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 It is no longer being updated.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.

Wed, 28 Feb, 2007

Moving Mathematics

My calculus query of the previous entry elicited at least five responses, some from Electron readers I didn't even know I had. Others were from good friends. My many thanks to everyone who has responded. What's interesting is that all of the responses basically said the same thing, though each source added some additional and useful information. I am printing these e-mails out for further study. I am now working on the next sub-chapter in the "derivative rules" section, which is the "Product Rule."

Like many people with an overactive imagination, I often have daydreams of flying, either by myself as a super-hero or with some form of lightweight aircraft like an ultralight, a balloon, or a hang-glider. I would never hang-glide or ride an ultralight in "real life," and I have no ambition to go up into space so that I could toss my cookies in zero-G. I don't like roller coasters, and have only ridden one or two. Yet in my inner world I swoop and soar like a bird. I love watching crows, seagulls, and hawks, who are the best flyers among the birds in my region. Inspired by the shamans of old, I can imagine impersonating a bird in visionary trance even though my physical body remains tied to the earth by gravity. I even like watching skiers, snowboarders, and skateboarders in their curved trajectories and parabolic flings into the air. Again, I would never do this for real, because I am prudent. The things I am "prudent" about seem to multiply as I get older.

But I don't want to be prudent about math. You'd think, because I am a visual artist, that I would be fascinated with the lines and curves and grids of visual mathematics. Sure, I like them, but it's too much like work. I feel the obligation to make abstract art out of them. That's work. But I imagine mathematics in "kinesthetic" terms as well. If you think that this "learning style" is hardly my type, maybe I surprise you. I find quite a lot in common with the temperament that webpage describes, though when I took their "inventory" test I came out as one might expect, highly "visual." But mathematics has always had a kind of physical evocation for me, even though I have never done math any other way but sitting still in front of a book or screen.

Algebra, especially polynomials, reminded me of "demolition derby" car wrecks, where you slammed things into other things to watch the parts fly off. Geometry was architecture, with some very sharp edges which would slice me if I didn't watch out. And trigonometry and classical physics, as I have described in some of my earlier Electrons, have the feel of toiling through shipping lanes, hauling large loads up and down inclined gangplanks, and loading more weight on tensile cables into the freighter for another voyage.

But calculus, the mathematics of change and motion, is more like the hawk's flight or the snowboarder's glide. I can virtually fly down or up the slope of a curve, quickly change direction, and head back the way I came. Or I can skid to a landing as I reach a horizontal limit. My virtual calculus dragonfly is free to cruise the dimensional universe of a summer's afternoon, even though it is still icy winter outside.

Posted at 4:06 am | link

Mon, 26 Feb, 2007

More Cloudspotting

In my previous entry, I neglected to mention an important thing about Gavin Pretor-Pinney and his "Cloudspotter's Guide." This book actually arose from a Website which the author started as a lighthearted venture for cloud fans. It turned out to be astonishingly popular, with thousands of visitors. The Cloud Appreciation Society is everything a cloud lover could want: a photo gallery, scientific information, legends and lore, and even a discussion forum about meteorology. Pretor-Pinney is also one of the founders of a hilarious British magazine called The Idler which extols the virtues of idleness. This ties in nicely with cloud-watching. If by some chance you haven't gotten enough cloud happies from the Cloud Appreciation site, there is also the splendid visual site, Enchanted Ceiling, which features wonderful panoramic sky photographs sent in by viewers from all over the world, though the site seems to be dominated by only a few individuals, one from Tennessee, one from Israel, and one from the Canary Islands. The small group doesn't matter; there are plenty of beautiful clouds in those places.

Calculus Proof Question

Beware, here comes some mathematics. My calculus book has shamefully been open to the same page or two since the beginning of the year. This is not good. Progress is always good. Stagnation is bad. So I have finally devised a strategy to alert my Friendly Scientists to what has halted my track. There is a proof for one of the derivative rules in my math book which seems to contradict basic rules of algebra. There is something I am not getting about this proof. It seems to imply that at a limit of h- - > zero, the subtraction of f(x + h) - f(x) is not zero.

I copied the proof out from my math book, in a clear enough scrawl, and I present it here. My question, "how does this happen," is shown at the relevant stage of the proof. I welcome any clarifying input from readers and Friendly Scientists, through the e-mail address on this Website. I would like to move on, learn more about derivatives, and do more calculus.

Posted at 2:42 am | link

Sun, 25 Feb, 2007


One of my favorite books so far this year is "The Cloudspotter's Guide" by British author Gavin Pretor-Pinney. I have always been a cloudwatcher and know most of the cloud types and names from reading over the years, but I've never read anything that presents meteorology in such an entertaining manner. I might call the tone of some of this book "twee," a British descriptive which is sort of like the American "cutesy." In other places, the author sounds like a British comedian along the lines of "Beyond the Fringe." He throws in references to all sorts of non-weather subjects as analogues, from pop music to ancient mythology to Roman history. These are there to make a point as well as keep the book from being too dry (which would stop the moist clouds from forming anyway).

Despite the cuteness, this book contains plenty of real meteorological information, as well as illustrations of the various types of clouds and how they form. The author painstakingly describes atmospheric processes such as convection and condensation, air layers and temperature inversions, precipitation and evaporation. But he never gets too heavy. This is, after all, a book not for scientists but for lay people who like clouds and have an interest in weather. There are more of these people than you think, including high-placed types (so I have heard) whose favorite TV channel is "The Weather Channel." One of my very favorite websites is The Weather Channel Website where you can see up-to-the-minute radar readouts of American (and international) conditions. Summertime is especially exciting for weather fans because they can track thunderstorms as they blast through the area, brilliant blobs of red and yellow turbulence on the green background of radar rain.

Pretor-Pinney doesn't just give us a guide to clouds, but to other atmospheric phenomena such as sky colors, rainbows, halos, fog, jet contrails, snowflakes, freezing rain, lightning, and destructive clouds including tornadoes. There are also some extended passages where he describes his adventures in exotic places, looking for unusual cloud lore or rare cloud apparitions. He visits the London fish market looking for just the right kind of mackerel to illustrate the "mackerel sky." And in a later chapter, he goes to what would well be called the "end of the earth" in isolated rural Australia, looking for a fabulous rolling cloud called the "Morning Glory" which daring glider pilots use to "surf the sky."

The nice thing about clouds and cloud watching, as the author says, is that you don't need special equipment or enhanced physical abilities to do it. All you need is a window or a chance to get out and look at the sky. It's always changing, hardly ever boring, and aesthetically rewarding. And the names of clouds, for someone who loves Latin, are melodious and fun to say: Cumulus castellanus, Altocumulus translucidus, cirrus fibratus. I often look at clouds from an artistic point of view, trying to figure out how the cosmic scene painters depicted the white wisps or crisp billows on the perfect blue sky. Some artists such as the Dutch seventeenth century painter Jacob van Ruisdael were terrific at painting images of clouds. There is even music about clouds, which Pretor-Pinney somehow ignores: the famous "Nuages" ("Clouds") by French composer Claude Debussy. And for a more popular "New Age" approach, there is the delightful and soothing album by British composer Kevin Kendle, entitled simply "Clouds," which could easily serve as the soundtrack to the "Cloudspotter's Guide."

As a birdwatcher, I'm always looking up anyway, and now I have yet another flying, fleeting form of nature to observe and identify. Look, there are some Altostratus radiatus, grey-violet on the horizon. And here are Cirrostratus, painted in pure white on the blue heavens by a divine airbrush. No matter how grim the world may be, the clouds will always be uplifting.

Posted at 4:12 am | link

Thu, 22 Feb, 2007

The Heat is On

After five days, the heater in my apartment has finally been repaired. On Wednesday morning before I went to work I visited the manager's office to complain that my apartment's heat was still not functioning, and had not since the previous Saturday. The personal appearance must have worked, and I was truly relieved to return home after a stressful day at work to find a warm space. There was evidence that maintenance workmen had been there because a lamp, a brush, and a painting near the heater cabinet had been moved. And the space heater which management had lent to me, was gone. I thank it, and them, for its service.

The heat is on at work too, as store renovations continue and a regular seasonal advertising flurry is upon us. I now have some management responsibility in regards to the sign crew, so I have to learn how to work with people if I must assign them tasks or criticize their work. I have never been good at this, but Mr. Manager has given me some tips on how to do this. Meanwhile, our local Trader Joe's slogan is "Sign control!"

I have had many problems managing my time, over the years, and I continue to struggle now. One of my friends has recommended a time management book by David Allen, called "Getting Things Done," which she said has helped her a lot in her work. I need this not only for Trader Joe's signs but for art production and learning at home. You see, I have finally achieved "True American" status, because I am busy all the time. Now let's see if I have time enough to read the book.

The "Hole in the Wall" house portrait is on my art desk and I have mostly finished inking it. It should be done soon. If the people at "Hole in the Wall" buy it, then I will have to make another one for the June show. My Starbucks art is not completely undone, because a friend who manages another Starbucks has invited me to decorate not one, but three boards in his store. I have also returned, after a few month's halting, to the point in calculus where I got bewildered. My mathematical studies throughout these years have tended to go in epicycles, rather like the pre-Copernican planets, where they roll forward on their orbits but every so often go "retrograde" and make a separate sub-orbit before they can return to their main path. Or so it looked from an Earth that had not yet been redeemed by science and higher mathematics, let alone coffee and modern heating systems.

Posted at 2:35 am | link

Wed, 21 Feb, 2007

Chilled Out

There's cold comfort indeed at my dwelling. Since last Saturday, I have had no heating. The heater in my apartment broke down sometime on Saturday night and despite my daily calls to the main office, they have not fixed it. The night it broke down, I called their emergency service and a maintenance man arrived with a space heater to lend me. Of course, it was a holiday weekend so no one was going to do any work. But since the weekend there has been, as far as I can see, no action. I am not sure whether the rest of the building has heat, but I don't hear the heaters in the other apartments switching on or off as I usually do. The management says that no one has complained of heat problems except me. They told me that the maintenance man had come into my apartment while I was away at work, and he had fixed it. But when I tried to turn the heater on, there was some engine noise but nothing happened, and it emitted no hot air, or any air at all, and then the engine noise stopped too. Paradoxically, when I turn on the air conditioner (as if I needed that) it works and cold air comes out.

Right now it is sort of mild out so the chill doesn't bother me too much, but if there is another winter cold snap, I will not be happy. This is the first time this heater has ever broken down; usually it is very dependable. In my previous dwelling back in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I lived with a rickety gas heater built out of an ancient coal stove, which was located right under my bed. When that thing went on, it made a booming whoosh that used to wake me up. Sort of a controlled gas explosion. The pilot light for this contraption was always going out, especially on cold wet nights, so that sometimes I had to live with chill until the maintenance could come and re-light it. Occasionally I was able to go down into the dusty dark basement and re-light it myself, but I needed a match on a long spindle to reach the pilot light. This was not too safe an operation so I usually left it for the experts. I am amazed that my old house in Cambridge has not gone up in a blast of gas.

For all I know, a punked-out pilot light may be the only thing wrong with my current furnace, which is a much safer and more modern gas heater. Fortunately, no gas is escaping. This furnace is fairly new and was only installed about ten years ago. I am not trying anything by myself. There is dust everywhere and when the heater did go on, it agitated a large amount of "particulate matter" all over my apartment. I have lived here for fifteen years, believe it or not. Depending on my financial situation as 2007 progresses, I am hoping to move out of this place to something larger and a bit more modern.

Meanwhile I live the life of the artist in the unheated garret, lacking only a masterpiece or two to justify my not-so-romantic period of modest discomfort.

Posted at 3:16 am | link

Sat, 17 Feb, 2007

Back to the Electronic Drawing Board

I finished the pencil drawing for my current project, the portrait of the comic book store's little blue bungalow. This was done the old-fashioned way, with a pinpoint graphite lead on solid heavy watercolor paper. I will be drawing the penwork with two or three different kinds of ink, both in sepia and black. One of my pens is somewhat new-fangled, since it is a ballpoint gel-pen that writes in brown: the "Uni-Ball Gel Grip" made by Sanford, the wonderful corporation that is also responsible for Prismacolor colored pencils and markers, and Sharpie markers, without which I would not be able to do my job. I have been seeking for decades for a sepia brown pen that would not need messy ink refills and would not fade. This Sanford pen, which uses recent gel ink and pigment technologies, is the best I have found so far. I placed some scribbles from it on a sunny windowsill and the ink has not yet faded in two months! Therefore Sanford is the winner and I will use it to draw my architectural work. But it is still an analog device, as digital art snobs will tell me.

I'm doing the art which will appear at my show this June, inshallah. (It is important to invoke some form of divine support when talking about future art shows, concerts, etc. as anything awful can happen up to and including disasters on opening day.) But I have had an art disappointment in another area, that is, my work at Starbucks. For the last three years I have been decorating the "coffee of the week" board at a number of Starbuckses in my local area. But now the dictate has come down from Starbucks Central that the boards must be completely changed every two weeks. They must follow the designs laid out in the Starbucks manuals which are updated regularly, and they must match the graphics of what Starbucks has presented for its current advertising theme. That means that my elaborate seasonal art borders are no longer wanted. I could still do it if I came in every two weeks and put art on the board, but I don't have the time or energy to do that.

I found this out in my "home" Starbucks, where my design had been erased and the childish chalk scratches of one of the employees had replaced it. When I asked to re-do the board, she told me that I shouldn't, because the district manager was coming in to inspect on the next day and everything had to be perfect. So I fumed into my almond latte while I watched the teenage barista draw third-grade graffiti onto the board that I had professionally embellished for more than three years. The personnel at this coffee shop are almost all new; only one still remains from years past. When I complained to another unknown barista at the register that I had done art here for years, she said, "Have you ever thought of putting your art on canvas?" Thanks a lot.

My venues for "public" art are now quite diminished, as I am currently doing only small sign design and lettering at Trader Joe's. The larger pictorial art will be handled by other signmakers, who are much better at doing the themes that the management wants. For the June show, I am doing only buildings and landscapes. I hardly ever go to science fiction conventions any more, and even when I do, the science fiction fans are no longer able to buy my work, as they age and their financial and physical health deteriorate. So if I wanted to continue to do fantasy art and graphics, which I enjoy doing, where would I do such a thing? Would I fill my already overcluttered dwelling with piles of colorful, but somewhat tacky and un-serious, and un-sellable, art product? If I continue to work with conventional materials in this genre, I realized, I will be out of luck. But if I work digitally, on the powerful graphics and art programs I am currently learning, then it doesn't matter how many pictures I create. I could create thousands of them, and they would all be preserved on no more than a short stack of DVD's.

Therefore I continue to devoutly read my "Illustrator CS Bible," and bow over my Macintosh keyboard as I learn the sacred practices one by one. "Select Same Symbol Instance," says the Book. "(This command) selects all of the objects with the same Symbol Instance of the currently selected object." If this were prayer, then I would be closer to God. After all, don't prayer and religious devotion work with symbols?

I can create anything I want in the secret haven of the digital studio, and no one can tell me that it doesn't fit the corporate theme. And if I want to show them to people, well, I know there are at least fourteen of you readers out there who might be interested in seeing them. I am not just a chronicler of buildings and cornfields.

This doesn't mean that I will abandon my analog ways, though. Most of my friends in the science fiction and astronomical illustration field have gone completely digital, and their output can be splendid, but it still has a kind of impersonal sheen that no amount of fancy fractalizing can quite disguise. I think there will always be a place for the old ways, even if they are drawn with new Uni-ball Gel Grip Symbol Instantiator analog stylus devices.

Posted at 3:23 am | link

Wed, 14 Feb, 2007

Winter Mix

This concise term, "winter mix," might denote something warm, friendly, and nourishing, like a bowl of dried fruits and nuts and a hot toddy beside the fireplace. But it's used in weather reports to describe what we in MidAtlantica are having right now: a rain of stinging ice pellets mixed with snow and almost-freezing liquid water. This sticks to everything that is outside, and will coat it with at least a quarter inch of solid ice, which I must chip off or melt off my Orange Car which now looks like a candied orange rind covered with sugar. That damn groundhog! He lied to us with that no-shadow trick. I thought we were supposed to have a No-Winter and an early spring. Global warming was going my way. But no, it's February for real.

I am back picking my way through what I learned in calculus the last few months. I re-lit the light of limits, and am now re-doing the devotion of derivatives. I haven't forgotten much, so I should be ready to move ahead on it soon. The Day Job is rather demanding these last couple of weeks, as remodeling is done within a few feet of my workplace with workers hammering, drilling, sawing, and clanking much of the day. Whatever was stored in the area being remodeled is now stashed in my workplace, leaving me only a few cubic feet to maneuver. Claustrophobia is setting in. Meanwhile, I struggle with the art direction, trying to decipher the latest in marketing strategy, which seems to change every few months. More coffee is necessary.

I'm starting another of my architectural images. This will depict the local comics and used book store, which is housed in what used to be a little bungalow home dating from the 1930's. I'm gonna make the "Hole In The Wall" look like a mansion.

Artifactual Metempsychosis

I owe this excellent title to Amanda, my Webmistress, whose upgrades to my site you may have noticed. All things have their name, living and unliving, and I underwent a crisis of nominalism once I traded in the blue Honda CRV for the Orange Honda Element. What would be "Electron Blue" now in the world of symbolic objects? All objects in this world are symbols, whether you know their meaning or not. We swim in a semiotic sea. And it's up to us, like Adam in the Bible, to put the names on those things which cannot or do not name themselves. With the name comes the soul, which I believe is not confined just to living or even natural objects. Even a toaster has a soul, though it would be a rather simple one. Perhaps the more complex the machine, object, or artifact, the more "soul" it might have. Thus a particle accelerator, one of the largest and most complex things ever created by human beings, must have a massive, if impersonal soul. And certainly cars and computers, which live with most of us far more intimately than a giant particle accelerator (unless you are a physicist at CERN or Fermilab) have souls.

Metempsychosis means the "transmigration of souls," which could mean reincarnation as the Hindus or Buddhists understand it, or a lateral transmigration of a soul from one object to another existing at the same time. And so once I said goodbye to the blue CRV, its soul needed to stay with me, to inspire this Weblog as well as my travels. It could not go to the orange car, for it was blue by nature. Remember, colors are symbols too. So where would the soul of "Electron Blue" end up?

It so happened that during the time of the car transfer, I also had both my PC computers re-furbished, with updated Windows and other software. (No, I am not ambitious, or daring, enough to get the new Windows "Vista.") I referred to this in an earlier Electron post from January 5 of this year, and stated what I hoped to do with the Electron Soul. This has now been accomplished. Unlike most human beings, computers can completely forget their past and start a new life as new persons. They don't even need "Witness Protection." My desktop system, which began its service in 2003 as "Pythagoras 2," is now "Electron Blue." Now if I were a real hardcore geek with a lot of time on my hands, I could turn my dull Dell into a fabulous sculpture, pop culture ornament, or neon-lit futuristic blaster, as those who follow the hobby of computer "case mods" do. But somehow, I'd rather do calculus and architectural perspective.

Meanwhile, I hear an ominous hissing noise outside my window as the rain of ice intensifies. There is a symbology for sleet, but I don't want to think about it. Hidden underground, the false prophet sleeps the winter away.

Posted at 3:19 am | link

Sat, 10 Feb, 2007

A Science Fiction Scenario with Relativistic Implications

Most of the scientists I know like science fiction. Some of them actually write science fiction. I grew up with the genre and consider myself a serious science fiction fan. For some of my artistic life I have been a science fiction professional as well. So I am pretty much familiar with just about any science fiction scenario, including those that involve violations of the laws of physics, unreal universes, impossible powers, and extrapolations from esoteric physics that are part of the current theoretical repertoire. I have also made up science fiction worlds and stories, though I haven't tried to get anything published; it's just private entertainment for me and a few friends. But since I know I have some high-powered scientist fans out there reading this, I want to offer up this set of s.f. questions which I have been pondering for many years. Here goes.

Let's imagine that in the distant future some form of star-drive that evades the speed limit of light has been discovered, and that humanity, or humanoids, as well as some non-humanoid alien races, have colonized a section of the Galaxy, perhaps a quarter of its circumference. They live in the "habitable ring" around the center, not too far from it and not too close to the dangerous radiation and crowding in the core area. They inhabit thousands of solar systems, but their range is limited. They cannot reach the other parts of the galaxy without going a very long, difficult distance around the core. So they are basically confined to one area of the galaxy.

Then someone discovers, or re-discovers, a way to reach all the way across the galaxy in one big jump. It's sort of like TV's "Stargate" or one of Babylon 5's "jumpgates," but instead of going a "short" distance of a few light-years, it is a Great Gate that bridges almost the entire 100,000 light year diameter of our galaxy. A group of colonists pass through this Gate, to a suitable world on the other side of the Galaxy. And then the Great Gate closes. The unusual astronomical circumstances which allowed the Great Gate have ceased, and may not be repeated for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. So the colonists on the new planet are cut off from their origin and must start their own civilization with what they have brought and what they can create from their planet's resources. They have not, for various reasons, preserved the advanced technological knowledge of their previous home, so they do not have any manned spacecraft or communications that can go beyond the solar system, let alone faster-than-light. Their level of technology is roughly equivalent to our current era, plus a few decades perhaps.

Now here are the questions. Our colonists know that they came from an interstellar civilization on the other side of the Galaxy. Is there any way that they could detect it from their new planet? The core of the Galaxy is in between the new settlers and the old civilization, which remains in the plane of the galactic disc. And then, if the old civilization is now 100,000 light years away, could any of their transmissions have even reached the new colony? Has the "parent" civilization had advanced technology long enough for its electronic signals to traverse the Galaxy, before our colonists set forth? From the frame of reference of the new colonists, does the old civilization still exist?

If a science fiction scenario admits faster-than-light, or wormhole, or teleportation travel, then space-time as relativity knows it, is violated. Star Trek's "Enterprise" and its successors dashed about the Galaxy and somehow managed to keep in time synchronization with not only the home planet but all the other ones they visited. If it was February 2307 on Earth, it was also February 2307 on the Enterprise, as well as on Deep Space Nine. I have long pondered how this synchronization could be maintained. My idea was that the interstellar network connected by "sub-space" communications and faster-than-light travel would produce what I call a "temporal island" where an artificial synchrony of time was maintained. As soon as that communication was broken, however, for a sufficiently long enough period, then the "natural" fabric of space-time would reassert itself, and the distant planet would no longer be tied to February 2307.

Now suppose that our new colonists, having re-developed their technology or re-discovered a way to make a Great Gate, get curious and want to go back and visit their old home. What will they find? Has the old world been progressing at the same rate as it has when they left it behind? Has it simply been existing in a parallel, but unreachable, "temporal island" which can then be re-connected to the colonists' time? Or does the re-attached Great Gate drop the returnees into another era entirely, nowhere near the time that they left?

This is where imagination goes where physics cannot. The old "Star Wars" introduction phrase, "Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away…" implies something that can only be imagined and never really detected. The galaxies that cosmologists now view with the Hubble and other space telescopes are seen as they were when the light that we now see left them. Astronomers are seeing light that is billions of years old. But those galaxies may still be "out there," going through time that may or may not go at the same speed that ours does (?). The galaxy we see as a chaotic inheritor of the early universe may "now" be an orderly place inhabited by advanced people who wear great-looking fashions. But a temporal synchronization that violates spacetime cannot exist, or can it? Thus we will never be able to really know what is going on in those galaxies "now," because there is no one "now" for the universe. Only our imagination can take us through the Great Gate.

Posted at 3:24 am | link

Thu, 08 Feb, 2007

Bible Study

Let us now open our Good Book to Chapter 3, Page 92: Drawing with the Pen Tool. We read: "Drawing with the Pen Tool is the most powerful tool in Illustrator's arsenal because you are dealing more directly with Bezier curves than with any other tool…" And who was Saint Bezier? A Doctor of the Church of Computer-Aided Design. He was a Frenchman who lived from 1910 to 1999, a true saint of the twentieth century. It was Monsieur Bezier, an engineer and mathematician, who came up with the equations that allowed curves to be drawn with four points: two "anchor points" and two "control points" connected to "handle" lines. The math is simple enough that even I can more or less understand it. All computer-aided line drawing programs have their origin in this sort of mathematical discovery.You can see an illustration of the Bezier curve equations at this site.

I sit hunched over my little white Macintosh laptop, pushing my mini mouse around. I am determined to learn Adobe Illustrator. Professional graphic designers do not use CorelDraw on a PC, as I have been doing for fifteen years. They use Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop on a Macintosh. So here I am with SoyMac, in my usual methodical, step-by-step learning style, going through a book which will teach me to use the professional program. The book actually is named a "Bible." It is the Illustrator CS Bible," by Ted and Jennifer Alspach. I also have a companion volume in the same series (perhaps the Koran? The Avesta?) dealing with Adobe Photoshop. These modern Scriptures, written and perused with as much devotion as a holy text, will teach me, by chapter and verse, how to use the software by which God, the Author of All Mathematics, created the visual world.

I have already learned how to use the Pencil and Pen tools, and am now about to learn how to use the Brush Tools. It doesn't matter that I know how to use a "real" fiber brush. I must now translate that technique into the drier structure of a stylus and digital tablet or a mouse. Illustrator/Photoshop gives you great freedom in what you can do visually, but it also limits my vision to a little screen full of pixels, however high their resolution. I'm still waiting for the Universal Painting Monitor where you can create work right on the screen with an electronic brush. These exist, but are beyond my budget or modest computer power. I have another software program, the impressive Painter 9, which provides more "natural" painting effects that artists in traditional media will recognize. Currently I'm not working with it, because I want to learn Adobe. But when I'm through with my Bible study and am up to speed on the Macintosh, I will return to Painter 9 and upgrade it to Painter 10, which has just been released this week.

Meanwhile I am drawing lots of shapes and lines on the Mac's screen, and filling them with pleasant colors from the electronic palette. Some of these shapes, drawn by the "Pen" tool, can be filled in so that they look like abstract, "jazzy" 50's graphics. Back in those old days, the graphic designer had to draw them all by hand using French curves, bendable ship's curves, and rulers. Now an Adobe user (and a Corel user as well) can toss these off in a few minutes, with the nonchalance of a beret and a swizzle stick. Now I'll try the "Spiral" tool, which is grouped with the Pen, the Straight Line, and the Arc tools. Here's Pythagoras' Golden Spiral, pre-fab on a mystical machine from the Gods. Now I want to try a Chambered Nautilus, or a spinning atom, and I fool with the Spiral parameters….
Suddenly my doodle page disappears, replaced with the Mac desktop and an apologetic message, which says something like, "Adobe has encountered difficulties and had to close." Wait a minute, I thought Macintosh, and Adobe, didn't do things like that. Macs don't crash, they just pout. As a Windows user, I'm used to "restarting." I guess I'll have to restart Adobe, but not right now; I've had enough religion for tonight.

Posted at 2:41 am | link

Sat, 03 Feb, 2007

The Sheet Metal Cowboy

My next urban landscape picture is done. This is the building across the street from the "Exterminator Moderne" building I showed last fall. "Dixie Sheet Metal," as their sign proclaims, has been in business since 1945. That's more than sixty years. They create "hoods, exhaust systems, ducts," and other "metal fabrication to order." Sometime during their long history, the sheet metal guys built an eight-foot-tall figure of a cowboy, jauntily pointing to their shop. He's been a fixture there as long as I can remember. The facade of the office is also of interest, as it has a miniature, vernacular and abstracted version of a "Dixie" southern neo-classic architectural portico. This picture, if all goes well, will be in my June show at Falls Church Art and Frame.

"Dixie Sheet Metal" is watercolor and ink on paper, 10" x 16".

Posted at 3:27 am | link

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Cosmic Variance
Life as a Physicist
Cocktail Party Physics
Bad Astronomy
Jennifer Saylor
Thus Spake Zuska

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