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 It is no longer being updated.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, 30 Mar, 2008

Purple and Red Abstraction

I just finished the first of a series of small geometric abstractions, which I hope to exhibit at Balticon, a science fiction convention this Memorial Day weekend. I've gone to Balticon for almost thirty years, though in recent years I haven't participated as much as I used to. I'm hoping to be back in their art show and to do a painting workshop as well.

My geometric abstractions qualify, if only marginally, as "science fiction" or "astronomical" paintings, since I always include some starfields or other cosmic elements. The curved and straight lines of the composition are also inspired by mathematical graphs. These pictures are quite different from the "conventional" art in the show featuring barbarians, elves, babes, vampires, and spaceships.

Making geometrical abstractions is a rather simple process, I must confess. I don't agonize over any part of this type of painting. Creating the linework takes maybe a half an hour at most. I have a collection of rulers, French curves, and bendable curve instruments which can give me whatever line I want. Once I have the linework drawn on the paper or board, I choose a color scheme and fill in the shapes made by the intersection of the lines. If art is enhanced by suffering, and made profound by a long struggle to create it, I guess these abstractions don't qualify. But if I want nice-looking stuff fast, this is the way to go.

"Hot Track," acrylic on purple colored thick paper, 12" x 9".

Posted at 4:14 am | link

Sat, 29 Mar, 2008

Trigonometric dim spring

I try to do a couple of very simple trigonometric problems every day. These are so simple that if I had a math professor he would chastise me for doing work way below my estimated competence level. I have always had the temptation to do this anyway, as I have never, ever been confident of my competence in any academic subject. I can always get a minuscule boost by doing a simple problem right. It has been a long, long time since I got a complex problem right.

I just reviewed co-terminal angles, spinning the unit circle's dial round and round finding angles which are 360 degrees apart from each other, and finding equivalents to these in both negative and positive angles. I have worked through elementary trigonometry twice and have never quite gotten this concept, as well as positive and negative sines and cosines.

Trigonometry is very much connected with calculus, so I do hope someday to really master trigonometry and return to calculus. I feel that I need to be so familiar with my sines, cosines, and trigonometric identities that I can recognize it and work with it at any moment. Only then will I "deserve" to go back to calculus. Another thing that I need to review is sequences, progressions, and sums of these progressions, which will become important later as well. It's also possible that I will never get beyond all this, and make no progress, because I forget it as soon as I've learned it, as I've already done two times.

Posted at 4:20 am | link

Sun, 23 Mar, 2008

Shenandoah prospects

I just returned from a short visit to Staunton, VA, where I stayed with friends and re-visited a downtown frame shop and gallery. I brought with me a series of Shenandoah Valley landscape scenes, some of which you have seen on this Weblog. The owners loved them and the pictures will be marketed at the gallery. I am interested to see whether I can sell art in a smallish town in Virginia. Local promoters are trying to turn Staunton into a historically preserved tourist town with antique and craft shops, as well as cafe's and restaurants and cultural events. It won't be like Asheville as it is too socially conservative to allow stoned hippies to wander the streets. At least I hope so.

Staunton is full of nineteenth-century architecture, some of it renovated and lovingly preserved. Other examples are in need of much repair and care. I toured the town with my friend as he pointed out various excellent buildings full of Victorian design and woodwork. Perhaps investors or homebuyers will buy these residences and restore them to their nineteenth-century glory. Meanwhile, I was able to do my first outdoor on-site drawing of the year, illustrating one of these vintage houses. Later on I photographed a lot of cows, so that I will have good references for more pastoral landscapes.

Posted at 1:26 am | link

Thu, 20 Mar, 2008

Time may vary in your area

I recently read the "His Dark Materials" trilogy by Philip Pullman, a highly philosophical "young adult" fantasy series. The first book, called "The Golden Compass" in the USA, was just made into a movie which I hope to see on my home screen soon. The movie was not a huge success and there are no plans to make the other two books into films, but I would rather see it through the lens of my own imagination anyway.

In the trilogy, for those who haven't heard of it, the story is about a young lady named Lyra, who lives in an alternate world to ours. She finds a way to travel from one parallel universe to another, finding friends and foes along the way and helping to save the multi-universe from…something, it wasn't clear to me just what that was.

Note how easily I toss off the idea of "multiple universes" or "parallel worlds." I shouldn't be so easy about it. The idea of multiple universes was proposed decades ago by physicist Hugh Everett, whose ideas were rejected by the physics leaders of the day. Now, it is common to read about it in the popular science media, and it has become, if not mainstream, certainly part of the modern theoretical scene.

The only problem is that these parallel universes, even if they exist, can't be found or proved to exist, at least with current technology. There is a kind of wishful hope that the grand and glorious new Large Hadron Collider just starting up at CERN near Geneva will somehow reveal these parallel worlds. The physicists there are hoping that perhaps a particle squirted out from a high-energy collision will escape into one of these other worlds, to be counted out only by its absence. This has never been recorded from any other atom smasher, but they are hopeful with this one.

Even if a particle or two really did find its way into another universe, there's no way that anything as large as a human being could make the trip. And there's also no idea of what that alternate world might be like. Some versions of string theory propose that there are an almost infinite, or even really infinite number of these worlds, each one having different properties and physical laws. The alternate worlds that the Pullman characters pass through all support human life, otherwise there wouldn't be much of a story.

But the differences between alternate worlds may be more radical. I have not heard anyone talk about this, but what if time itself went slower or faster in these worlds? Relativity proves that time goes slower as the observer goes faster, but what if a whole alternate universe was relativistic? In the Pullman books, time seems to go at the same rate in all of the worlds (which makes the story possible), but there's no reason why it should. There are myths about a person taken into the world of the elves or fairies, who spends what he considers to be two weeks, and yet when he comes back into his own world, twenty years or more have elapsed. To me this seems like a mythic version of relativity, anticipating the famous "twin paradox" where one twin makes a space voyage almost at the speed of light and comes back to an Earth where his other twin is old or long gone.

So if a particle escapes into another universe (or dimension — how different are they?) how do we know that it won't travel into another time zone where it, and things made from it, live forever by our limited standards? Or perhaps the opposite is true. Something, or someone, could stumble into a parallel world where time goes far faster than ours, and he might come back to our world twenty years older when for us, only a second has passed. And somewhere "out there" in the endless variety of dimensions, there may be some where time simply doesn't exist, a universe that is one immense black hole. That is best left for dark fantasy.

Posted at 3:16 am | link

Sat, 15 Mar, 2008

Hundreds of problems inside

I have not talked very much about math in this Electron recently, but that doesn't mean I am not doing it. I needed to go back to trigonometry so I've been working with the "For Dummies" reference and workbook. (The French translation of the "Dummies" titles, "Pour les nuls," somehow sounds more sophisticated.) The bright yellow and black workbook cheerfully promises me "Hundreds of problems inside." Usually, hundreds of problems is not a good thing, but here at least they can be solved. I sometimes do a problem or two before I go to sleep, just to feel as though I have solved something that day.

So far I have been working with very simple things from the junior high school repertoire, problems about graphs and lines and slopes which still make sense from a calculus perspective. Perhaps a gung-ho mathman would think that I have regressed and lost a big chunk of IQ points for doing the simple stuff over again, but this is something I never quite master. I feel that I will always need to do the very elementary things once in a while to get back some skill before returning to the more difficult advanced material. And I am not fooling myself into thinking that I am really "advanced."

Another thing which I really like about the "Trigonometry for Dummies" workbook is that it gives you space right there on the page to work the problem out. I don't need to strew math-written papers all over my studio or keep a big sheaf of something covered with eraser leavings. No one else is going to use this book, so I can write in it all I want. It's a place of order and serenity, all self-contained, just for me, always patient no matter what the time or place, and, unlike real life, furnished with the right answers.

Posted at 4:10 am | link

Tue, 11 Mar, 2008

Red Cadillac Tiki Drive Thru

I finished the display I was building at Trader Joe's. The Drive-Thru is now occupied by a Tiki Guy driving a red 1955 Cadillac Eldorado convertible. All of this is done in foamboard, painted with spray paint and acrylic markers, and assembled with hot glue and two-sided tape. This is on the other side of the top of the cabinet where the "Tiki Village" A-frame miniature is.

The Cadillac is not done in proper perspective or proportions. I know this. If I had done the car and driver in the proper proportions and perspective for this miniature scene, all you would be able to see would be the front end of the car with no driver or much of the windshield visible. Viewers are looking up from floor level at this assemblage, so a "true" perspective wouldn't work. The Tiki Guy is picking up a sandwich in his outstretched hand, just as Trader Joe's hopes the guests will.

Posted at 4:12 am | link

Sun, 09 Mar, 2008

Sun Rain

Yesterday, March 8, brought some turbulent weather to my area. Fortunately it wasn't like the weather in the Midwest, which dumped feet of snow on Kentucky and Ohio. But there were roiling masses of grey cloud, and above them sunlit piles of white cloud, rolling overhead at high speed. Among the clouds every so often was a patch of clean blue sky. And when the big grey cloud was overhead, down came the rain.

Since the sky was only partly cloudy, though, the sun shone through a break in the clouds even as it was raining. It was sunny and rainy at the same time! The rain, in the sunlight, shone like falling silver. I looked for a rainbow, but didn't see one. The sunrays, though, illuminated the rain high above in a suitably Divine fashion, lacking only an angel or two for Biblical verisimilitude.

I have not seen this phenomenon of "sun rain" very often. The only other memorable time I have seen it was outside of Vienna, Austria, at the Grinzinger Friedhof. This is a cemetery where many famous people are buried. The most famous of its graves is that of composer Gustav Mahler, author of hugely tragic symphonies and song cycles. In spring 1976, when I was traveling in Central Europe, I made a special pilgrimage to this grave to pay my respects to Mahler, one of my favorite composers. The monument and gravesite can be seen here.

When I was there, the flowers were blue lobelia planted in the earth, rather than the colorful ones you see in the tourist's picture. And as I stood there, the weather was just as I experienced it here yesterday. The sun shone, but rain fell at the same time. There was happy sunlight and sad rain together at Mahler's grave. It was much like Mahler's music, which often puts cheerful major and grim minor chords together at the same time. Conductor Bruno Walter, a friend of the composer, reported a similar mix of torrent and sunshine during Mahler's funeral.

Posted at 3:48 am | link

Wed, 05 Mar, 2008

Being Constructive

For the first time in my life, I am building something. I have wanted to build something for a long time. This building is not made of wood or put together with bolts or nails, but it is a three-dimensional construction. In a previous entry I showed the "Tiki Village" diorama which I created for one side of a Trader Joe's display. I am now building the other side of the scene, which is a "Tiki Take-out" window and drive-through done in "retro-Hawaiian" style. (I am now firmly convinced that a "real" Hawaii does not exist.) This display is more elaborate than the previous one, with a backdrop and lots of (miniature) stage-set effects. Everything is made out of painted foamcore cut-outs; no wood is involved anywhere.

As I say, I have never built anything in my life. I grew up watching lots of carpentry and small-scale construction, but it was inconceivable to me that I could actually do it myself. Nor was I invited to participate. In my ethnicity and social class, a girl simply would never do carpentry or construction. It was just too dangerous. High school shop classes were off limits for girls. "Don't touch those tools, you could hurt yourself!" "Don't use that saw/razor blade, you'll cut yourself!" "Don't bang that hammer, you'll hit your finger!" "Don't touch that, it's sharp!" "Don't climb on that ladder, you'll fall off and break a bone!" And even more, NEVER go near those high-powered tools like band or skill saws you will lose body parts! After all those messages, I understood that carpentry and construction were far too risky for me to undertake. All construction workers I observed were male. Somehow boys and men were born with an instinct to hammer, saw, chop, bang, and build things, and they took to it naturally, with no one telling them that the knife or the saw or the drill or the axe was inevitably going to injure them. Perhaps the boy learning carpentry naturally with male relatives was expected to experience the risks and consequences (including injury) of working with construction tools and wood.

So I went into art and words rather than wood and metal, and over the decades the risks in my life multiplied and multiplied. A woman's life is one of constant and unremitting fear, day in and day out. The urban, suburban, and rural environment is jammed with thugs and rapists and things which can hurt or kill me. The roads are filled with hurtling vehicles driven by negligent drivers who are talking on their cellphones, or who could be drunk or just oblivious to me. Not only the environment, but my very own food is a threat. It is filled with fat and sugar and salt and other substances which will make me overweight and unhealthy. A younger man (wearing a construction belt loaded with tools) can eat with impunity what I, as an Older Woman, must shun. The world, as I grow older, becomes more and more constrained, and the temptation to go into the cocoon becomes stronger.

I got the chance to build something at work. Of course this was not full-size construction of wood and metal and composite; the male employees build those. This would be lightweight foamcore board glued together with melted plastic "hot glue," but it would still be a construction. I have a background doing two-dimensional traditional architectural drawing, but have never built an architectural model. I would have to do this with no instruction.

Even though I have not formally tested high on "spatial recognition" (supposedly a talent enjoyed much more by men than by women) I have a fair amount of 3-D visualization ability because of my architectural training. So without even drawing up plans (sorry, no time for this) I extrapolated what type of pieces I would need to cut and put together to make the Tiki Hut and Drive-Thru. I did some measuring on the "site" and drew the designs right on the foamboard. Then I took an X-Acto knife and…

OMIGOD I'm using an X-Acto knife! I could slice myself at any moment! It's tiny and sharp and…I cut the foamboard to size and assembled the pieces. No blood was shed. (But I could KILL myself doing this! I could slice my wrist! I could…) I painted the pieces and glued them together with hot glue. (No! Not hot glue! I could burn myself on that ominous pistol-like glue melter!) I applied more paint and design and quickly built a tropical-style A-frame. I will not say that this thing fit together perfectly. It didn't. There are all sorts of places where if this were a real building, it would not work. But it's basically a miniature stage set, and if the audience doesn't see it, that's all right then. I have never built a stage set, but I give much credit to a stage designer friend of mine who lives outside of Philadelphia and has built a miniature city in his basement complete with steel mills and ore boats. I never actually took lessons from him, but I watched him make stuff, and I guess some of the skill managed to transfer to me anyway.

Then it was time to place the construction on top of the cabinet where it would entertain the sandwich-buying customers. This meant that someone would have to climb up a ladder, push all the debris and dust away from the top of the cabinet, and put the thing up there. That person was me. OhmiGod so much dust on top of the cabinet I could inhale it and get an allergy attack! I inhaled it and sneezed. You mean I had to climb a ladder? I'm too old and frail to climb a ladder! I could fall off and get badly hurt! But someone had to put the thing up there. A co-worker helped by holding my building until I was somewhat stable on top of the ladder. Curious customers walked by watching. The foamcore was light, but it was also fragile and unwieldy, even more so than I was. I placed the assembly and managed to descend safely from the ladder! How dangerous was that! And I was able to pick up the ladder and return it to the back room with all the other very dangerous things like hand trucks and boxes of supplies and heavy pallets of goods, without getting bruised or crushed.

I didn't do this just once. I did it many times while working on assembling the different parts of the displays. I have been told that I may have to do more installations of this kind if the manager likes the Tiki Hut and Take-out. I must be wary. It is possible that I might have a dangerous and unladylike desire to do construction with real wood and tools, even outside the store's workplace.

Posted at 9:08 pm | link

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