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 It is no longer being updated.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.

Thu, 31 May, 2007

Come to the show!

Hi there Electron readers near and far….it's showtime! How about that exclamation point in the title, didn't realize I could do that. Well I think this merits an exclamation point from the usually sedate Electron. My art show opens tomorrow, Friday, June 1, 2007, at the "Art and Frame of Falls Church" gallery right in the center of Falls Church. I will have a good selection of architectural, landscape, and abstractions, plus a box of prints. Guaranteed one hundred percent quality art and art by-products! For those of you whose computers can read PDF files, here's the newsletter for the event. And for those of you who need directions to get there, here is the site marked on Google Maps.

There will be coffee and pastries and homemade ice cream courtesy of local providers. There are plenty of good restaurants nearby, as well. I am delighted with the framing jobs that "Art and Frame" have done with my work. There will be people from all sorts of different communities there, maybe even some of my ambient musician friends I have never met in person. I will be at the gallery starting in early afternoon to help put my work up on the wall. Come on by if you can! The opening reception begins at 6PM eastern standard time. And if you can't get there for the opening night, the show will be up throughout the month of June.

Posted at 8:33 pm | link

Wed, 30 May, 2007

Bedo In Between

I have finished the last of the current Falls Church building series, with only three days left before the show. I'll frame it myself and bring it over to the gallery after work. Fortunately, the opening is on one of my off-duty days. I still have a lot to do. I have to make "museum cards" with the title and medium of the work on them, for each of the pieces. I need to catalog them and figure out a price for each one. Then I have to make sure that I have notified everyone who might want to come to the event. I expect to have a good time, if all goes well.

The last of these architectural studies is of Bedo's Leatherworks which has been in business in Falls Church for more than twenty years. They moved to their current location in 1998, in an old red house. A few years ago they took down the old red house and built a new beige house on the same location, which is the one in my picture. The business belongs to an Armenian family, whose patriarch, Bedros Doudaklian, founded it in 1977. "Bedo" was Bedros' nickname. The leatherworks is now run by his son, Steven.

The developers wanted to build modern multi-use buildings in that space, but Bedo's Leatherworks would not sell their new building over to be demolished, and would not move. They held out against the developers and so the new buildings were built around them. I depict Bedo's as it was in the autumn of 2006, when the big blocks were just beginning to rise on either side, built with impressive tall construction cranes. The large tree to the left is a yellow poplar or "tulip tree" which was originally going to be cut down during the construction, but was saved, at least for now, by the Doudaklians. As of late spring 2007, the buildings, still unfinished, are now as tall as the tree and have put the poplar in shadow for most of the day. In this situation, it probably will not survive, but Bedo's will.

The painting is called "Bedo's In Between," mixed media (watercolor and ink mostly) on illustration board, 14" x 16".

Posted at 3:00 am | link

Fri, 25 May, 2007

Starbucks Can Be Your Front Porch

I haven't been neglecting my artwork for Starbucks, despite all the action with the upcoming show. On Thursday I did the decoration for the coffee board at the Starbucks closest to me, where the manager, due to a misunderstanding, had previously forbidden me to do art there. After I explained to him that all the writing could be changed at any time, while leaving the decorative border untouched until I removed it, he relented. The customers love these pictures, and I am told that they generate a lot of attention and sales for the coffee shop. Since I do them during business hours, people always stop to watch me work on the designs.

This season, the Starbucks promotion theme is "Coffee on the Porch." Inspired by that, I've chosen to use Victorian architecture and porch details on the signs. This one is the best of the ones I've done in this series so far. I may not have a porch, but at least I can draw one, and sip coffee as if I were sitting there watching the world go by on a leisurely summer day that exists only in fantasy.

Posted at 3:41 am | link

Thu, 24 May, 2007

Oh no, not trigonometry again

In order to progress beyond simple derivatives, I am faced with a review of trigonometry. The Calculus Scripture that I follow, that is, Professor Anton's book, helpfully provides a quick review of trig (plus problem sets) in one of the appendices of the book. So there I am, reliving the struggle of 2004, a year I spent mostly on trigonometry. How much do I remember? I certainly remember the basics, that is, sines, cosines, and tangents, and how to solve a triangle and so forth. I could probably derive a vector with a bit of reviewing. The unit circle is still familiar ground to me. But calculus works with radians, which I didn't do very much with back in the trigonometric year. I must get more familiar with them, until I know my 2Pi from my Pi/2.

As longtime readers know, I always feel as though I am not doing enough. I should be much further along in my calculus studies than I am. My progress has been so slow that at the present rate, it would take me at least five years just to get through first year calculus. I can offer the excuses of having a day job as well as my other art work, and the pressure of my upcoming gallery show. But that isn't really an excuse if I were a True Scientist/Mathematician. I read about those scientists and mathematicians who are able to do incredible amounts of everything in the same twenty-four hours that I spend scrubbing sludge off plastic sign clips. How do they do it? How do they get the energy to pursue an academic career involving both teaching and administration, work on grant proposals, do research and publish papers, go to conferences all over the world, as well as run marathons, climb mountains, go to jazz concerts, see movies, write novels, play the saxophone, and even raise a family and possibly do the laundry? If they don't sleep and still stay alert enough to get all this done, then I want their drugs.

So all I can offer to my Friendly Mathematicians and Scientists is that I am still applying myself to the work, even if I could only do one problem or contemplate one page of text per day. At least I don't have to apply for grants to do it. Meanwhile, I am now working on the last of my series of architectural portraits for the Falls Church show. This is the largest of the portraits (though still small by artistic standards) and it depicts the whole story I am trying to tell. A recent but traditionally designed house, used as a business building, flanked by a large tulip poplar tree, is squeezed in by two massive construction projects. The owners of the house and the business refused to sell out to the developers, so they are stuck there in between. The fate of the tree is in doubt. You will see this current project when it is done.

I look longingly at the colorful splotches of rain and storms in other parts of the country. Here in MetroDC we have not had rain for quite a while, and the air has become a barely breathable pollen soup. I actually have to clear pollen dust off my windshield with the sprayer and wipers. But it's all "natural," so we can't complain, just sniffle and wait for it to disperse.

Posted at 2:30 am | link

Sat, 19 May, 2007

I Am A Stupid Mac User

You know those funny ads where the cute sort-of-bohemian Mac Boy wins out over dorky PC Man? That has kind of been my life since I got the iMac. But instead of being the Mac Boy, I am the dorky PC Man who has suddenly been transported into the hip world of the Macintosh. I keep expecting it to do what my old PC used to do, and instead am faced with a cleverly designed machine full of ironic references which I only vaguely understand. And many of the basic procedures require me to learn computer handling another way.

For instance, window management. You'd think I'd be familiar with windows (Windows) by now, but when Mac puts one up, it's an adventure. You only have to click your mouse once to get it to do anything. If you click twice, the machine is confused. The window appears to be trimmed in simulated brushed aluminum. There is a mysterious little oval at the upper right corner of the window, which seems to show or hide icons if you click it. At the upper left is something that looks like a traffic light on its side: three round buttons , one red, one yellow, and one green. I would think that red means "stop," yellow means "careful," and green means "go," right? Well, clicking on red makes your window disappear (though the program isn't off, the way it would be on a PC). Clicking on yellow causes your window to be sucked down a spacewarp and shrunk into an icon at the bottom. If you can find this icon again and click it, it will re-inflate into your work window. The green button, as far as I can see, doesn't do anything useful. It changes the size of the window, but why would I want to do that? Down at the lower right corner of the window is a grey corner angle which, if I drag on it, will make my window the size I want. If I click the green button, the window returns to the size I had it before. Or something like that.

Then I want to save something I've been working on. Instead of having the "Save" command on the window, it has it on a list up at the top of the whole screen. How do I know what I'm going to save? Maybe it's saving something I inadvertently "disappeared" by clicking on the wrong thing! If I want to open another program, I click on the colorful icon down on the "dock" at the bottom of the screen, and it bounces as if it is eager to be activated. Which I know is a lie, because in my experience no computer programs really want to work. Some of my more elaborate programs, such as Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop, heave themselves onto the screen as reluctantly as I heave myself out of bed. And if I click on the wrong thing, Adobe disappears from the screen entirely.

As a former PC user, if something disappears from the screen, that means it's GONE. Macs have ways of hiding things so I think they're gone, but they're not. And then when I don't want something to be gone, then I find I've destroyed it. I dragged an icon that didn't look right into the "trash bin" and emptied the trash, only to find that I hadn't just deleted the icon, I had deleted the whole program. There was no poisonous yellow triangle with an exclamation point to advise me, "You are about to delete a whole PROGRAM, stupid, do you really want to do that?" Instead, I deleted my entire copy of Photoshop, and had to re-install it from the CD. Maybe Macintosh expects all its users to be hip young men in soft black sneakers, who have grown up with computers and understand technology without even being instructed in it. But that is a whole other topic for another day.

I have succeeded in seizing up my Macintosh. It's a lot harder to do this than on my old PC, which would seize up at any opportunity and give me the dreadful red X that said I had done something illegal or immoral. When I confuse my Macintosh, it turns my cursor arrow into something referred to by Mac users as the "Spinning Beachball of Death." This is a multi-colored spinning circle which signifies that I am a stupid Mac user who can even make this marvel of technology fail. Fortunately, re-starting it always works. I am used to re-starting, because I had to do this with my PC all the time. I am wary of a computer which stays on too long and handles too many programs together, without giving me some kind of complaint or just plain quitting.

One thing I do fit into with the Macintosh demographic is the visual arts thing. Arty people are supposed to have Macs. I have never had as luxurious a display as this 24-inch diagonal screen. It makes my pictures look like something out of an iMax (not iMac) movie. Printing them on my printer is another matter. Even with the current downloaded driver for the printer, my pictures come out kind of grey and dim unless I fool around artificially enhancing the image on Photoshop. Which fortunately I was able to re-install without trouble. I will be even more glad if I can install and use Painter 9 (or upgrade to Painter 10) without getting too many spinning beachballs. That's the thing about Macintosh. It's too good for me. I need to absorb more computer hipness and cleverness, before I can be worthy of it.

Posted at 3:40 am | link

Wed, 16 May, 2007

Nostalgic State

Another painting for my show is done. Although my show is about the "forgotten architecture of Falls Church," this one depicts the State Theatre, a well-known landmark that won't disappear any time soon. It's an old Deco-style movie theater which has been transformed into a place for popular music concerts, usually rock or country or blues. At one point the building was abandoned and might have gone the way of other lost local architecture, but as long as the bands play and the people come to the concerts, the State will survive.

The reason I am including it in my show is because the gallery-owner asked me to make a painting of it. This is a matter of civic pride. Just as Rockport, Mass. has its famous artists' subject, a "picturesque" old fishing shack nicknamed "Motif no. 1," Falls Church has its colorful State Theatre. Therefore I am happy to make a picture of it just to honor the town I've lived in for more than 17 years. There are other artists' renditions of it in the gallery, and now they'll have mine. As with my Mysterious Tailor Shop, I've portrayed the State in golden winter evening light, adding a single pedestrian casting a long Edward Hopper-esque shadow. The art is 11" x 14", ink and watercolor on board.

Posted at 3:08 am | link

Sun, 13 May, 2007


It's that special time of year, just a few weeks of balmy green May, when the warblers migrate through our area. Warblers are tiny, active birds which live half of the year in South and Central America, and then make the long journey up into the northern United States and Canada, where they make their nests and breed. They appear just as the leaves of the deciduous trees are almost all out, and the tree-flowers are blooming. Warblers eat caterpillars, insects, and other things which only are available at this time of year. If the warblers come too soon or too late, they won't have anything to eat. So it is all precisely timed.

Their songs are not really warbling at all; they are more like squeaky whistles and tweeting, often so high that older people might not hear them. But though they are high-pitched, they are also loud, and in the early morning bird chorus they hold their own. It's hard to tell one warbler song from another unless you are an advanced bird expert. They all seem to sound like zweet zweety-zweet zweet until you make the ultrasonic distinctions.

I would never claim to be an "advanced" birder, though I am an experienced one. I have friends who have seen thousands of species and go on foreign tours just to go birding in some exotic jungle. I am a backyard or park birder. I have a "life list" of species seen, but am not fanatic about adding to it. But I do like to go out searching for warblers when I hear their piercing songs because warbler-watching is such a challenge. It's certainly not like seeing robins or jays or crows or sparrows, who are always easily visible in the city environment. The warblers are elusive. They hide among the fresh green leaves and they are so light and agile that they barely jostle the branch they perch on. Also, most of them prefer to move around in the very tops of the trees, so you have to bend your head back at an uncomfortable angle just to spot them. Some birders call warblers "neck-breakers!" Some other warblers take a lower space, and can be equally elusive in the underbrush or smaller trees closer to the ground.

I find warblers both by the sound and by the movement. Once I see a tiny flutter in the treetop, I snap my binoculars to attention and try to follow it. Most of the time I am rewarded with a second's glance at a flash of color among the emerald leaves. That is enough for me to make a sight ID. Some warblers are a bit bolder and easier to see than others. The glorious American Redstart can put on a show, fanning his orange and black wings and tail on an exposed branch. But other tiny flyers like the Magnolia Warbler only appear for a few seconds at a time in between the leaves, its vivid black and yellow stripes like a road sign in the forest. And there is one warbler, the Blackpoll Warbler, who is almost impossible to see, because it creeps along branches rather than perching in the leaves, and its black and white stripes are good camouflage against the tree bark.

The different warbler species have their fly-through schedule in different weeks, or waves of migration. The first to arrive are the Yellow-Rumped Warblers who usually show up in late April. They don't have to migrate as far as the other ones, because many of them winter in the southern United States. After them come the Redstarts, the Yellow Warblers, and their relatives. Later, the rarer and harder-to-see species flit through, hidden among the leaves. Last, in late May, come the Blackpolls. They are the rear-guard of the migrating warblers, and when I hear their nearly ultrasonic high calls, I know that warbler season is almost over.

If I hear a warbler song, and I have time, I rush out of my dwelling with my binoculars and look into the trees. I also make some birding time in local parks and even parking lots near forests. I have had plenty of birding success peering into the woods in the parking lot of my old workplace in urban Tysons Corner, Virginia. It is a great satisfaction for me to spot the brilliant color of one of these living flowers among the foliage. I also know that these birds, while not yet "endangered," are threatened by habitat loss in their southern winter residences. Some years I hardly see any at all. But this year so far is a good year for them, and just now the fresh trees are filled with the sounds of bright visitors.

Posted at 3:52 am | link

Thu, 10 May, 2007

Virtual Night Flight

In the darkness of the early morning hours, I contemplate storms over Kansas. My favorite website is The Weather Channel local information which gives moment-by-moment accounts of all weather activity anywhere in the United States and even in some places outside the USA. It includes my favorite online application, the "Interactive Weather Map," which combines a Doppler radar screen with aerial views of the land as well as road and city maps.

The screen shows storms as blotches of green, yellow, and red. The green is lighter rain, the yellow heavier. Red indicates thunderstorms and drenching rain. Points of darker red in the red areas are violent storms and possibly tornadoes. There has been a lot of red over Kansas in the last week. This is not due to Kansas' political orientation as a "red state."

My friend, back home in Lawrence, has confirmed that what she discreetly refers to as "dynamic weather" has been pounding her region, including Lawrence. The river there is close to overflowing and there is some flooding in low-lying areas. Meanwhile, back here in Metro DC, we haven't had any rain in more than a week. I'm looking for rain, looking for green clouds.

With the help of my virtual scope, I can imagine myself flying at impossible speed over the landscape of North America, and other places as well. I can peer down at farmlands, roadways, factories, villages, cities. I can zoom in close enough to see individual houses or stores. And if the Weather Channel's overviewer isn't working, I can always go to Google Earth's worldwide aerial eye, which is available online by going to Google Maps.

Some esoteric traditions believe that you can separate your "soul" from your body and travel across space, unencumbered by the laws of physics. Whether this is true or not, it is a feat of imagination achieved by most people only in dreams. But I can do this imagining while I am awake. The viewer screen only makes my imaginal journeys more accurate. I can imagine myself to be a point of pure perception, an astral falcon swooping like an Egyptian god-form over the prairies and the oceans, looking down onto the rooftops of temples and universities, flying tirelessly by day over endless fields. And by night I track towers of cumulonimbus clouds, illuminated from within by lightning fire, the red areas on the screen. There are more storms over Kansas, and though there is no rain anywhere near me, I hear the sound of distant thunder.

Posted at 2:50 am | link

Sun, 06 May, 2007

Derivative Art

The derivative problem list, as do all math problem lists, gets a bit more complicated with each successive one. And when deriving ratios of f(x)/g(x), you have to use the "quotient rule," which is a piece of multi-layered machinery. This is one of those algebraic things which involve calculations within calculations. As with my polynomials many years ago, as long as I keep track of things and keep my negative and positive signs in the right directions, I'll be fine. I solved one like that tonight. I don't know whether I will go through them all. It's been a long time since I learned something new in math and I need to move ahead.

My view of ScienceWorld has changed a lot since my starry-eyed introduction to physics. Scientists are still my heroes but I was dismayed to find that many of them are mired in the same miserable, hypercompetitive, alcoholic academic life that I left decades ago. Whatever I have failed to do in my life, and my failures are many, at least I have not had to worry about getting tenure. I have not spent precious time desperately trying to get grant money from a perpetually diminishing funding source. Nor have I had to marry into the caste as so many lady physicists do.

I wish that ScienceWorld were more like the old TV cartoon program The Jetsons which I and millions of other Baby Boomers watched in our enchanted early 60s childhood. I imagine dedicated, hard-driving scientists with silver hair, dressed in bright spandex garments with puffy shoulder trim, riding around their levitating laboratories on flying Vespa scooters. Theorists could ponder their mathematical mysteries while sitting under clear floating skydomes in the clouds. Or even better, I envision a "Legion of Super-Scientists" along the lines of the DC Comics team The Legion of Super-Heroes where colorfully costumed young aspirants could prove their worth with fantastic deeds and amazing inventions. Both of these fantasies take place in an optimistic, cheerful future which is, ironically, obsolete. But I digress.

I must admit that the negative portrayal of the scientist's life in blogs and books I have read over the years has made me less enthusiastic, or perhaps more exactly, less intense about learning my mathematics and physics. In my life, I have focused on various sorts of people, learning about their lives, with the possibility of joining their world and their career: diplomats, librarians, nuns, archaeologists, architects, scientists. In the end I am left with the world and the people I know the best: artists. Better the caste I was born into, than the caste I would have to struggle to join. My art may be "derivative," but at least I can do derivatives without distress.

Posted at 2:50 am | link

Thu, 03 May, 2007

No Place Like Home

It has been a very busy two weeks for me, with almost all my waking hours spent caring for people as well as driving around in my Orangemobile. I hope that all the people I care for were actually benefited by my work. I met lots of neighbors and musicians who are part of my parents' world up in Massachusetts. My only regret is that I did not get to work on clutter reduction in my parents' house. I can always do some of it back here in my apartment.

On my spring trips up to the Northeast, I am always impressed by the time lag in flowers and leaves. This has been an unusually cold April. That groundhog was a damned liar when he pretended not to see his shadow so that we would think that warm weather would come early. As a result, when I arrived in Massachusetts, the trees were still leafless, though some colorful early flowers were out. By the time I left, there were more buds and tree flowers but the temperature was still cool. As I drove south, it was as if I drove from early spring to almost full summer. Last night, lightning flashed over the New Jersey Turnpike at my stopover hotel. Here in Metro DC, summer is just about here, complete with moist breezes and the whine of air conditioners.

Fortunately, I don't have to go back to the day job just yet. I can rest up for a couple of days before returning to the organic roma tomatoes, bruschetta, and beef jerky. But now my show of architectural art is only a month away and I have two more pieces I want to do. So it's back to that drawing board. And what did I miss the most while I was on the road? Calculus, of course! Now I can finish that set of derivative problems I was working on, and move on to the next chapter.

Posted at 1:35 am | link

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