My weblog ELECTRON BLUE, which concentrated on science and mathematics, ran from 2004-2008. It is no longer being updated. My current blog, which is more art-related, is here.

Tue, 28 Nov, 2006

Switching to Winter

My year, like that of most people, is marked by rituals and transitions. For the last twenty-one years, my entry into winter has been celebrated at Darkovercon, from where I have just returned. The weather here in MidAtlantica isn't very wintry, though. Even though it is still mild, I put aside my colorful autumn garb and don the black and purple of December, and Advent. It doesn't matter if the religious ceremonial Advent isn't quite here yet, I still count it as such, as does the commercial world. After all, "Commercial Advent" and the appearance of holiday items and decorations has already been around for more than a month.

This was quite a successful DarkoverCon. Not only did I happily host my Salon on Friday and Saturday nights, with much pouring of wine and cheer, but I also sold a major painting to a collector. Longtime readers of the Electron may remember a picture that I did early in 2005, dedicated to the memory of the September 11, 2001 attacks, called "The Geometry of Remembrance." It can be viewed at this Electron entry. I included it in my DarkoverCon art show because I wanted to show it, but I put it "not for sale" as it was not really a "science fiction" or fantasy painting. It got a lot of attention from viewers, but one of my good friends, who has loved my art for a long time, was deeply moved by it and begged me to sell it to her. I told her that, since this picture was not for sale in the convention art show, it would have to be sold directly, outside the show, and I would have to charge her full "gallery" price for the piece. To my amazement, she agreed to that price and said she would write the check right away. She explained that she had recently come into some family money and now had enough to spend on things she loved. Naturally, I wasn't going to stand in her way, so "The Geometry of Remembrance" went home with her.

There have been some questions about whether an artist should sell work to friends at "public" or "gallery" prices. Should I have cut the price because I was selling it to a collector who was a friend, rather than just any collector? I did ponder this during the convention, but when she explained about her legacy and that she was now "financially comfortable" and could afford it, I went ahead and charged the full price. Had she wanted the picture intensely but was poor, I would have found a way for her to get it. I have traded pictures for craft work, massages, food, dental work, vacations, and collectibles, so I know how to negotiate these things. She felt that by paying the full price she was also supporting the art work of a friend.

I sold a few other pieces, including "Postcards from the Multiverse," as well as "Orange Cosmic Rays" from the previous entry. These went through the convention art show and their prices were much less than the "gallery" range. Friends bought these, too. Attendance at DarkoverCon, after all these years, has become something like a "family reunion," so there are few people there who are not friends or at least acquaintances.

Now I'm back at work in the gourmet store, surrounded by sweet holiday goodies. I have new co-workers, who are so far working very well. Despite the mild temperatures, the low sun and early darkness tell me that it is that season known as "Brumalia," the weeks before the Winter Solstice.

Posted at 3:06 am | link

Thu, 23 Nov, 2006

The annual gathering

I'm off to the Baltimore area this weekend for the annual gathering of my fantasy fan friends. This is the twenty-sixth year of the convention, and they are still not spelling my mundane last name right. I'll be exhibiting art and hopefully selling some of it. Most of the time, I will be socializing and partying and eating and drinking, including holding "Salon Pyracantha." I will have Thanksgiving dinner with some of these folk before I go on up to the convention.

As you might imagine, my day job work has been wild as people bought mass quantities of food for their feasts. Cases of wine flew out of the store, and by the end of the day the flower bins were just about empty. I did sign after sign for holiday goodies, and after a while I got a bit silly. Here is the last sign I did on the day before Thanksgiving. The "creative" spelling is intentional.

As all of you have your own Annual Gatherings, I wish a very happy Thanksgiving to the folks at home in Massachusetts, to all my Friendly Scientists, Mathematicians, and their families, to Jennifer S. who passed her calculus test, and all other Electron readers whom I may not know.

Posted at 3:45 am | link

Mon, 20 Nov, 2006

A Cheerful Little Pair of Paintings

I finished three paintings over the weekend. One of them was the hyper-realistic "Exterminator Modern." The other two were these, painted simultaneously with the same type of acrylic gouache, along with other media. I'll be showing these next weekend. Little space abstractions don't take a long time to do, are relatively easy to make, and give you a lot of color for modest bucks. They have no serious message to convey. The artistic process consisted of "Let's see what happens if I put this color here, these lines here, and use this new flat gouache paint I just bought."

The one on the left is called "Orange Cosmic Rays." The one on the right is called "Alien Eclipse." Both are 10 " x 7", mixed media on board.

Posted at 2:22 am | link

Sun, 19 Nov, 2006

Exterminator Modern

After more than two weeks I'm still not at full operating power, as I recover from the flu and bronchitis. But I am at work anyway, both in the store and in the studio. I have finally finished my latest architectural painting, which is in the series I have told you about, documenting the old industrial and commercial sites of Falls Church, Virginia. This painting is done in acrylic gouache, which I commented on before. It is excellent for architectural textures, especially painted surfaces and stucco. The title is "Exterminator Modern," and it is acrylic on board, 11" x 14".

Why "Exterminator Modern?" Because, as a close look will show you, this is the headquarters of an exterminator business, "Home Paramount Pest Control Companies." I estimate that the Mondrian-like building was built in the sixties or seventies of the previous century. I have long been fascinated by its modernist simplicity and bright flat colors. I hope to look into the history of the building to find out more about it.

I've been working hard on art, both for my annual upcoming show at "Darkovercon" north of Baltimore, and for what I hope will be a show of my architectural art in a Falls Church gallery. These art efforts mean that I have less time for mathematics and physics. I just have to learn at a much slower pace than if I were concentrating on it as a full-time student. Despite a few years' worth of unrealistic and dreamlike fantasies of mine, I will not ever become a professional scientist nor will I move in their circles. I wouldn't be able to stand the social pressures, let alone the academic and intellectual pressures.

In my last entry I wrote about "genius" and the cult of intelligence. We visual artists always have a secret suspicion that we are just not as intelligent as scientists or mathematicians. After all, visual artists using traditional materials push colored goo around on paper or board, rather like preschoolers, while physicists split atoms with multi-billion-dollar, incredibly intricate particle accelerators, or spin theories of mind-boggling complexity. It is this intellectual inequality which is part of my challenge, now six years old, to prove that a lowly visual artist can learn mathematics and physics.

But I've got to do what I do best, and so I am working more on art than on math and physics at this time. At least I can do pictures of buildings, especially "Exterminator Modern," which has a kind of geometric and mathematical precision that kills bugs dead.

Posted at 3:08 am | link

Wed, 15 Nov, 2006


Someone called me a "genius" the other day. It made me feel very nervous and I told them not to call me that. I am not a genius. If you think you are a genius, you aren't one. I would like to be one, but that would involve a lot of logical twisting. One very strong precept that I was raised with, states that you should never "get above yourself," or think you are better than you are. Egotism and self-praise and self-promotion were heinous sins, in a cultural milieu that otherwise never spoke seriously about "sin."

The word "genius," like the word "awesome," has become greatly debased in recent times. You can call someone who has clever moments, or a person who produces nice art or craft, a "genius," but that is too strong a word for mild competence. Mount Etna erupting is "awesome." Someone's embroidered blue jeans are not awesome. Many thoughtful writers claim that there is no such thing as genius, which lets us all off the hook. Some other ones propose that "genius," as Thomas Edison (who really was one) suggested, was much more a matter of capacity for work and perseverance than innate intelligence or talent.

I believe there are real geniuses. Physics and the sciences and engineering love geniuses. Everybody, even non-scientists, knows that Richard Feynman was a genius. There are even some still living today. The inventor Dean Kamen is a genius. String theorist Lisa Randall is a genius. There are artistic, musical, and literary geniuses too, but their status is much too controversial to mention here.

So, what makes a genius a genius? You can be brilliant, but you can be a failure, crazy, or a dolt. You can have all the intelligence in the world, but if it is not effective intelligence, it doesn't mean a thing. You can use your brilliance to make up an entire imaginary world including its languages, but unless you can write like J.R.R. Tolkien, (genius, fair enough), you won't be a genius, you'll be a fantasy-prone dweeb. Someone banging out a Weblog entry at 2:47 AM is not a genius. Why is that?

Because genius, as I just said, is about effectiveness. It's not only about the intelligence or the creativity, it's about what it does for the world. A genius does something, or makes something, which changes the world far beyond his or her personal circle. Genius physicists, such as Wolfgang Pauli, change the way scientists look at the world. Genius computer engineers such as Stephen Jobs, who invented the Macintosh computer, change how people live in the world. Genius artists (again, no citations to avoid controversy) change the way we look at the world. In other words, the work of these people is not only intrinsically great, but it changes things, hopefully for the better. There are evil geniuses who change the world, too, but I don't want to even remind you of them.

As I said a couple of entries earlier, I respect doing something much more than being something. Genius is as genius does. As a result, real geniuses are driven to do work all the time, even when they are supposed to be taking time off. They don't poke out a weblog entry in the middle of the night, they do calculations or research. They will appear as eccentric and obsessed, but they can't help it. One of the downsides of genius is that most of them aren't very pleasant people. My same cultural milieu which so valued humility, also valued intelligence, to such a point that it was willing to overlook a lot of bad behavior as long as someone was brilliant. So how much of a genius can you be before your bad behavior is excused? I've never been able to measure that.

Another thing about genius is that unlike the common assumption, genius is communicative. It happens in relationship with the wider world and an audience of receptive people. A genius poet could write the most wonderful verse, but unless it gets read by someone else, no one will know that the poet was a genius. Emily Dickinson wouldn't have been thought of as a genius if her poetry, most of which she hid during her lifetime, hadn't survived in manuscript form, to be published after her death. The art, the science, the music, the invention, needs to be communicated, and put into action, so that it can do its work of changing the world. A Nobel Prize does not confer genius, but the alleviation of generations of suffering, such as was accomplished by Jonas Salk's polio vaccine, would. There are no truly solitary, reclusive geniuses keeping their great work away from the corruption of the world. If the corrupt world doesn't hear of it and adopt it, then genius is lost.

This all sounds like wistful and childish hero-worship, and maybe it is. Good humanists don't like to dwell on heroic individual geniuses. We all have our own talents and our own little bit of genius. It would be good to democratize genius and allow us all our own form of intelligence; one in cooking, another in teaching, another in successful finance, yet another in basketball. There could be backyard geniuses with perfect compost piles, or craftsman geniuses who carve wonderful things in wood. This is comforting. But again there is still that notion that someone who makes an absolutely wonderful apple pie is competent, but not a genius. Someone who is great at crossword puzzles is wordy and intelligent, but not a genius. All this talk of different kinds and levels of intelligence is a gentle way of trying to get out of the unnerving presence of genius. Local competence might change a family, or even a neighborhood, but not the world. Is that effective enough? If you have to wonder whether you could be a genius, you are back in the trap, and you are disqualified. And if you want to be a genius, not only are you not one, but you are condemned to mediocrity, finishing out a Weblog entry at 3:30 AM while the real geniuses are whirring in their workplaces.

Posted at 3:40 am | link

Mon, 13 Nov, 2006


"Sign Control" is my motto at Trader Joe's, and finally things are getting back under control as I have returned to work. I'm still coughing, and I'm on antibiotics for a bacterial bronchitis infection. I can never be glad enough that I live in the modern world, at least here in what is generally referred to as the "West." I have been told that I am not contagious but I am still taking precautions not to spread germs. The plague that has been afflicting New England is here in MidAtlantica now, and a co-worker called me during my work hours to report exactly the same wretched symptoms that I suffered about twelve days ago. I'm guessing I won't see him on the job for a while.

Meanwhile I'm back in my studio painting and, of course, doing calculus. If I've recovered enough strength to lift Anton's weighty tome, then I can surely work from it. I am still doing derivatives, a process I am now informed is called differentiation. To quote from the book,

"It is often useful to think of differentiation as an operation which, when applied to a function f, produces a new function f prime. In the case where the independent variable is x, the differentiation operation is often denoted by the symbol d/dx[ ], which is read, the derivative with respect to x of…"

So I have been differentiating, though I don't understand all the derivative problems in the book. Some of them feature neat but non-numbered graphs, where you are supposed to sketch the derivative of that graph's function. And then there's "Show that f(x) is not differentiable at…." Whenever I see the words "Show that…" in a math book, it means you are supposed to crank out a proof using math alone on a piece of paper. Drawing another graph in colored pencil and making some very rough sample calculations to give me a view of the "territory" doesn't count, although that's what I did. I hope for more enlightenment about these graph problems. I would like to do more derivative problems. I must really be getting better from the unpleasantness.

I did notice that after doing a bunch of derivatives from very simple functions, some patterns emerged that I could use to predict what the derivative was going to be without doing the math. As I turn the page, I see that chapter 3.2 talks about just these rules and many more emergent theorems.

Posted at 2:59 am | link

Thu, 09 Nov, 2006

My mother, artist Esther Geller

While I was up in Massachusetts to celebrate her eighty-fifth birthday, I visited my mother's studio where I saw many of her early works that I had never seen before. My mother has been a prolific and creative artist for more than sixty years, and some of these early works were indeed sixty years old. I didn't have time to photograph them, though I intend to, but I now have made enough good photographs of my mother's art through all her decades to create a Web gallery for her.

When anybody asks me where I got my art training, I always say that my mother was my main source for art education. I did go to art school for short periods, but my mother was always there to help me. It was from her that I learned about color, drawing, pigments, composition, media, and aesthetics. She encouraged me to draw before I could even write. I found some of my childhood paintings (of fantasy birds) in the portfolios of her work from when I was young.

One of my tributes for Mother's eighty-fifth birthday, then, is a Web-based picture gallery that anyone can look at. Mother's art shows are all local to the Boston area, but thanks to the global magic of the Internet, now people in California, Australia, and even Malaysia will be able to see her art.

Flickr is a wonderful Internet resource which features millions of photographs and digital artworks from people all over the world. It's free of charge as long as you don't upload too much material all at once. You can easily spend hours looking at people's photographs, linking from one subject to the next. It's the perfect place to display art as well, as long as it is decently photographed. Therefore I have placed a set of my mother's art on Flickr. You can go to it by clicking on the words.

Paintings of Esther Geller

Click on the small images of the paintings in Flickr to bring up a larger, complete image. I will upload more Esther Geller art when I have the opportunity.

Posted at 2:31 am | link

Tue, 07 Nov, 2006

Recovery by Brushstrokes

As far as I'm concerned, I've been suffering from the FLU and not a cold. No cold would be this damaging to my health. According to the "Weather Channel," flu has been reported in Massachusetts, where I just traveled, and I know many people in that state who have had the same illness, including my father. If it acts like the flu, puts you out like the flu, and stays like the flu, then by Ghod it is the flu by my reckoning, even if you would need a fancy virological test to prove positive or negative. I haven't been this sick in years. I either picked the plague up in Massachusetts, or at the crowded travel stops on the road back home. And I also remember that my worst bouts of flu over the years have happened in November.

Today I finally showed some signs of recovery, that is, I could sit up and handle a paintbrush and watercolor. My tea-water minor burns have disappeared. I am still coughing a lot, with head congestion, I can't talk, and I have no energy. But no matter what, I am going out to vote today (Tuesday November 7) even if I have to crawl to the polls. My "No Politics" rule here forbids me from saying any more than that. But I am still in no shape to go back to my rushed, active workplace in the gourmet store.

Since I value doing things as the most important thing in life, I am annoyed that this malady has prevented me from doing things. I don't subscribe to those quietistic philosophies that just value "being." If one has functioning resources and ability, I believe that it's what you do that counts. So I don't like it when the flu or something else takes away my functioning resources and ability. Of course, sooner or later something will take those capacities away permanently, but I hope that's later rather than sooner.

Anyway, I did something today for the first time in almost a week. I'm not up to resuming calculus yet, but I did this watercolor sketch of the autumn leaves out my window. It's about 7" x 8", with touches of gouache and colored pencil.

Posted at 2:30 am | link

Sun, 05 Nov, 2006

Adding injury to insult

Well, if you're sick with a respiratory virus you're supposed to drink a lot of hot tea, right? So I've been sipping and sipping. My tea water comes from a plastic device called a "Hot Shot" given to me by a dear friend many years ago. You put the water in, press the "heat" lever, wait for it to boil. It shuts off automatically and then you press another lever, labeled "Dispense," to drop the water into your cup. Easy, right? Not if you're befuddled like me. I use disposable styrofoam hot beverage cups (thank you, Hampton Inn) which are just right for one cup 'o' herbal tea. So I loaded the tea bag in, pressed "Dispense," and filled the cup. But what I did not notice, though I had noticed it before, was that the tag for the tea bag was caught in part of the shelving that the tea water machine was on. So when I picked up the tea cup, the tag pulled it back, the flimsy cup bent, and very hot water spilled all over my left hand, part of my right hand, and then all over the table and everything on it.

As a well-known sarcastic television comedy meme would put it, "Isn't that special." Brown tea water covered the table, soaked the placemat, and meanwhile I was barking with pain and annoyance. Naturally, it was about 1 AM so I couldn't call my friends for help. What could they do anyway? I quickly looked up what to do for minor burns in my health-maintenance reference books. Soak it in cold water, they said, until the pain goes away. If there's a blister, don't break it. Wrap it carefully if you have to work with it. I soaked and soaked. (I also made another cup of tea successfully, despite using only one hand. Only a glass measuring cup for my tea brewing now, thank you!)

Now after two hours of soaking it in cold water, the pain and swelling have finally gone down. Yeah, I really, really did not need this added inconvenience. Fortunately the worst of it is on my left hand and I am right handed. In fact I am now able to type with both hands, so it's recovering already (though I must be very careful with it). Later I will break open one of my many aloe plants and anoint the area with natural juice. Just another moment of late-night blundering under the weather. This has nothing to do with physics or calculus, unless you want to be really obnoxious and talk about heat transfer or leverage or gravity. Well, I think it's time for another cup of tea. Along with something stronger.

Posted at 3:16 am | link

Sat, 04 Nov, 2006

Electron under the weather

There hasn't been much posting on this Electron for the last week, because the Electron Driver, i.e. me, has been down with a nasty respiratory virus. This is quite prevalent in the Northeast of the USA and I'm sure you know many people who have it or perhaps you have it yourself. I either picked it up on my travels or at work. It took away my voice so I couldn't chatter, and, worse, it took away my concentration, so I can't do any art or any math. I can pointlessly websurf, or I can sleep, the latter being the best option. I am applying the usual remedies, such as lots of hot tea, over-the-counter pills, vitamin C, and, not least, a nice shot of Scotch before retiring for the night. I haven't been this sick in a long time, and I will watch closely in case it gets a secondary infection.

Fortunately I have good friends who are willing to help me and bring me more supplies of water and soymilk and cold pills. If this isn't the flu, it sure is a good imitation of it. So the Electron has lost a lot of energy and is dragging along. I will miss at least one day of work, maybe more if it doesn't improve. And I probably won't be back at my usual luminosity for quite a while. The baseball great Cal Ripken, Jr. was known to play games when suffering from the flu, since he was the "Iron Man" who set the record for consecutive games played. And I'm sure that many physicists and other scientists would keep working even when sick, because they are driven to do it by the pressures of career and personal desire. But I will just retire for a bit in my quiet room and wait it out until I'm back on track.

Posted at 7:44 pm | link

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