Meet Jake

May 7th, 2015

Jake1

This is Jake, the newest addition to our household. He was a neighbor’s dog.

Jake2

Things Jake likes #1: hitting us up for food, particularly if meat is involved.

I’m not sure how we ended up with him, other than he and our existing dog, Ryan, may have had a conspiracy. Jakey stayed with us on an emergency basis several months ago and Ryan took a shine to him. They played like little furry madmen. When the neighbor retrieved him after a week, we figured that was that and said our goodbyes.

Jake3

Things Jake likes #2: napping.

Jake and Ryan weren’t okay with this. Jake would shove his face under the neighbor’s fence gate and howl when we went outside, or escape and come scratch on our door. When that wasn’t going on, Ryan would insistently try to lead us over to Jake’s house. The dogs wore both us and the neighbor down. In the weeks and months that followed, the two of them had many play dates together and would sulk when they were apart. “Jake’s hiding under the bed,” the neighbor would report, “do you mind if he comes over?” Ryan would look at us like puppy murderers when we took Jake home after a play session.

Jake4

Things Jake likes #3: play-fighting with Ryan.

It was pretty clear that, at least in his mind, Ryan had adopted Jake. One day the neighbor walked Jake over and formalized it. The neighbor needed to move and wasn’t going to be able to have a dog for awhile.

Jake5

Time for more napping.

Jake and Ryan are now spending their days together doing happy dog things like passing gas, napping, hunting for rats, digging, and going for walks. They’re buddies. We weren’t planning on getting another dog, particularly one whose yaps are weapons of eardrum destruction, but sometimes one needs to accept love when it comes. Not all good things in life are planned.

Jake6

Getting cuddles from a human

Jake7

Aaaand … more play fighting

Jake8

Time for another nap

Jake9

More fighting, this time by my work table while I was foolishly attempting to work.

Jake10

Tidy dirt pile? Who needs that?

Jake11

Jake12

 Treat time, which is always a big hit with dogs.

Jake13

Fight time.

Jake14

Nap time. Do you see a pattern here? Naps, fights and walks with snacks in between.

Jake15

End-of-week “doggie soup”, made from the remains of a CostCo roast chicken and whatever veggies are okay for dogs

Jake16

Nap time.

Jake17

Beg for food time.

Jake18

Fight time.

Jake19

Napping with his bear.

We hope he’ll be happy here. We’ll try our best to give him a good home.

 

 

Maui

April 25th, 2015

Whee! It’s vacation photo time! Who doesn’t enjoy looking at the photos of random strangers and acquaintances?

ferns

My family and I went to Maui a couple of weeks back, sort of a short notice adventure. All of us were incredibly stressed out, so we put the bird and the dogs in boarding, threw some toothbrushes and swimsuits in backpacks, and headed for the airport.

haleakala3

These photos are in no particular order. Maybe that’ll spice things up. This one is of the western coast of Maui, shot from the top of Haleakala, more than 10,000 feet up. Note that we’re looking DOWN at clouds.

Haleakala2

Looking into the crater at Haleakala. (Haleakala is a shield volcano.) One can hike the crater, four miles each way. We didn’t, though. The altitude and the cold were a bit much. “I sure am glad we walk three or four miles a day,” I told my husband in a congratulatory fashion as we huffed and puffed to the top of one peak. Just then, a younger couple came piling past us with no trouble, each carrying a child.

Lindberg

Jumping around a bit … Charles Lindbergh’s grave in Kipahulu, on the Hana coast.

graveyard

The graveyard at Kipahulu. It seemed rude to photograph Lindbergh’s grave without acknowledging the others.

HanaRd

Driving on the south side of the island, edging around the base of Haleakala.

coast

View of the coast from Kahanu Garden.

haleakala

Suddenly we’re back on top of Haleakala, staring down into the crater. I’m sure others have said the same thing, but I’ll say it as well: it was otherworldly.

dolphin

A bottlenose dolphin leaping gleefully into the air. At least, I assume it was jumping out of glee. Maybe it had a personal itch.

Jesus

“Jesus Coming Soon”, signage on top of (presumably) a church in Lahaina. Very tasteful and subtle.

Buddha

Just down the road from “Jesus Coming Soon” is the Jodo Mission, which purportedly has the “largest Buddha outside Japan.” Dunno; I haven’t gone around and weighed or measured all of them.

fruit

waterfalls

Seen on the Hana coast. There were a mind boggling number of waterfalls. It was almost literally the case that each time one would go around a jog in the road, there’d be an insanely gorgeous waterfall beside one’s car.

hut

Whee! We’re back in Kahanu Garden, staring at a hut. Not sure what this one was meant for. My son used it as a place to shelter while picking grass from between his toes.

grindstone

“Hoana – This grindstone was probably used to sharpen and polish adze blades.” Still in Kahanu Garden.

temple

A fine view of the hills, a hale holding an outrigger canoe, and Pi’ilanihale Heiau, an ancient temple.

Buddhist

Back at  the Jodo Mission.

LilyPond

Lily pond at our hotel. The place was truly hellish, with five pools and a couple of water slides.

CruiseShip

While we were in Lahaina, a cruise ship docked. I nicknamed it “Princess Cruises: Scourge of the Sea.” Its passengers weren’t intentionally rude, I don’t think, but they were mindbogglingly oblivious. They gathered all over the place with their little blue cruise ship shopping bags, blocking sidewalks and restroom entrances, and seemed impervious to phrases like “excuse me”. On the positive side, many of them made me feel downright svelte.

chickens

The Thrifty/Dollar rent-a-chickens. Actually, the chickens weren’t for rent; they just liked to hang out around the rental car place. They turned out to be handy. When we went to turn our car back in, I told my husband “Just look for the place with the chickens.” Immediately thereafter, we heard a hearty “Bacawwww!”

bananaBread

“Best banana bread?” Maybe. Or maybe they mean “Best Banana Bread” as a sort of brand name, not a claim. I didn’t care for it. It had the texture of a dishwashing sponge and an odd flavor. Perhaps local tastes are different. Me, I like to saute the bananas in butter and brown sugar before adding them to batter.

whale

We saw many humpback whales, including a calf, his mother, and her suitors. Heard them as well. Marvelous. The last time I’d heard humpback whale song was on an LP my folks used to play while they’d pound alcohol. I much prefer the whales in person and without drunk people around.

bird

Gatecrasher at one of our picnics. No biggie. There are crumbs and fruit enough for everyone.

waterfall2

Waterfall on the Hana coast.

waterfall

Yet another waterfall on the Hana coast. Truly a hellish place.

AirView

View of some coast or other from the air.

Lillies

Lily pond at the hotel.

HandLance

We visited a whaling museum – or, as I liked to call it, “The Killing Museum”. I didn’t take too many photos. Turns out, after you’ve seen and heard whales in person, seeing the tools for killing and dismembering them is rather upsetting.

Anger

“Anger!” Clearly a modified sign, but I like the concept of angry coconut trees. My husband privately sneered when the park guide told us “more people are killed here by falling coconuts than by sharks”. “We had coconut trees all over the place when I was a kid. Nobody ever got hit by a coconut!” I didn’t argue with him, although I did quietly wonder whether the umbrellas we’d been issued would deflect an angry coconut.

Leaf2

Leaf1

Leaves and more leaves.

Gecko

A gecko at the hotel.

One afternoon as we were splashing in a pool, the trade winds came in and caused the palm trees to thrash around violently. Moments later, I saw something small moving in the water. My policy is to try to remove insects and creatures from water if they’re alive, so I scooped the thing up on my arm, then climbed out and approached the pool attendant. “Um. What kind of critter is this?” I gestured at the thing clinging to my arm. “That’s a gecko.” “Oh. Where do they belong?” “In the bushes.”

I bent over sideways and tried in vain to get the creature to climb on to a convenient bit of shrubbery. It refused, and in fact snuck across my back where I couldn’t reach it. “Do you need help getting it off?” the attendant asked, “It seems to like you.” “Well, I guess I was better than the alternative of drowning.” “It was sweet of you to save it,” he replied, in a tone of voice which implied just the opposite, a tone which implied that he frequently sees geckos and they’ve gotten on his nerves, maybe started haunting his dreams even, and it would be nice if all the damned things drowned in a swimming pool. Nevertheless, he pried the gecko off my back and put it in the bushes.

“That was good luck,” my husband informed me later, “saving a gecko is good luck.”  He isn’t normally a superstitious person, but geckos are evidently a different matter. He lived in Oahu as a child; some local beliefs must have seeped in.

Later, while I was sitting outside by a lily pond, another gecko came tooling along the sidewalk and paused to study me. “Watch out,” I told the gecko, “People are coming. They may step on you.” The gecko moved away from the center of the sidewalk, then skittered toward me. “You have a nice face,” I informed it, then took the photo above. The gecko bounced up and down a couple of times, then ran into the bushes.

When I told my husband about this second incident, he exclaimed “Two geckos! Or maybe it was the gecko you saved from the pool! You’re going to have all kinds of good luck!”

I think I already got a good dose of luck when I married him.

FernSpiral

WaterLily

Out and about

March 31st, 2015

I walk three or four miles a day. When you walk three or four miles a day, sometimes you see stuff.

dogs

Dog butts. I see a lot of those. Only one of the dogs in this photo is ours, the rust-colored weiner-basset. The other two are a neighbor’s, although the terrier in the upper right is doing a good imitation of moving in with us.

 

cat

A cat taking its ease. Turns out that cats who are taking their ease really don’t like to have their photos taken. After shooting me a dirty look, it ran off.

 

flamingo

Somebody played dress up with their flamingo. I admire their style. I have weeds in my yard, too. Maybe I should get a flamingo and dress it up?

 

manikins

Shockingly nude manikins at Weird Stuff Warehouse. I guess the featureless expanses of lumpy plastic offended someone’s sense of decorum.

 

pumpkin

A pumpkin vine hanging over the top of a six foot tall fence. That’s a pumpkin with aspirations!

Alright. Blah blah blah, I’m in this exhibit and another exhibit, have stuff in a book which just came out, and am working on some projects. Can’t write much about that stuff, though, because the video/display on my computer keeps going amok. It’s a known issue with this type of computer. Hopefully Apple will address the problem without my having to open my wallet. In the meantime, it’s about time for things to go haywire again, so sayonara.

Filoli

March 11th, 2015

tulips

I took these shots a few weeks ago at Filoli, an estate about thirty miles south of San Francisco.

 

Festina

Festina Lente.  I think that means “make haste slowly”, or maybe it means “your navel lint is festering”. If I’d bothered to study Latin in college, or if I’d gone to a high school whose primary goal wasn’t preparing people to work at the local trash can or potato chip factories, perhaps I’d know. In any event, it sounds pithy and profound, like the sort of thing which should be cast into a garden plaque.

 

face

This poor fellow seems unhappy. I guess hanging out on the base of an urn for years on end will have that effect.

 

mist

So, yeah. Filoli. Lovely estate. Tons of gardens and flowers, great place to stroll and take photos and maybe see some deer. I think some TV shows and movies have filmed there, although who keeps up with that stuff? If you’re in the area, it’s well worth a visit.

I’m actually in the mood to visit someplace else, someplace which isn’t in California or even the continental U.S. I’d like to hop on a plane and head to Paris or maybe Rome. They’re nice at this time of the year. But that isn’t in the cards right now, so over the winter break I grabbed a couple of cameras, handed one to my son, and drug him up the peninsula to walk among the posies.

 

gryphons

Whee! Concrete gryphons! That’s how you know you’re at a classy joint, when they have gryphons rather than garden gnomes.

 

entrance

This entranceway is lovely when the wisteria is blooming. Right now it isn’t blooming.

 

knocker

Rather sweet door knocker. I think it’s brass. The lighting wasn’t wonderful, alas.

 

gourds

This is neat, some birdhouse gourds attached to willow or vine arches in the middle of a field of daffodils.

 

lawn

Yep. Horrible place to have to visit. Fresh air, flowers, misty hills.

 

clockTower

For some reason this reminds me of The Village in the old TV series The Prisoner.

 

building

vase

arch

keystone

That reminds me: I need to see about getting more pore-cleaning strips.

 

 

pool

purple

Trees

TheBoy

There’s the boy, my partner in photography. Bless him for hanging out with me that day. (Although I’d still prefer for all of us to be jetting off to Paris.) I know he’d rather be hanging out with friends or playing video games, but now and then he takes pity on me and accompanies me on a minor adventure.

Forty Years of the Utah Teapot

March 5th, 2015

UtahTeapotPoster

A couple of weeks ago, after dropping my kid off at a Laser Quest birthday party, I ventured across the street to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. It’s a marvelous place, the Computer History Museum, and if you’re ever in the Bay Area and have any interest in computers, I urge you to visit. Their exhibits span the range from slide rules to robots to modern day computers, with many pit stops in diverse topics such as punch cards for weaving Jacquard, guided missile systems, and video games. While other museums may have ‘a’ something-or-other, such as ‘a’ key punch machine or ‘a’ Babbage Difference Engine sandwiched in with other science exhibits, the Computer History Museum has a broad range of ‘a’s and ‘the’s. As in “Wow. That’s the original Pong Machine that Al Alcorn stuck in a bar in Sunnyvale, complete with crooked name plate.” Or: “Wow. That’s a chunk from the ENIAC.” Plus there’s a neat gift shop with nerdy stuff.

One of the museum’s ‘the’s is the Utah teapot, the one digitized by Martin Newell back in 1975. Holy cow! Has it really been forty years? Well now, that’s something worth celebrating, so I did. I came home and whipped up the graphic above, which is based on Martin Newell’s original pencil sketch of dimensions and a rendering of the resulting model. Oh, and I may have used some artistic license as far as aging the paper and so forth; I wanted to call to mind da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. In reality, Newell’s sketch is very tidy, executed on decidedly unstained quadrille paper.

Happy birthday, Utah teapot, and a big thank you to Martin Newell for sharing his work with the world.

The Utah teapot is something of an icon to those who work with 3D graphics. As the story goes, back in 1975 when Martin Newell was “a member of the pioneering graphics program at the University of Utah”, he needed a “moderately simple mathematical model of a familiar object for his work.” He was having tea with his wife at the time, and she suggested modeling their tea service. He did and, in addition to using the teapot for his own work, shared the data set with others. The rest, as they say, is history.

HomerTeapot

Since then, the teapot has become a beloved icon to many of us and something of an inside joke. It has appeared everywhere from test renders to papers submitted to SIGGRAPH to films such as Toy Story and Monsters Inc. Even Homer J. Simpson has had his teapot moment! Not bad for a humble white teapot purchased from a department store.

ToyStoryTeapot

The teapot is of course not Newell’s only accomplishment, just the one most familiar to many of us. He’s had a long and productive career. However, it’s a bittersweet fact of life that we don’t get to choose the manner in which we’re remembered, if we’re remembered at all. Per Tom Sito’s Moving Innovation: A History of Computer Animation, “When Newell spoke at a SIGGRAPH conference in the late 1980s, he jokingly confessed that of all the things he has done for the world of 3D graphics, the only thing he will be remembered for is ‘that damned teapot’”.

I think I could make my peace with that.

Pinewood Derby II

March 1st, 2015

Trophy

This happened yesterday. The boy’s witch’s shoe car, which I wrote about in the previous entry, picked up an award at the district Pinewood Derby. “Best Design That Is Not A Car”.

We were incredibly proud of him. Of course, I just had to sermonize on the way home. “See? If you work hard and you’re persistent, sometimes it pays off.” Then, about two minutes in, I thought better of it. Let the kid enjoy his trophy in peace. Not every darned thing has to have a moral.

The hardest thing, though, was keeping my blasted mouth clamped shut before the awards were handed out. You see, I saw a fellow take cars up to the announcer. One of them was the boy’s. Five cars – five awards. Hmmm. Perhaps I was mistaken? Perhaps the man was taking all the cars up so they could be handed out and admired one at a time, regardless of whether they’d won? Best to keep my observation to myself.

The boy’s prize was the last style award handed out. He was ricocheting around with tension by then, desperately hoping to win. Everyone wants to win. I reminded him of that fact, that all the boys there had worked hard and wanted to win, and we needed to applaud their efforts. Probably I sounded like a parrot in a bad pirate movie. “SQUAWK! CLAP AND SMILE FOR OTHERS! MOMMY WANT A CRACKER! SQUAWK!”

But then his car number and name were called, and he did win, and for just a few minutes he had the world by its tail. And I got to be there and see it.

PinewoodCars

Here’s a big thank you to Pack 492 of Cupertino, which hosted the event. It’s a big darned deal putting on a function like that, involving everything from finding a space to run it to setting up an immense aluminum track and having staff on hand to check car specifications as they’re brought in. It’s no simple matter of throwing up a few lengths of Hot Wheels track and sailing the cars down, either. Today’s tracks are, I don’t know, maybe 30-45 feet long and employ electronic timers and computers for data collection. The setup can be finicky and precise, measuring times down to a thousandth of a second.

Pack 492 did a great job, and as a result all the kids and onlookers had a wonderful afternoon.

PinewoodCars2

 

“Why Knot” plus Pinewood Derby

January 26th, 2015

WhyKnot

I’m happy to say that “Why Knot?” will be at AQS Lancaster this March. I wish I could be there as well, but I hope that at least visitors will enjoy the piece. This is my first fiber piece which veers into using computer-assisted imagery rather than purely painting on fabric, and I used the opportunity to plant a few jokes in the background.

We’ve just finished up the Pinewood Derby here, an annual Cub Scout event in which boys prepare and race cars cobbled together out of blocks of wood. I always enjoy it because, since I don’t yet feel comfortable turning my son loose with a band saw, it’s an excuse to collaborate with him and work in a medium other than fabric or CG. (Whether he enjoys my working with him is quite another question!)

The Pinewood Derby began in 1953, held by Don Murphy, a Manhattan Beach Cub Master who wanted an “activity he could do with his 10 year old son who was too young to race in the Soap Box Derby”.

It was a clever idea, one which has evolved and endured. Today when one buys an official B.S.A. Pinewood Derby kit, one gets a block of wood about 7” x 1.75” x 1.25”, four plastic wheels, and four nails to use as axles. One can do whatever one likes to the block of wood  provided that the finished car weighs five ounces or less, is three inches tall or less, and conforms to a few other specifications.

The Derby is a nice opportunity to do a design and construction project with one’s kid, a project which has set specifications but which is also a bit free form. Thus, a few weeks ago, I corralled the boy and said words to the effect of “The Derby is x weeks away. What do you want to make this year?” He hemmed and hawed, then allowed as how he’d enjoyed getting a style award last year and he wanted to try for one again this year. He was thinking of doing something which wasn’t traditional, maybe a shape like a shoe.

Okay, a shoe. What kind of shoe? Whose shoe was it? Maybe he could sketch his idea out on paper? I gave him a piece of paper with the dimensions of the wood block outlined, and had him sketch his idea.

Pinewood1

The shoe started as a nondescript garden clog affair. Over the course of a few more discussions and drawing sessions, it evolved into a fantasy design, a witch’s shoe.

Pinewood2

Clog

Pinewood3

Heel added

Pinewood4

More pronounced witchiness

Print

Final pattern for sawing

This would prove to be an interesting design to execute since the provided block of Pinewood Derby wood was too shallow. We would have to laminate another chunk of wood on top, which meant digging through my wood pile and doing some cutting and gluing.

Since I’m paranoid about the boy having an accident – he’s a little too interested in things like axes and chain saws for my taste – I made the cuts with the table saw and band saw myself. Maybe next year he can make a car with the scroll saw. Although bandsaw accidents can happen in the blink of an eye, one has to work pretty hard to lose a finger with a scroll saw.

There was plenty of other work for him to do, though, sanding and puttying and painting. Provided that one’s Scout has patience and perhaps a parent to nag them into working a bit each day, some fairly decent results can be achieved. It also really helps if one has a spray booth, even if it’s just a cardboard box, which we do.

Pinewood6

Here’s the shoe in its primed state, adding weights. The goal is to get one’s finished car as close to five ounces as possible without going over. Sometimes that means adding weights;  hiding them can get to be a challenge. Our plan was to cement the weights in place inside drilled holes, then putty and sand over them. As a side note, if one uses Revell’s round chassis weights, they can be cut in a matter of seconds using a bolt cutter. It’s far, far less taxing than trying to hacksaw the blasted things!

Pinewood7

Here we’re testing and weighing potential accents before adding wheels. Note that the holes where the weights were inserted are all but invisible. I guess I should be ashamed to admit that I had all of this stuff, the ribbon and flies and pumpkins, on hand. However, my philosophy is that you never can tell when you’ll need a glow-in-the-dark plastic fly.

Pinewood8

The finished shoe. We unfortunately didn’t tune the car up before the race, doing things like insuring the axles were in straight, so it placed in the middle of the pack. However, it did receive a style award for best workmanship, which is what the boy had really wanted. He even had a back story for the shoe, something about a bunch of flies using it to smuggle pumpkins for making pumpkin stew. There were also tons of other fun entries made by other boys, including a sailing ship, a pencil, and a box of french fries.

Here are our entries from last year, the boy’s Gravedigger and my ant car, Mandiblur, for the family competition. We seem to have a black theme going. I can hardly wait for next year’s Pinewood Derby!

Pinewood10

 

Pinewood9

Christmas in the Park

December 24th, 2014

1

Aren’t those awesome tree ornaments? We saw these at Christmas in the Park in San Jose. You take a couple of squashed aluminum cans, add some felt tip pen and a couple of googly eyes. Badda bing badda boom, you’ve got yourself a yelling/singing ornament.

Going to Christmas in the Park has become something of a tradition for us, a good excuse to get out of the house when we’ve been stuffed in together for a few days and are at the point of biting each others’ heads off. We admire the trees, get a wristband for the boy so he can enjoy rides liberated from Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch, maybe share some nachos or a funnel cake, and head over to the Fairmont to check out their gingerbread display.

There are usually tons of trees on display, trees decorated by organizations such as businesses, schools and Scouts. The ornaments are mostly made of materials which can stand up to weather and aren’t something miscreants would want to steal, thus the crushed can ornaments above. Some of the choices may also come down to what you can lay your hands on when dealing with a bunch of people: you need stuff, you need a lot of it, and it needs to be inexpensive. Thus, there are a lot of recycled goods in use, ornaments cobbled together from the likes of light bulbs, compact discs, and candy box liners.

There’s a lot of heart on those trees. There’s a lot of love which comes out when people get together to make ornaments or memorialize an idea or a deceased loved one with a tree. Many of the ornaments are frankly awful, and that’s part of their charm. Here, in no particular order, are some of my favorites. I hope that you’ll enjoy them just as much as I did.

 

2

Miniature hot air balloons made from light bulbs. It’ll be interesting to see how people deal with the squiggly fluorescent bulbs as the incandescents are phased out.

 

3

Jack Skellington’s head atop a tree. Fun.

4

Cool.

5

More lightbulbs.

6

I think there’s a tree under there somewhere!

7

It’s fun to see all the different organizations which come out to decorate trees. This one featured photos of prominent humanists. Buckminster Fuller appeared several times.

8

A “can’t mess up” ornament suitable for young kids or drunk adults.

9

Snowman made from bottle caps. Neat idea.

10

Penguin rendered out of a water bottle. I could wax philosophical about this, about how we humans are wrecking the planet with our need for crap such as these water bottles, and it’s resulting in the eradication of species. But what the heck; since it’s Christmas Eve, I won’t. Have some eggnog and pass me some roasted penguin breast, would you?

11

Bwahahaha! This snowman-tree is flipping us the bird! I suspect that the tree may have had a little “help” after the fact; I doubt the hand position is part of Girl Scout Canon.

12

In addition to tons of decorated trees, Christmas in the Park features animatronic displays. Many are old and – if you’ll forgive the pun – a tad ratty, as with this rodent whose ear has long since disappeared. I like that. The displays have character. Not every darned thing should be or needs to be “perfect”.

13

A tree dedicated to Martin Luther King. I wonder why there’s a police car ornament on it?

14

This made me laugh out loud.

15

There’s a sight I don’t see every day. Sweet Christmas dreams, kiddos.

16

That’s just plain fun.

17

Alright. Whatever chocolate-sucking pig left this mess here, you should be ashamed. Yeah, maybe you knocked your drink over and you can’t clean up the liquid, but you can jolly well pick up the cup and the spoon. We don’t want to see your mess, okay?

18

This snowman inexplicably and somewhat creepily would inflate and deflate.

19

This is neat. Gather random crap, coat it with glue and glitter, and you’ve got yourself a color-coordinated theme going! Well done, Glitterati Craft Club. I hereby give you a 21 Epoxy Salute.

20

 

21

There was a tree full of these. Some resembled Jesuses, some skeletons, and then there was this Elizabethan (?) fellow drifting along in his ship. “It’s Shakespeare!” exclaimed my son.

22

Gingerbread display at the Fairmont. One year they had a gigantic walk-through house, which children greatly enjoyed strolling through and destroying/snacking on the gingerbread. I notice they haven’t done the walk-through thing since then. Can’t say I blame them.

23

A phrenology head! How cool is that? It was atop the tree of some psychology organization, I think. Could have a whole theme of old school quackery going.

24

Also from the psychology tree. Not sure what it is, but it’s neat. A neuron, maybe?

25

Another neuron. Dang, those are festive.

26

Fun.

27

Also on the atheist tree, an imaginary creature, the winged unicorn. Someone has a sense of humor.

28

From one of the animatronic displays. I timed this so it would look like the craftsman was picking his nose. I’m mature that way.

29

The TiVo display. I do love TiVo’s product, and the sight of the sad pile of collapsed TiVo guys at the base made me laugh my guts out.

30

Hideous bearded foundling left outside a tree-orphanage? What it needs is a can of Coors.

31

A shower head tree topper, courtesy of one of the local utility companies. Clever.

Okay. That’s it for now. Come back a year from now and I’ll no doubt have more photos posted.

Gestures of kindness

December 21st, 2014

cardFlattened

 

There’s the card I’m sending out this year; click if you wish to see a larger version. I confess that I used the design as a prototype for a quilt I may make. Of course, it was totally horrid and torturous having to buy (and later consume) candy for “research” purposes. And yes, that’s my weiner-basset up there driving the sleigh pulled by squirrels.

Jezebel has a “best/worst Christmas gift ever” article. It’s funny in a wincing “Oh lord; that could have been me cluelessly giving someone that shell-filled Mason jar atop a candlestick” way. Yes, it’s true. I see myself on the “inflicting” side of the gift-giving process. My husband very politely refuses to believe that I’ve ever been an awful gift-giver – or at least, he pretends to believe that, bless him. But it’s true. Here’s a partial list of the bad gifts I’ve given over the years, at least the ones I can remember. Heaven only knows what else I’ve done that’s lost to the winds of time. Prepare to wince.

To my brother:

  • The same book on motorcycles (or was it guitars?), two years in a row. Never mind how I managed that – it takes a special type of genius. To his credit, he was gracious about it and just sort of didn’t mention it to me. It’s probably good that I saw the twin books on his shelf, though, or he might have received the same book a third year.
  • A hand-painted T-shirt featuring him as one of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which might not have been so bad if the tail I rendered hadn’t resembled a penis. I understand that this was a source of great merriment and humiliation when he wore it to school.

To my sister:

  • A cosmetics organizer she’d asked for, only I sent it in January or February.
  • The first quilt I ever made, which was admittedly of poor quality. On a later visit, I found it out in the mud and feces-caked front yard with the dogs. That’s how good it was.

To my stepmother:

  • Everything I ever gave her, as detailed in a manifesto of gifts she wished to not receive from me. In her defense, the list included cookware. Yes, I have been guilty of giving a mother-figure cookware, because that’s what all women naturally want, to be classified in terms of domestic tasks that they don’t even enjoy.

snowflake

A lace snowflake. If you get on my Christmas list and you aren’t careful, you may receive one.

To various relatives:

  • A variety of awful T-shirts and sweatshirts which I made, including a black sweatshirt festooned with sparkly fall leaves. The latter might not have been so bad for someone in her forties, but was a bad call for my teenaged niece-by-marriage. Plus it was a couple of sizes too small. Bless the girl for restraining herself to a small glare. I hope that wherever she is now, she receives major karma points for graciousness in the face of disappointment.
  • Homemade fruitcake. “It made the entire package reek of alcohol,” my stepmother complained.
  • Christmas ornaments which I had painted. “You father hates Santa Claus,” my stepmother informed me after the fact. Also: “They were so heavy that they fell off the tree.” I’m sure they broke as well, perhaps even by accident.
  • Lace snowflake ornaments made on my embroidery machine. Only one person expressed enthusiasm over these snowflakes. I assume the rest were objects of puzzlement.

ornaments

Hand-painted ornaments, of the type I used to make and give out. Some folks like receiving these – and by “some folks”, I mean no one that I know.

To my husband:

  • Silk boxer shorts and a T-shirt featuring a Krispy Kreme doughnut rendered as a delivery boy. My husband isn’t a lounging sort of fellow, nor does he have a particular fondness for Krispy Kreme doughnuts. I’ve since liberated the T-shirt from his drawer and wear it for workouts. Probably I should do the same with the boxer shorts.

To my son:

  • Various books on topics he could care less about, such as whittling wood and making shadow puppets.

To my mother:

  • Books which I self-righteously thought she should read, knick-knacks she had no need or room for, and a down-filled throw. The latter might not have been so bad if she wasn’t allergic to feathers.

To my step-great-great aunt, who was failing with dementia:

  • A malachite worry stone. “She dropped it and it broke,” my stepmother sniffed when I asked if the gift had been enjoyed. (These days my default gift to people who are dying or who have dementia is an album of photos. I figure if nothing else, they can look at the colorful photos and wonder who the people are.)

For these sins, I apologize. There was a decade or so there where I was batting a thousand with the homemade and otherwise “thoughtful” gifts. Hopefully I’ve upped my game a bit since then, though. My gift-giving list is mostly pared down to my husband and son, plus the one person who made the mistake of enthusing over the lace snowflakes. (Unless she says otherwise, she will receive a relentless barrage of lace snowflakes in her Christmas card for the next twenty years.) These days I stick to lists which people have given me, maybe send a treat hamper off to my in-laws and a donation to the food bank, and that’s it. If one can’t be clever and thoughtful, being non-clever and thoughtful is the next best thing. Give people joy if you can, play with the family dog, and bake cookies.

Cthulu

Awesome Cthulu ornament from my brother-in-law

Have I also received odd gifts or had occasions used as emotional weapons? Sure. Mostly, though, I’ve been treated with great kindness. There’s the brother-in-law who sent me the molecular gastronomy kit and the Cthulu ornament, both of which I dearly love. There’s the father-in-law who painstakingly picked out quilting fabric to ship me, and the mother-in-law who would faithfully send me the latest Maeve Binchy novel, back when Binchy was alive. One sister-in-law bakes and ships Christmas cookies each year, and the other sister-in-law sends some munchie she knows we’ll enjoy. They’re all good people, which I guess isn’t surprising considering that they’re related to my husband.

There are also my stepmother’s relatives. For all that she and I have a poisoned relationship, her relatives were some of the warmest people I’ve ever known. Her sister, a lovely young woman, would take me horseback riding. Her brother, who wasn’t financially affluent, would nevertheless give me an exquisite bottle of perfume for Christmas. Her parents did whatever they could to make a ragged nine-year-old child feel welcome, including picking out a special Star Trek Spock doll or making one of those grotesque/wonderful birthday cakes which features a Barbie doll impaled in a half-sphere of frosted cake-skirt.

giftBooks

Crafting books, a gift from my step-grandmother many years ago

Even though she’s now deceased, I frequently have reason to offer thanks to my step-grandmother. Because of her, I was supplied with books and supplies for knitting, jewelry-making, and denim decorating, and worlds opened. It’s because of her that I’ve had the guts to pursue my own creative vision. I can’t count the number of times she provided me with a thoughtful kit of some type or other, replete with sewing supplies or nail polish or little girl jewelry. I still jab my needles in a tomato/strawberry pincushion which appeared under the tree one year and, although it perhaps isn’t as dignified, our dog eats from the remains of a gigantic Estee Lauder makeup palette/tray. I wish I had better expressed my gratitude to both her and my step-grandfather before they passed away.

pincushion

A beloved pincushion, a reminder of kindness

Maybe that’s the way it goes sometimes, though. If we’re lucky, we get the consciousness and decency to properly thank people while they’re still around. Otherwise, maybe kindness is a pay-it-forward sort of thing, and many of us end up giving thanks for past kindnesses by taking a turn at giving ourselves. In my case, though, it appears that I should confine myself more to the toy and canned food drive end of things and take a pass on the handcrafted shirts and mason jar candlesticks!

Happy holidays – and I do mean that in an all-inclusive way, including holidays which aren’t part of my tradition but which matter to others – to all.

SuperSpray sort-of-review

December 1st, 2014

I have a problem.

I’m working on a new computer-assisted image, which I’ll apply to fabric and then texture with stitch. This image will have a background which will include thousands of little objects.

Coming up with the best way to create that background has perplexed me. Shall I create and render a 3D file in Blender with the thousands of little objects? No. Too tedious. I’m not Pixar. Say, how about using Photoshop to create some custom brushes which are just pictures of my objects? I’d just whoosh the brushes around, spray images of my objects all over the place, and be done.

Yes, that sure would be swell. It would be great if Photoshop CS6, which made a sizable dent in my wallet, would let me make full color brushes or had a tool like the image hose Corel Painter has offered for years and years. However, it doesn’t.

I can make greyscale brushes in Photoshop. Why don’t I try that and see if it’ll work well enough?

Here’s an original graphic of a blue ball. It’s a rendering of a 3D model I imported into Blender. (Sometimes that’s a handy way to generate graphics, so that one doesn’t have to worry about searching for a stock image or taking one’s own photo.)

BlueBall

 

 

Here’s a greyscale brush made from that graphic:

GreyscaleBlueBrush

 

 

Here’s the pallid-looking graphic that results when my greyscale brush is used with blue “paint”:

BrushBlueBall

 

 

Wow. Sad. I could probably mess around and improve the dynamic range some, but why should I when I’m simply looking to duplicate my original blue ball graphic? Plus, what if I wish to reproduce a ball that’s multicolored rather than just blue? Although I love Photoshop’s brush feature much of the time, it isn’t meeting my needs this time.

Now, I could duplicate the original blue ball image thousands of times within Photoshop and drive myself nuts. However, since I have plenty of other ways to drive myself nuts, I think I’ll pass. Gosh, it sure is a shame that Photoshop won’t let me take a full color image and use it like a paintbrush.

Well, I’m certainly not the first person to run into this problem. I did some poking around and found that the folks at Design Beagle made a plugin, SuperSpray, which sort of addresses this problem. I’m going to give my opinions on the plugin, in case anyone else is considering it.

How it works

SuperSpray isn’t a true image hose. Despite its name, one isn’t really precisely placing graphics as one would with a paint brush. Instead, one paints an area of one’s canvas black to designate an area where one would like .png graphics to applied, and the plugin randomly arranges the graphics in that area. There are some pretty examples on Design Beagle’s website.

Pros:

  • Cheap. It’s only $20, and maybe even less if Design Beagle is running a sale.
  • Available. It may not do exactly what I want it to, but it does make my life a little easier. It’s also better than any Photoshop plugin I’ve ever written, which is to say none.
  • Includes nice basic options such as random rotation, scattering, random image size, and density (object count) control.
  • Allows one to select multiple object (.png) samples at one time. I.E. one can load in .pngs of a bunny rabbit, a pizza, and Alfred E. Neuman’s head, and have SuperSpray distribute them and render out a graphic in one pass.
  • Saves out resulting images as transparent pngs.

Limitations:

  • It isn’t a true image hose. One doesn’t have precise control over exactly where each image element goes.
  • One is constrained to a maximum object (.png) sample of 500 x 500.
  • It doesn’t directly modify one’s image, but instead uses the black areas as a guide for placing sample objects, then saves out a different file rather than, say, a new layer. (Again, this is better than the nonexistent filter I’ve written.)
  • Requires that one save custom images to a subfolder deep in the bowels of the Photoshop directory. Not a big deal, but kind of annoying.

Let’s take it for a spin, shall we? Let’s start with a crude black and white mountain shape:

MountainBW

 

We’ll pull up SuperSpray’s filter window:

SuperSpray1

 

 

Closeup of the SuperSpray window. Hopefully you can see the .png library along the top righthand side, followed by the options for size range, rotation, Darken Lower, and image count.

SuperSpray2

 

 

I’ve toggled off the included leaf image and have installed some of my own rather ugly transparent .pngs of yellow, blue, and red balls. Note that we can see variation in size and rotation, as well as darkening in some of the elements:

SuperSpray3

 

 

Rotation toggled off. Now the balls all have the same orientation:

SuperSpray4

 

 

Size variation and Darken Lower toggled off. We’ll try rendering out a sample graphic with these settings:

SuperSpray5

 

 

Here are the balls applied to the black mountain shape from my original image. One can see that with some experimentation – maybe create more attractive sample .pngs of balls, and render out several graphics to put in layers – one could get a satisfactory result. With the assistance of SuperSpray, I was able to apply 500 ugly balls to my mountain shape in a matter of seconds.

MountainSpray

 

 

Do I have as much control as I’d like, as I’d have if Photoshop included a tool similar to the image hose? No. But this is a good workaround, and it was available when I needed it. For somebody else’s project, it might be exactly the right tool. Short of downloading and messing around with GIMP’s “image pipes” or shelling out more money for Painter, I’m set. Thank you, SuperSpray.