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 It is no longer being updated.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.

Sun, 31 Dec, 2006

Leaving 2006

I know I should write some proper summary of what I achieved in 2006, and what I look forward to for 2007, but I am just too tired of being responsible and coherent. This is not the annual report of a company you are investing in. Things are always in progress. I obviously can't say what will come up in the future. I don't want to be smug, nor do I want to be perpetually fearful like some people I know. There are some certainties, more or less. The cherry blossoms will bloom. The Red Sox will play baseball. There will be an apple harvest in Greencastle, Pennsylvania. The crickets will sing. And somewhere in a distant galaxy, there will be a supernova.

In the night of this No-Winter, there is a rustling in the trees as hundreds of roosting birds are briefly disturbed. Just as those many black wings flutter, so in the virtual world the particle streams of spams, each with their momentary identity name, flow by my filtered inbox. Virtual people, whom I will never befriend, wrote to me today: Morris Walker, Tony Cole, Thomas Ross, Shauna Cleveland, Ian Mitchell, Robyn Aldridge, Natalie Phillips, and Effie Sadler. Perhaps they will return as real souls someday, or donors to a Sanctuary of Imagination: Eldon Terry, Eddie Graham, Kris Church, Linda Barrow, Ruby Hicks. And they were joined by their bizarre and sometimes ludicrous cousins, also birthed by the same name-probability machines. A cheerful if fleeting hello to Dildy V. Mancilla, Hibbler B. Edgerly, Dessislava Dowell, Mckinnied I. Noonkesteer, and my friend Picklesim C. Lofton. And a happy New Year to those whose existence is measured in microseconds: to Betsy Brock, Allen Strickland, Penelope McDaniel, or the lovely Maiara Caron.

The critics may call my art "derivative," but I am turning derivatives into art. There is a calculus of colors, a physics of penlines. Even if I advance only by infinitesimals, I am making progress. I look forward in 2007 to the lighting of the Great Beams at CERN, which may illuminate the world in ways no one can predict, not even the smartest of theorists. There are certainties in uncertainty. In what the Zoroastrians call this "World of Mixture of Good and Evil," the dualistic conflicts will continue, as we work out in sequential time what another being, virtual or not, sees as all one entire moment.

Posted at 3:22 am | link

Fri, 29 Dec, 2006

Dear Bon Appetit

Dear Bon Appetit Magazine:

Ever since I started working for a gourmet store three years ago, my relationship with food has changed. I am now faced with a wide variety of luxurious or rare or rich food choices which I never paid much attention to before. I have been a subscriber to your magazine for almost twenty years. In the past I always managed to cook from at least one of your recipes each month. But now that I work at the gourmet store, not only do I not have the available time I used to, but I can buy just about anything I like already made up and just heat it and eat it when I got home. I felt guilty because I was getting your magazine and not cooking from it, even though the ingredients for your recipes are usually there in the store.

My little, cluttered kitchen bears no resemblance to the beautiful cooking places you show in your magazine. I can't afford to eat in most of the restaurants you review. I will never get to the exotic or elegant resorts and foreign countries which you present in your articles. I do not have the facilities to entertain guests on the lavish scale revealed in your pages. I'm not even sure that these parties and places are real, with real people. They certainly don't resemble me or any of my friends.

I finally decided to let my subscription lapse, after all those years, because I felt that I was not doing your magazine justice and was not using it. But I have found that I miss it. Even if I don't use your recipes, I learn about food combinations by reading through them, and I can suggest interesting ideas to the customers at the store. Even if I'll never experience the luxuries in your magazine, I can enjoy the fantasy, as well as the beautiful photographs. Maybe that's what Bon Appetit is really about, in the end: not a guide to actual kitchen work, but a fantasy about what life could be like for dreaming readers.

Having thought it out, I have decided to re-subscribe to Bon Appetit. I will enjoy it without obliging myself to work with it. Much of my tasting will be "virtual," rather than real. I will dine at tables of imagination, not just my own crumb-covered kitchen table. And maybe someday I will actually make that red wine pot roast with porcini mushrooms.

Posted at 3:13 am | link

Wed, 27 Dec, 2006

Math by Observation

In the snowless flurry of activity around the "Holiday Season," I haven't had much time to work on my math. But derivatives are on my mind and I haven't forgotten anything. I have been trying to work out one of the proofs of a rule of derivatives, as detailed in the book, but have failed to understand one of the steps. The rule is, as the book states it, "The derivative of a sum equals the sum of the derivatives, and the derivative of a difference equals the difference of the derivatives." The proof is calculated (though I have unfortunately missed out on understanding it) so I must take it as true. But why? What would really convince me that this business about adding derivatives is true?

Usually, in any other learning discipline, they'd show me an example. And this happens here in the book, too. After proving it, they (the authors) show me examples of how this process works, using numbers and algebraic letter variables. This works, too, but I find it still apart from reality. What does this have to do with the "real world?" I suppose in pure mathematics, this is the wrong question to ask. Just prove it, put some numbers through it, and it is true. True forever, in ways that humanistic or poetic or religious truth can never be. Ask a mathematician, and he'll tell you. It's all hyper-true, provable even if human beings had never existed.

But if you ask an artist, the only thing my primitive visual-oriented brain can understand is, of course, a picture. Show me a picture, then. I take the example of the added functions from the book and put it into the graphing software on my computer. Then I take the f-prime function, the added derivatives of those added functions, and put that one on the same graph. Sure enough, as I ponder it, the second graph describes the progress of the slope of the first graph. Is this proof enough?

When I was doing second-year algebra, using my Cold War-era textbook, I sometimes solved problems not by calculating them through abstractly, but by finding as many solutions as I could by running different numbers through the equation. Eventually this would create a pattern, either in numbers or on a graph, that I could follow to get myself the answer. I used my calculator, which was anachronistic, since in 1958 they didn't have these things, but I wanted to find the answer, and with my futuristic machine I could find dozens of answers.

Evidently in mathematics this is called the method of "brute force," where you do as many calculations as possible to get yourself the pattern which will lead you to an answer. Calculus is supposed to relieve you of the need to do "brute force" mathematics. But this method, math by observation, is more like the learning experiences I am accustomed to, whether it be collecting quotes from relevant texts or noting the number of times a certain event happens after another event. Math by proof is unlike my usual way of learning. I can't prove by calculation exactly when the Prophet Zarathushtra lived, or why I should use a certain shade of blue-green in the center of my current painting. I can learn the proof, but I still don't know what to make of it.

Posted at 3:10 am | link

Fri, 22 Dec, 2006

Upcoming show

The date is now official: I will be showing my architectural and landscape art at the newly relocated and renovated "Art and Frame" gallery in Falls Church Virginia in June of 2007. The opening day is June 1, 2007, which is one of the designated "First Fridays" for art shows, concerts, craft sales, and other community festivities. The theme of my show will be "Changing Falls Church." I will be featuring paintings which depict the overlooked but interesting commercial and industrial buildings of Falls Church. These buildings will most likely disappear in the next five years as developers move in and build big urban multi-use mid-rises on their sites. Regular readers of this Weblog have already seen some of the paintings which will be in the show, such as my rendition of "Sisler's Stoneworks," (entry of 20 September 2006) and the Home Paramount exterminators' building (entry of 19 November 2006). I need to paint a whole lot more of these. I will also be writing an article about the theme of "forgotten" architecture, which will be published in the monthly Falls Church arts newsletter.

I'll be talking much more about this, and previewing new paintings as they are made. It's a very local show with a very local theme, and I'm looking forward to it. Anyone who can get to Falls Church is cordially invited. Let's hope that everything works out well. As my Islamic co-workers would say, "Inshallah."

Posted at 3:43 am | link

Wed, 20 Dec, 2006

A Different Way of Wintering

The Christmas songs and the winter songs are lying to me. There is no snow on the ground. No silver bells, no sleighs and horses, no cozy nooks in warm houses, no snowmen in the yard, no frost on the windows, no pretty snowflakes in the air. Instead we have, at least in MidAtlantica, a kind of sunny limbo of mild temperatures and no ice at all. If this is not the result of global warming, what could it be? El Nino again? The urban heat island? If it is the result of global warming, why are we still hearing the same songs?

I have the misfortune of having my perceptions set so that I notice everything. This is probably some form of aberration, some very mild form of autism or something, but when a song is in the "background," to me it's in the foreground. This is why I notice every typo, every misspelling, every deviation from the pattern. I hear the tune and I notice the lyrics, even if it is the thousandth time that I've heard that song. And I can't "tune things out" the way other people can. I hear it over and over again, and always notice it, and when I hear it, I know it's a lie.

In Alaska, it is really winter. In the mountains and the northern states, it's still traditionally winter. I remember, growing up in Massachusetts, that we experienced "traditional" winter weather from November to May, though we rarely had a truly "white" Christmas. The lake by my aunt and uncle's house used to freeze every winter, sometimes smooth enough to skate on. Now it hardly freezes over at all. If this is not global warming, even in my lifetime, what is it?

I am not trying to make some scientific or political point. I'm trying to make a cultural comment. To me, climate change is a mixed blessing. I hate winter, snow, and ice, and am only too glad not to endure it. But then I should feel guilty, because the bad climate change is going in my favor. I don't feel guilty enough. What I feel is a cultural wrongness. If our winter climate here in mainland USA is going to be different, then why do we still celebrate it as if it were snowy and cold as it was in the previous centuries? Why do people in tropical southern Florida put snow and furry clothing in their displays?

What I would like to see is a different way of wintering. As we approach the Winter Solstice, I'm with the Neo-Pagans in seeing the "holidays" as a celebration of a natural passage, the transition from Brumalia, the shortest days, to the beginning of the sun's return. We don't need sleighs or jingle bells or snowflakes, those holdovers from some idealized Victorian nineteenth century. And as the specifically Christian celebration of Christmas becomes less important in Western culture, we might imagine a Winter Solstice based on the celebration of light and energy, or the winter stars, or honoring fire as the Zoroastrians do later in the winter with their "Jashaneh Sadeh," or festival of fire. How would physicists or mathematicians celebrate the Winter Solstice, without any religious references? The climate both physical and social is changing, but the orbit of Earth and the light of the sun, at least in our civilization's lifetime, will not noticeably change. The angle of the rays tells me more about Winter than any number of obsolete and tedious "holiday traditions."

Posted at 3:04 am | link

Fri, 15 Dec, 2006

Proof and Truth

Let y stand for yogurt and f in this case for lactobacillus acidophilus and related fermentation agents. If x = milk, then y = f(x), that is, "yogurt = cultured milk." In between spoonfuls of the y-stuff I contemplate eternal truths, at least those of mathematical form. So far I have tasted the "constant function" derivative rule, and the "exponent" or "power" rule. Currently I'm learning the rule of multiplying by a constant. As the book puts it, "Let c be a constant. If f is differentiable at x, then so is cf, and (cf)'(x) = cf'(x).…in words, 'a constant factor c can be moved through a derivative sign.'"

And how do you know this? Because the book gives you a proof of it. Plain old algebra multiplies functions by a constant all the time, but I never quite realized what was going on there. The proof multiplies the function by some constant number, then cranks the calculus clockwork to show you that the derivative function is also multiplied. Then they show some of this in action with sample numbers and functions.

I've never been that familiar with proofs. I've done 'em in geometry, big long jobs, but have only done the simplest kind in algebra. Evidently a proof done correctly establishes the truth of a theorem. And a proof is sort of like a step by step process to show how one thing becomes another in a legal and legitimate way. If all truth were provable by proofs, life would be so much easier. In fact, some scientists and mathematicians actually believe that everything should be established by some sort of proof, and if it can't be proved by these logical methods, then it isn't true. Unfortunately, I can't prove the aesthetic derivative of my art, or anyone else's.

What it looks like to my color-addled brain is that a colorful constant, which is not c but "carmine" or "cerulean," is multiplied into a colorless function. And then if you put the function on your graphic palette and take its derivative, then not only will the colorful constant dye the whole derivative, but the exponent, should there be one, will also enter into the color mix, and alter the color of the whole coefficient. Multiplication will add in more colors. Sometimes you get a nice new shade, but other times you get a muddy brown or grey. Maybe this is why artists aren't good at math. But graphs and lines help me understand. If a derivative is a slope, then it can be multiplied by some number and still have that slope, at any possible tangent. At least this is what it looks like to me. Because I am an architectural artist, I can keep my perspective.

Posted at 3:27 am | link

Tue, 12 Dec, 2006

Saved by Yogurt

When I had bronchitis following my bout with the flu in November, I had to take antibiotics. I was only too glad to take advantage of this medical wonder of the twentieth century. But even wonders have their side effects, and one of the side effects of antibiotics is that they cause stomach upsets, because they kill not only the bad bacteria infecting my respiratory system, but the friendly bacteria which help my digestion. Vegetarians and other types who abhor the wilful death of living beings might also be aware that millions of tiny living beings die horrible deaths in their bodies every day, victims of a healthy immune system. And humanists will probably be aware that we intelligent beings are hosts to uncounted millions more of these little lives we never know about until they are missing: friendly bacteria.

I struggled along with a continually upset stomach for weeks, wondering whether I would ever be able to eat well again. Then I remembered that I had taken antibiotics. I looked up the side effects on the all-knowing Web, on one of the more reliable health information sites. What was the remedy for this holocaust of intestinal fauna? I must eat… yogurt. Not just any yogurt, but yogurt with "live cultures."

I have made it well known to anyone who will listen that I detest yogurt. This dislike runs in the family, as I have an aunt who also hates yogurt as much as I do. That is a mild word for how I feel about it. Yogurt reminds me of snot. It looks, to me, like mucus and baby spit-up. It tastes like sour, curdled milk, which is basically what it is. I don't even like to say the word yogurt. I call it "the Y-stuff." It is Lovecraftian in its slimy, flowing, viscous puddle, a quivering mass of primal white jelly, reminiscent of the earliest life on the planet, long before anything resembling complex life evolved. I purchased some little cups of this primordial ooze and put them in my refrigerator.

I contemplated the container as I read the ingredients list:

"Cultured pasteurized organic low fat milk, naturally milled organic sugar, inulin (chicory root), natural flavor, pectin (apples and citrus peels). Made with Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, S. thermophilus, and bifidus live active cultures."

Live active cultures. I was going to eat this stuff alive. I was going to consume something filled with untold hordes of little wriggling organisms. I opened the cup, stirred it up, and snarfed it down, helped by sips of coffee. Despite all the natural sweetening and flavors, there was nothing anyone could do to disguise its taste. Sweeten it, put fruit in it, put chocolate in it, freeze it, dye it pink, whatever: it's still yogurt.

I made sure to eat at least some of the primal white jelly for three days, including some Persian yogurt with chopped cucumber and green onion in it, a delicacy known as mast-o-khiar. And believe it, within three days, my stomach had settled down, and my appetite returned. The most natural remedy worked, and the helpful bacteria were back at work where they belonged, inside the tubes of my organic refinery. It's good to have friends in low places! I will never love the stuff, but for now, there will be a spot in my refrigerator for yogurt, so that I can continue to have some culture in my life.

Posted at 3:38 am | link

Fri, 08 Dec, 2006

First snow

It was blustery and cold on Thursday night, and when I emerged from the warm confines of Starbucks after decorating their sign, I saw to my dismay that it was snowing. Just a flurry or two or three, no accumulation, but winter has arrived for real now. I hate snow, but seeing it does make the incessant Christmas songs about snow seem at least a bit more appropriate.

There are no bells or ribbons on my new orange car, thank goodness. So far, one week and no major mishaps. Its driving experience is quite different from the blue Electron CRV, and I have been rather tentative on roads filled with holiday traffic. I have only driven it on the highway once so far, and then was only able to get up to highway speed for a few seconds before I had to slow down for the traffic crawl again. But I have already put its hauling capacity to work. Just as I measured before I bought the car, mat boards stack vertically in the cargo bay with plenty of room to spare, along with my art markers kit for Starbucks, my heavy backpack loaded with work tools, a bag or two of groceries, and an art portfolio.

Thursday night I met with the director of the Falls Church gallery where I hope to exhibit. I showed him four of my architectural pieces as well as two landscapes and he was impressed. This will be a "theme" show which is dedicated to the changing architecture of Falls Church. I will be writing an article about it which will be featured, along with photos of some of the paintings, in the gallery's monthly newsletter. The date of the show will either be May or June next year, so I have to paint enough pieces by that time.

My current Calculus chapter is "Techniques of Differentiation." If f(x) is a constant function, that is, it always results in the same outcome, then its derivative is zero. There's much more upcoming, such as the aptly named "Power Rule" regarding exponents.

Posted at 3:39 am | link

Sat, 02 Dec, 2006

An Orange Road Ahead

My life has just become more colorful. After some shopping and deliberation, I traded in the bright blue Electron Car (a Honda CRV) for an even brighter orange Honda Element. Why? How could I betray the car that gave this Weblog its name? Despite some people who strongly doubt my sanity, I do have some important reasons for the change. The first reason was that I was tired of the Electron's stick shift. Driving through constant heavy traffic as I do, I was sick of shifting first gear, second gear, first gear, for hours while I inched along. I have driven a stick shift now for twenty-two years. It may be hip and macho to drive a stick, but I have just had enough, and I now have an automatic transmission.

The second reason is the amount of cargo space. The Element has a van-like interior which can be configured in many different ways. The seats can go down flat to create a cushioned floor surface, or they can be flipped up to make a great big box-like cargo bay. Or the seats can be returned to a conventional bench for passengers. When the seats (or one side of them) are in cargo mode, the Element can accommodate a thirty by forty-inch mat board or painting in vertical position, something I have never been able to do in any other car. This will avoid bending or other damage. Cargo space is important to me for many reasons, one of which being that I hope to move sometime in the next few years and will want to haul my valuables in a safe way.

I am impressed at how much automotive engineering has progressed just in the last five years since I bought the blue CRV. The Element is packed with safety features, including not only front and side airbags but upper level airbags which deploy to protect driver's and passengers' heads if there is a rollover or other mishap. But the Element is not one of those rickety SUV's. It has a wide wheelbase for its length (a few inches shorter than the CRV) and it is heavier and more powerful than the CRV. There are not only anti-lock brakes but a special brake mode that kicks in if it detects skidding or slippage. The heat and air conditioning are very efficient and come on right away; no more waiting. This model also has "on-demand" four wheel drive, which like the brake mode is automatically activated when the car is on slippery or rough terrain. The mileage, according to Honda, ranges from 20 miles/gallon in the city to 28 miles/gallon on the highway. It uses regular (87) gas, and needs less maintenance than the CRV.

For my comfort and driving pleasure, it has a spectacular sound system with seven (count'em, seven) speakers, a satellite radio receiver, a CD player, an MP3 jack for my digital music player, and lots of nooks and crannies to stash things such as protein bars, little soy milk boxes, maps, clothing, and whatever other stuff I travel with. And all of this came "standard" with the car. The only things I ordered special were some cargo netting and boxes for unwieldy loads, and a fold-out picnic/work table. The Honda CRV, even after five years, was worth plenty and I got a good trade-in deal.

And of course last but not least, is the rare and brilliant daylily-orange color. Anyone who knows me knows that I love orange. After all, as I have explained, orange and Electron Blue are complementary colors, stationed at opposite points on the Color Wheel, and they go together. There are very few cars this orange on the road. The dealers at Honda had to search for this one at Honda dealerships all over the Metro DC area and found one 35 miles away. I think other motorists will see me coming, that's for sure. But there is also, at least for me, a psychological element to my Element. When I see bright orange, I become more cheerful. It actually lifts my spirits. As winter, however delayed, approaches, I will need this.

So have I abandoned Electron Blue? Will I have to change the name of this Weblog? No, not at all. The other end of the Wheel, 180 degrees away in the trigonometry of color, will be well represented. Some other symbolic thing will represent the Blueness while the Orangeness transports me on the road. I live in a world of symbols, not reality. A car is not just a car. A computer is not just a computer. They are talismanic artifacts which participate in a world of symbolic meaning, names, colors, word-play, advertisement, fantasy. The Periodic Table has at least a hundred and ten elements. We have Cadmium, Thulium, Thorium, Yttrium, Beryllium, Radium, Uranium, and my favorite element-name, Praseodymium. And now I have the Honda Element, which is found in the orange range of the spectrum, and is called "Hondium."

Here is a picture of the two jewel-like cars, together as I migrated from the one to the other.

Posted at 2:45 am | link

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