I spent last weekend at a meeting of my religious group, held at a rustic retreat house in northwest Connecticut. We usually connect with each other by Internet mailing list, as a "virtual" religious order, but once or twice a year we are able to meet each other face to face at retreats or conventions where we have educational, devotional, and ceremonial activities as well as lots of friendship and laughter.
Here in New England it is like turning back the calendar almost a month. It has been chilly this spring and the plants are on a slightly delayed schedule. The flowering trees are just coming into bloom even though back in my Washington-area home the treeflowers are long gone and the leaves are out. I was expecting to see migrating birds including warblers while I was in Connecticut but in the higher hills where we were, many trees were still leafless and there wouldn't be any warblers for weeks. The only migrant I heard was the saucy Phoebe flycatcher, who is the very first migrating songbird of the spring here on the east coast.
I am here to help my parents do various things and to spend time with my relatives. On Sunday night, shortly after I arrived from Connecticut, I was treated to a string quartet concert at the local arts center (the same arts center where I had my show last fall.). They played Mozart and Haydn, and a Schubert quintet with an extra cellist. Monday I helped my mother re-arrange some furniture in her art studio and hang some larger pictures for an upcoming "open studio" show. Later we hope to visit the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. I'm right back in the lofty cultural milieu I grew up in, where just for a few days, I don't have to hear the howling and screeching of pop soundtracks.
I have my math with me and I hope to do at least some studying while I am here. I'm currently pondering the idea that functions can be added, subtracted, divided, and multiplied. That is to say that not only numbers (which are rather like stable "things" i.e. constants) can be worked on this way, but processes can be treated mathematically. And as for physics, there's nothing like the parabolic trajectory of a home run hit by Red Sox slugger David Ortiz in the eighth inning, as they beat the New York Yankees.
Posted at 12:14 am | link