Saturday, March 30, 2013

Sand For Traction

To use slang and a double negative, this ain't no tractor pull but I did manage some forward momentum yesterday on my miniature hot air balloon art project. The morning started off slow enough with the contract work but a call from my sister broke the pattern. She stopped by to bring share some healthy goodies. We talked for an hour or so before she had to take off. It was a nice break.

Afterward, I couldn't get my momentum going so I shut down the computer and jumped into the truck. A quick drive over to handle some financial management issues placed me in the vicinity of a Goodwill thrift store. More specifically, I was near the thrift store with a cam-based sewing machine I had spotted earlier in the week. The machine was still there but the price tag was higher than I liked. I looked, thought, looked and thought some more before I left. The main thing was I now had the model number for research purposes. Not much progress but the day isn't over yet. About a mile away, I stopped at a JoAnn Fabrics store and picked up two yards of ripstop nylon. Fortunately, I found a coupon online that offered 50 percent off on any fabric purchase which brought the cost down to better price point. At least now I have some less-pricey material to learn with rather than the more expensive ripstop I'll use when creating the final installation.

I went back home, fired up the computer and hunted down information on the sewing machine. Being a Kenmore model, I hoped there would be plentiful information. Ah, but it wasn't the case. I could only find one write up for this machine. It was a review which proved to be helpful. The person answered my question about whether the cams are mandatory by indicating it worked fine with the built in patterns. While I let the thoughts percolate, I decided it was time to do some cleanup around the place. If I'm going to be doing any metal sculpture work, it will be in the garage. And the garage is a rat maze. Too much stuff jammed in everywhere. So, I started pulling things out onto the deck. After about three hours, I had a tiny spot cleaned near the workbench in the back. The bench itself is still heaped high, but at least the floor is now visible around it. Looking at the clock, it was about 8:20. It was at that moment, I got the bug for the sewing machine. Needless to say, the thrift store closes at 9:00 PM and I'd be busy with work the following day so it was likely now or never. Especially considering complete sewing machines only stay on the shelf about a week from what I had seen in the past.

I jumped in the truck, jetted up the store and went in search of an electrical outlet. Once I found one (probably the only one accessible by customers), I gave the machine a once over. It worked at first but then started turning in a stiff manner. That concerned me but not enough to deter me. Right after that, I spotted a young fella with an employee badge. I talked with him about how I was interested but had concerns about repairs and wanted to know if he could cut me a deal. He nodded in approval and offered a discount price. The final cost would be thirty five dollars which is not a stellar deal but it's definitely acceptable. The online reviewer snagged their machine for fifteen dollars so I wasn't too far out of the ballpark We headed up to the cash register where he told the cashier to discount the price. I paid up then thanked him and went straight home to see if I could trouble shoot the problem.

It didn't take long to turn up the issue. A quick read online provide several hints, the most likely culprit being an issue with the bobbin binding. Sure enough, when I pulled the bobbin out, the machine operated in what I suspect is my normal manner. Of course, it remains to be seen what happens when I properly install the bobbin. But that's the next hurdle as I have no operation manual and will need to figure out how threads feed through the entire system. I'll check out a few YouTube videos and hopefully one of them will provide enough details to set up the machine properly.

Ah, but it's time to start work for the day. And tonight, I have to continue cleaning in the garage. I also need to file my tax forms too. Ugh! Well, the sewing machine isn't going anywhere and at least I have something to work with now which means I've made some progress. Next up after setting up the machine will be to sew some test swatches in order to learn how to work with the nylon. After that, I'm waiting in the library queue for an art book that talks about building a miniature hot air balloon. Last time I checked, I was number five in the wait queue. It might be a week or it might be a month wait on the book. Either way, I have plenty of other things to do so it's on to other tasks for now.

Update: thanks to masodo over at BlogDogIt creating a diagram of how to thread the machine, I was able to successfully thread the machine and set it up for a test. What I didn't have was any scrap fabric handy to try it out on. And I didn't want to do the first test on my sacrificial ripstop nylon either. So what's a guy to do? Improvise hacker style of course. I found an old fabric softener sheet and folded it up a few times before running it through to produce a series of stitches. Even though the stitches came out uneven due to how I fed it over the dogs, everything worked like a champ. I started laughing when I went to tug on the softener sheet and it held tight. Very cool. Tomorrow, I might find some cloth at a thrift shop in order to get a better feel for how to control the fabric as it moves over the dogs. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Law of Supply and Demand

They say history is doomed to repeat itself when we don't learn from our past. I understand all too well the meaning of the phrase. In my case, it manifests itself via an endless cycle of waste I repeat when it comes to acquiring tools or supplies. The amount of resources I consume in my hunt for a given balance point between cost and functionality adds up quickly. 

From the perspective of intangible resources, time is the biggest loss. I'll spend days, weeks or sometimes even months researching details. Hours are consumed as I sift through online articles discussing whatever it is I'm seeking. Had I used the same time to work on my contract instead, the outcome would generate revenue  Does the research I'm doing offset the income loss somehow? Only those times when I've learned enough to walk past a lemon. Without research, a person can find themselves in possession of something unsuitable for the task at hand. Making the wrong decision can be not only frustrating in the long term, but costly. We can find ourselves needing to upgrade because what we have doesn't do what we need. It would be like buying a wide angle portrait lens for a camera when you want to do macro photography. The wide angle might very well be a fine lens but it's not going to do what you wanted. So there is some justification to spending time surveying needs and reading up on common consensus about what others have done when faced with the same problem. But it is also an easily overlooked intangible cost that adds up quickly.

On the more painful side are the real costs associated with the scavenger hunt method of scouring thrift stores - the fuel costs. The costs of driving around looking for sewing machines in the thrift shops adds up quickly. Not only do I lose the time spent driving around, but each visit to the gas pump adds up fast. Ouch, this is turning into a money pit venture with nothing to show so far.

Speaking of not learning, one person provided a warning how thrift stores were a gamble. They pointed out how the chances of finding a machine that has with the right features and isn't worn out or missing parts is a crap shoot at best. The advice was pretty much spot on. In only one case have I found what appeared to be a complete machine and even then I have no idea whether it works or not. Why? Because I didn't even bother testing it after seeing a high asking price. Due to supply and demand, the store pricers are able to set the tag high enough to make it a poor deal. I can't really fault the pricers. They're doing their job and since people are buying the more complete machines within a few days of hitting the shelves, it means they have accurately gauged the what the average market will bear. So once again, I walked away empty handed. 

Part of the reason this is frustrating is because I'm stalled on several fronts. I'm simply not getting any traction on my projects. And at 3:30 AM in the morning, I can think of other things I'd rather be doing than trying to figure out how to move around the brick walls I've hit.

Have I imparted anything of use onto others who are reading this article? Nope, because I didn't learn anything in the process. Doomed to repeat my mistakes, I'll continue down the path of trying to find the far too narrow balance point between functionality and cost. Think I'll go watch Rome continue to burn.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Details, Details, Details

When diving into a project, the real challenges aren't always evident. On the surface, everything usually looks straight forward otherwise we might not dive in so quick. Just jam something here, place something there and it's all done right? Wrong. Complicated details surface quickly and the devil's in 'em. Every single time too. On a side note, I've had past projects I knew were going to be serious challenges. I purposefully didn't over-think beforehand because procrastination might have won out.

In regards to simple becoming complicated, I talked about the need to do some light gauge metal and wire welding for planned projects like my garden bench. A welder would come in quite handy. Or more precisely, a TIG welder. The idea was I'd take a few classes to learn how to properly perform TIG welding first. You might be asking, "Why a TIG welder? Why not simply acquire a more affordable welder? And why are you jumping from thing to thing? Weren't you just trying to make a miniature hot air balloon?" Then again, you might not be asking these questions. Well, I'm going to explain everything anyway. As for why a TIG, it's primarily for one reason: clean welds. TIG requires effort to master from what I've been told but it produces cosmetically clean looking welds. Good for show pieces like sculptures where spatters, burns and other blemishes would detract from the aesthetic qualities. A secondary advantage is thin metals can be welded such as wires or sheet metal which can come in quite handy when making small armatures. As for why I'm jumping around from thing to thing, well, it's because I hit stall points and have to interleave tasks. The mini hot air balloon project is in hibernation while I search for a sewing machine to seam together the gores. So there is a method to the madness and tasks do get done - eventually. It just takes a lot of time as I try to get everything lined up I need for the various processes. Sometimes it takes years. Patience is such a hard thing at times.

While I wait for scheduling some classes, I'd thought I'd start sifting through the ads on Craigs List to establish what the market price for a used model. And maybe if I was lucky, find a unit I could purchase. Not so fast Sparky. The first real problem surfaced in that older TIG welders typically operate on 220 VAC. A quick survey of where I wanted to set the welder up at pointed out another problem: no 220 outlets. "Big deal!" I say. The breaker box has 220 coming in right? Just have an outlet added to one of the breakers... bzzt! Try again because there are no open breakers. The breaker box is full to capacity and can't be expanded. The only option is to have a new box pulled in. Ugh! Not a simple matter. Of course, my sister's husband offered up some suggestions so I'm not at a dead end. But it isn't a simple matter now. Update: after doing some reading, it appears some of the more modern inverter-based TIG welders support 120-460 volts in single and triple phase power. I found a Maxstar 200 SD TIG supporting these options. So options do exist but not without caveats in this specific case. The Maxstar 200 can't weld aluminum which would be problematic if I wanted to tack weld that type of wire.

I think a lot of things go this way with complexity creeping in. Work is no different. People think up a change and ask for an implementation. When it doesn't happen over night, the usual is to say, "But this is simple." In most cases, it isn't. A person needs to dive in to find the real problems. Sure, experience helps a person recognize issues earlier, but with any exploratory process, surprises will surface. Sigh!

If this problem is the worst I face, I'm doing pretty good. Dad used to tell me, "Don't sweat the small stuff." He was right. It's a matter of perspective. I can work around this by a mutual cooperation with others. Besides, I'm not in a hurry. I still have to take the welding classes which will probably present some details of their own in the form of hidden prerequisites. One step at a time. And to think, all of this is so I can build a garden bench that looks like a critter. If nothing else, I rarely take the easy path. Why? Because in the long run, it's more fun to explore the thickets.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

More Clean Up

I spent some time this morning cleaning up several loose ends to things I don't use or need anymore. If it detracts or creates problems, physical or otherwise, it's going away. The disconnect has value. It helped distance me from several things I find problematic. It also makes room for more important things - things that aren't necessarily practical. Being practical is rarely my style anyway. In a few minutes, I'll start grinding through some problem solving related to my contract until late afternoon. But in the evening, I'll be able to start work on several other projects. With that said, I'm moving into a phase where I focus on my goals - nothing else.

The hunt through the thrift shops for a sewing machine has not been successful. The only machine I've found in moderate condition was a Kenmore 6 stitch but it didn't have a power cord, control pedal or the foot. Buying them separately would make the entire purchase of questionable value so I'll bide my time and look for something more complete. This will slow the progress on the hot air balloon project. Update: someone already bought the 6 stitch from the thrift store so bye bye chances of picking it up for parts on $1.29 day. Oh well, I can still try to obtain a roll of tissue paper to use for making gore patterns on though. The most cost effective solution is using the same rolls of tissue paper used on examination tables in a doctor's office. Price wise, I found a retailer named Nancy's Notions who sells it for about nine dollars a roll. Compared to the next lowest price of about thirty dollars, it's a moderate difference.

As I wait, I'll work on building a frame to affix my sketch paper onto. The sketch paper measures in at 18x24 inches. Large to be certain. The intent is to clamp a drawing surface into the easel for doing some graffiti style sketches. I recall seeing a broken drafting board in one of the thrift stores. In its former unbroken life, the board had a wire and pulley arrangement for guiding a straight edge which is no longer present. If the price is cheap enough, I'll gut the residuals and re-purpose the board for the needs at hand. Update: someone bought the drawing board too. Such is life.

As if I don't have enough to do, I'm considering the pursuit of another avenue for learning. The same neighbor who talked about the sewing machine triggered a near deja vu situation but this time it was related to the skills for welding. He mentioned doing some repair work on a chair with a TIG welder. Wonderful things those TIGs are. Especially for thin metals. Considering I'm starting to work with wire forms to build sculpture armatures and such, it's a skill I could use. For that matter, the pre-Columbian style garden bench I want to build will require a strong framework inside the cast forms which will require welding. A quick check of the local colleges revealed a continuing ed class I can take. Learning to use a TIG means I need to shave time away from other things. If all else fails, I might convince sibling number three to give me some pointers as he worked as a welder in his younger days. One way or another, I'll figure out a way to make things happen.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Project Weasel: Changes to the Tilt mechanism

In my last post about the easel, I mentioned an issue with the tilt mechanism for the work surface. The way the storm door closers were mounted did not allow any forward tilt. The best I could achieve was a vertical orientation which is less than helpful for materials like pastels. 

To correct this issue, I moved the anchor points for the closers. By placing a support board across the bottom frame members, I was able to gain more travel from the closers. The surface now tilts forward by ten degrees. I can obtain a few more degrees of forward tilt by lengthening the travel stop cable at the top of the scissor arm. The existing cable does not have enough slack to allow any further adjustment. Fortunately, I have additional cable in the garage and will cut an appropriate length tomorrow.

Another change I made was to add ten pounds of counterweight to the rope and pulley arrangement. This helped considerably as the sliding work surface now moves up or down with relative ease.

As it stands, the easel is fully functional but I am considering the addition of leveler feet that can be adjusted up or down in order to compensate for uneven floors. Since my floor in the utility room is not level, it introduces the dreaded three legged table issue whereI have to to jam something beneath one of the wheels to prevent any unwanted movement. Lowes or Home Depot will likely carry something I can retrofit to provide a solution so I'll post another update once I have a functional fix.

If you want, you can read about the project from the start at this link: Project Weasel.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Adria Richards: Derogatory is as Derogatory Does

PCMag ran an article about the ire raised from a situation with dongle jokes, tweets, firings and sexism at the PyCon convention.  Developer Adria Richards who was in the audience overheard two other men behind her making lewd jokes about the discussion. She turned around, snapped a photo of them and then used the photo in a tweet. She further tweeted asking the Pycon officials to deal with the men. Both men were escorted out of the convention and PyCon officials tweeted back that the issue had been handled. After the dust settled, one of the men and Adria Richards was fired from their jobs as a result of the conflict. Update note: I erroneously listed all three as being fired which was not correct.

The issue raises a number of concerns as well as people's tempers with venomous opinions on different sides of the argument. Some people are turning this into an argument about feminism (I don't even want to see what Jezebel authors do with this) because sexual jokes were being made. But the way I see it, this is about other issues. Here's my real problem with Adria Richards as per her comment on her blog:

 "I realized I had to do something or she would never have the chance to learn and love programming because the ass clowns behind me would make it impossible for her to do so."
See anything unusual in Adria Richards statement? Specifically, the term ass clowns.  In my book, Adria Richards is a hypocrite. She fundamentally accuses the two men of using derogatory language then calls them ass clowns which is derogatory too. Regardless of their actions, her calling the two men ass clowns is not justified simply because they did something inappropriate. It's a flawed form of logic which leads to vigilantism and other forms of self-justification for inappropriate actions that rely on saying, "Well, they did wrong so we now have unrestrained rights to abuse them in return." In my book, that's plain wrong.

I'm not defending the two men. They used bad judgment in making jokes where others could hear. Humor is dangerous at best and more so when it relies on belittling others or delves into sexual commentary. What I will point out is that one of the fellas involved in the comments in question provide an apology. But from what I can see from Adria Richards blog post on the matter, she is defending her actions and approach. Is Adria Richards a better person than the two men for calling them out which included the use of a derogatory phrase? Not in my opinion.

No one deserved to be fired in this situation. Not the male audience member and not Adria Richards. But nonetheless, all parties involved could have handled this better. The two men could have been more discrete in keeping their conversation private. As for Adria Richards, well, I'm not going to go there beyond mentioning her hypocritical usage of derogatory language because she is actively telling people to stop judging her and that they have to be in her shoes to understand. Okay, I understand not wanting to be judged unfairly. I don't know her scenario so I can't truthfully say one way or another what the best way to handle the situation would have been. But at the same time, I am free to disagree with her tactics and the hypocritical aspect of her usage of derogatory words.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Balloonatic Lunatic

Are you ready for the latest spot of craziness going on here in my little lunatic asylum I call an art studio? It's time to take one of the creative risks I was talking about earlier where the potential for failure is high. Drum roll please... the soup du jour art project is a miniature hot air balloon project. Yep, you read that right, my art project is building a homemade miniature hot air balloon. Oh man, what kind of catnip did I get into when I decided to tackle this one? Must have been some good stuff because this requires some effort.

The seed idea.
So what triggered my interest? Well, like always, long drawn out chain of events led down this particular road of destruction. The initial seed idea for the project was sewn when I was over at school in the art building and encountered a set of wire art sculptures in the hallway. A large tornado was the centerpiece attraction and it was pretty spiffy. But over to the side, a more colorful but subtle piece drew my eye - the balloon you see in the photo on the left. In the back of my mind, I knew I wanted to take the idea in my own direction but I couldn't figure out how. So there the idea sat waiting for something to kick my thought-percolator into gear.

The next event in the chain happened a few days ago when one of my neighbors stopped to talk to me as he walked by the house. The conversation drifted from subject to subject as it usually does. We talked about things like how much city hall bugs us or the fact that the weather is slowly turning from winter to spring. In the midst of all this, my neighbor mentioned buying a sewing machine for something he was working on. My mind stopped and turned over the thought a few times as I wondered whether or not a sewing machine would be useful tool as I've never sewn anything in my life. It's one of the few skills I've never tried to acquire. Not that I didn't have the need but I never seemed to have the interest. Another gear tried to start turning, but wasn't enough to kick the juggernaut of my curiosity into motion yet.

The next day, I was browsing through photos on the web looking for seed ideas to use for an art project. One of my common watering holes to visit is Trend Hunter, a site focused on providing artistic inspiration for anyone who has an insatiable appetite for pop culture as well as emerging trends. When I need a creative art fix or an idea, I hop over to Trend Hunger to see if I can find someone who is making art with Styrofoam cups or sculptures from kitchen utensils. It just so happened that I stumbled across several photos of hot air balloons. The photo was a night scene and the balloons were lined up in a row and brightly lit. "Sweet!" I thought to myself. I liked the looks of the brightly color fabrics being back-lit, giving them a glowing appearance. The gears finally started turning and I took off like a rabbit thinking about every angle I could on how to make a miniature hot air balloon.

I hunted around the web and found a few sites talking about cloudhoppers which are one man, er, one person balloons. Nice, but not small enough yet. I'm thinking more like three foot diameter at most or maybe a two feet give or take a little. I find the other end of the spectrum of hot air balloon models, the garbage bag and tissue paper projects. The garbage bags are not aesthetically pleasing because, well, they look like garbage bags. The tissue paper version are nice but quite delicate. Being like a bull in a china shop, I'm not exactly good with delicate things. All the twitching I have would mean certain doom for a tissue balloon.

Time to think independently then and break from the wolf pack with their quick but clever garbage bag balloons What if I tried to use a thin fabric? Perhaps something like the ripstop material kites are made of. A quick searched indicated nylon and polyester fabrics are used for kites. Okay, so if tissue paper or garbage bags are the most commonly used materials rather than nylon, the weight might be the issue. Hopefully, a deeper search would turn up the necessary weight details about tissue paper and nylon. But first, I had to learn some terminology like what gsm (grams per square meter) means and what the difference between a sailmaker's yard, a running yard and a square yard is. I had no problem on the finding the definitions. A sailmaker's yard is roughly 28.5 inches wide and 36 inches long. A running yard is 36 inches long while its width is that of the fabric roll it is on which comes in a variety of fixed widths between 32 to 60 inches. And the more obvious being the square yard which is three feet by three feet. Verstehen Sie? Cool.

My searches indicated tissue paper can weigh anywhere between 10 to 35 gsm (grams per square meter) while the lightest polycarbonates like Icarex weighs about 31 gsm and 3/4 oz. nylon is heavier weighing in at 42 gsm. I'll assume most people who made tissue paper balloons used the lighter weight tissues weighing in at 10 gsm. That's a pretty big difference but with sufficient internal volume to a balloon, it can certainly be overcome. If I were mathematically inclined, I'd figure out the minimum necessary ratio of fabric to hot air to achieve lift. But with me being away from calculus for so many years, my skills with integration are toast. And physics, well I never took the subject so unless my chemistry classes covered enough details about gas laws and thermodynamics, I wouldn't have been exposed to necessary calculations. Okay, so I will do what any clever backyard schemer would do, prepare for some trial and error. That along with a side order of failures and I should be doing pretty good.

Fortunately, I found a pdf document to use as a guideline about calculating a balloons lift. The document was authored by a fella named Bo Gardmark who generously shared his calculations for the lifting potential of the no longer available Banana Bending Companies 100 cm hot air balloon. The balloon in his example was roughly one meter in height and weighed approximately 108 grams. The Banana Balloon was fairly light to be certain, but now I have a reference weight to use as a baseline and some rough sizing details. Very helpful indeed. Oh, and one more thing, I will also need to verify nylon materials I"m looking a can withstand the heat involved but I'll get to that test later.

Ah, but we aren't ready to start work yet. If I'm going to work with rectangular panels of ripstop nylon, I'll need to bond the panels together somehow. Off to do more research. Learning more terminology was in order. My term of "panel" is what a balloonist maker would call a gore. Getting tired of this yet? Fortunately, I'm not so I dug deeper into bonding techniques. Human carrying balloons seemed to use parallel sewn stitches for durability and reliability while glues were used for tissue paper balloons. Seems like sewing would be in order for what I'm working with. Hah! And that is where the connection exists with the initial conversation my neighbor started when he mentioned buying a sewing machine. So off I dashed to research sewing machines.

I'll skip the boring details on my hunt for Red October, but it looks like Craigs List will be my friend for acquiring a used sewing machine. One of the basic models from the 70's should do the job like an old metal Kenmore like a 12 stitch model should do. It might be tough to find it in the cheapskate price range I'm after though since I'm after a ballpark range of about thirty dollars. The more reliable used models I found were running around 100 to 150 dollars with the "needs-repairs" machines coming in at 40 to 60 dollars. Well, it's a hiccup I'll solve later. For now, I can continue to track down other things I need while I search for a bargain at the thrift stores.

I also spent some time looking for patterns to assemble the different panels (gores) that are used to make a balloon from flat sheets of material. After sifting through a few YouTube videos, I found a hot air balloon video by Animaplates that proved quite helpful in showing how she assembled the different panels of her balloons. Even though my design uses different materials, I can still use the same technique for cutting the nylon panels. Update: I found another potential source of balloon gore panel patterns. The book is "Playing with paper : illuminating, engineering, and reimagining paper art," Hiebert, Helen, 1965. The wait queue at the library for this book has kept me from being able to read its contents. It will likely be at least another two to four weeks before my turn to check out the book arrives. I'll make another post about the usefulness of the book after I've had a chance to read through it.

One last thing I need to point out. Since this is an art project, the entire process will be free-form and will have a life of its own. I'll let the material and subject tell me where it wants to go. In other words, what the project starts out as may not be what it ends up as.

Well, enough of my babble for now. One of my next tasks is to acquire tissue paper for a prototype test as I need to iron out the technique for assembling the balloon. Once I have a pattern and can assemble the patterns, I'll move on to the second phase. But not before I try to see if the tissue paper prototype will fly. We'll see if this bull in a china shop can keep from tearing the paper. I better not drink any coffee or tea when I try to assemble this project or I'll be known as Sir Shakes-A-Lot, the destroyer of balloons.

As I make progress on the "Balloonatic Lunatic" project, I'll create more posts.

Through the Rabbit Hole and Back Again

Thirty years ago, had you asked me about what I might be doing when I hit my 50's, my answer would have missed the mark. No surprise there is it? At a younger age, most of us don't have enough experience to set up a long term path. When I was 17, I thought I knew exactly where I'd be when I was 40 and that was working in the field of technology. I hit the mark dead on in regards to working with technology but I did miss something key: the fact a love for art would emerge.

Considering my background of growing up in family focused on technology, you'd think I'd be enamored with writing complex software or creating some kind of technical gadgetry. By age 17, I had my first computer - a TRS-80 Model I. Today, most people would shrug and say, "What's the big deal with having a computer?" Well, back then, just a few days before the turn of the decade from 1979 to 1980, computers were only in a few households. And I ended up receiving one as a Christmas present. Keep in mind, computers cost an arm and leg then. But somehow, my Mom and Dad managed to scrape together the money to acquire something few people had. Mind you, we were living at the poverty level so the kind of money required was a huge chunk of the family income. I tinkered with that machine way into the late hours of the night because I had just graduated a semester early from high school. The next six months were paradise with nothing but learning, coding and playing with what would be a powerful motivational force in my life.

As time passed, I matured in my technical skills and became a pretty darned good software engineer. I ate assembly language for breakfast, chewing up bytes and spitting out bits. But as I approached my mid 40's, my mindset started to change. I found that while I was still very much fascinated by technology, it wasn't in the same all-consuming manner as it was when I was 17. Now, I find technology is tool to do other things but it's not the apple of my eye. And here's where we get into the interesting part by coming full circle to my opening sentence, thirty years ago, had you asked me:

"Think you'll ever want to do things like learn how to use a sewing machine?"

"Pfft," says younger Dale. "What for? If it doesn't have wires, integrated circuits or use electricity, what possible use would I have for it?"

Well now, let me tell ya, I even surprised myself when late last night, I burned the midnight oil researching sewing machines. I scoured Craigs List for used machines, I read articles about how to adjust thread tension, I read reviews on machines and consumed whatever information I could find about sewing machines. Why? Because I have an art project in mind, one that involves rip-stop nylon and the need to sew. A powerful motivator indeed.

Now, a few people are going to be smirking, "What's a dude doing sewing?" Back when I grew up, you wouldn't dare be caught dead talking about sewing otherwise you might find yourself on the wrong end of fists of fury and boots of anger as you took a bloody beating. People associated artsy things with being effeminate or emasculated. To put it more crudely in the terms of the time, men who did things like sewing were tagged as homosexual with people saying things like:  "Whats with the fancy-boy stuff? You a fag or something?" It wasn't just venomous words either. In those days, when I was that young 17 year old fella who didn't know much about the world, I had friends who went out and started fights with people who were homosexual. The more aggressive would go to bars or other hang outs, say something inflammatory and then let the fists fly. So what's my point in mentioning this? While I wasn't involved in any of the violence, it did teach me that people don't always play well together. I also realize that while people might not say something to your face, behind your back, it becomes the wild west where anything goes. As such, I have no desire to find out what people say about me when I'm not around. Not that a person should let others influence them so dramatically as to prevent following a dream, but being aware that people aren't always saying constructive things about you has some value.

Fortunately, times have changed, even if only a little. Maybe it's more about me with having a better confidence in my sexuality as a heterosexual and less of that childhood fear of things that are different. There are people who still raise eyebrows about the matter. Let's put it this way, I don't run about declaring locally how I'm interested in such things as I have enough problems with people asking why a single guy has lived alone for the last 12 years of his home-ownership without so much even one girl hanging around. I even recall one fella dropping his jaw when I said I had a failed marriage from years ago. He fundamentally asked, "With a woman?" Sigh! I guess that comment I once made about Sean Connery looking dapper in his golden years was misinterpreted. Well, such is life. People will think what they think. So long as I don't end up on the receiving end of fists and boot tips, I'm confident enough to go out and buy a used sewing machine and even talk about it here. Still, it's a concern. Just last week I heard someone talking about how they don't do fruity things. While it's not aggressive language, it does imply there will be tension if a conversation about the projects I'm working on arises. I'm not big on confrontation, but I'm equally not big on hiding what I'm working on. Freedom of speech applies to many things, and that includes feeling safe enough to talk about topics others might not feel comfortable with in some way.

Okay, so I diverged from the main topic as usual, following some bizarre thread of the discussion. My original point is that we don't always realize what we truly are interested in until we've had time to experience life. Those experiences shape us in unpredictable ways. And in my case, I've found a love for not only technical things, but for artsy things too. It puts me in a good position. As I learn to merge my abilities to build and repair things with a desire to create aesthetic objects, interesting potentials emerge. A prime example is my interest to do lighted glass work. My crude understanding of electricity provides a background to understand how neon lighting works and hopefully my dexterity and persistence will allow me to travel the difficult road of learning to work with forming glass. Oy! The things I dream about.

Ah, but neon is not a overnight project and will require years of effort. That's where things like the sewing machine come in at. The project is pretty simple and involves miniature hot air balloons that are lighted. Why this project you ask? Because it's an interesting combination of light, color and texture. Not only that, but it requires me to develop a skill I've never tried before, working with fabrics. Fundamentally, this is an art installation piece of sorts. Call it an experiment in aesthetics. Will it work? Probably not. Will it be fun? Hopefully. And the best part is that the basics of learning to sew are useful for other things like putting that missing button back on that nice shirt of mine that I can't wear without having a sweater over the top to hide the missing button problem.

In the end, for people like myself, the dabblers among us, we frequently have no idea where we will go with our lives. What we start out as is not what we end up as. A trash-talking young fella who lived and breathed computers can find himself in an art museum saying, "Where have you been all my life you beautiful sculpture?"  So long as we don't close the door to opportunity, the future is wide open. Time for me to get to work so I can go scavenger hunting at the thrift stores later to look for a sewing machine.

Curious about my art project? Well then, it's your lucky day because it's a two-fer day: two posts for the price of one. Next post: Balloonatic Lunatic!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Moving From Blue Sky Dreaming to Reality

While I was roaming about on DeviantArt, a fellow artist-in-training that is in my circle of friends replied to a conversation we were having about the difficulties associated with creating three dimensional art. I started into one of my long-winded replies, agreeing about challenges while noting how I thought both of us were up to the challenge. I started thinking about the reasons why interacting in a community of other like minded people, artists in this case, has value. For one advantage, feedback from peers is helpful to give us a clue about what others think of our work. Another advantage is brainstorming with a group. Usually someone will come up with a suggestion that one person alone wouldn't have thought of which can help us break out of a stuck mode when we've hit the wall and can't coax our creativity out to play.

Okay, so those are all good reasons but I realized there was a less evident reason. While explaining a planned project to friends, it triggers a change to transition the project from vapor into a more concrete plan of action. At least in my case, that's the way it is. Many times I think about ideas but they seldom make it past the internalized blue-sky barrier if I don't talk with my friends about the idea. With a peer, the conversation moves into deeper questions about how will I implement the idea or what am I trying to communicate with the overall concept. By myself, I'm less likely to move beyond exploring things into the more difficult and sometimes long-lasting implementation process. But when I talk with my peers, I have now essentially committed myself to working on things with real intent. Not just, an "I'm going to get to it some day," passing thought. This has immense value!

Not everyone will have the same need as I do to have a motivational kick-start to move beyond merely thinking about a project. Nonetheless, I suspect it's a more common issue than many people might realize. Regardless, I'm going to do my best to interact with my peers while keeping the noted objectives in mind. Not only do I seek feedback, inspiration, and motivation, but I too, will return the same to my circle of friends by offering ideas and asking about their progress.

By myself, I can create interesting things. But with others, I have the potential to transcend my existing barriers and grow beyond anything I imagined before.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The String's The Thing

While it's not exactly mainstream art, I spent some time rigging up several string trellis installations. Wanting color, I tracked down rolls of different colored string at one of the local hardware stores. I then proceeded to make fan-shaped runs of the different colored strings. Here's what I ended up with.

The lack of width to the string makes it difficult to see against the gray background so it's not completely effective. But it is an interesting result.

To implement this, I set a series of six eye hooks into the board under the roof overhang. Between these hooks, I ran a length of string to use as an anchor point. On the ground, I took three stiff wires that were used for legs on plastic flamingos (many of which were stolen) and bent a loop in one end of each wire. I then spaced the wires mid points beneath the six eye hooks above and drove the straight end of the wire into the dirt. Hopefully it has enough gripping power to not be pulled from the ground later. I then used the ground anchors as pivot points to loop a length of string that ran from the upper lines down, through the hook and back up to the eave again. I did this multiple times for each color until I had three triangular fans of color. It took about four hours of tinkering to achieve this. Most of the time was spent securing the strings so they wouldn't move later on.

Later this spring, I will plant morning glories at the anchor points and let them climb up the strings. The wind may pull the anchor points from the ground once enough leaves have grown so it maybe become a failed installation but at least it was interesting to try.

On the front side of the house I created a horizontal trellis. It's subtle, yet strands out with it's ray-like projection qualities.

I may do the same thing under one of the trees in the front yard where I make a series of string fans going up to different branches in the tree. Of course, weeding will be interesting then but I've never been one to shy away from challenges like this.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Fear of Taking Creative Risks

Over on the site “You Only Do This Once” I found an article written by a fella named Tony that talked about having the willingness to make mistakes while learning. Some of the readers joined in by commenting on their willingness to look stupid when learning. But I think for a number of us, being willing to make mistakes when others can see and respond is difficult at best.

It's an interesting scenario, the looking stupid part that is. When you think about it, failure, while potentially boring due to its repetitive nature, is a useful aspect of the learning process. It provides a chance to explore how subtle variations impact the outcome of an action even though some of our efforts will lead to dead ends. But instead of being viewed as a useful experience, mistakes become painful emotionally at times.

The big question is why should failure be painful? Is it because of selfishness or vanity? Sometimes people seek to personal gain through our abilities and efforts. For them, when we make mistakes, it provides no immediately evident tangible value. Our success is more crucial for the results rather than the process of improving. They sometimes provide pressure through statements like "Don't let me down" and will shake their heads when we fail. Their selfish actions cause them to apply pressure tactics against us in order to make us perform to their expectations. This might not be in our own best interest in regards to growth and learning. As for vanity, we become our own worst enemy. We shouldn't think ill of ourselves for experiencing failure, yet we belittle ourselves through negative internal criticism loops where we call ourselves stupid or incompetent. We erode our own confidence away.

But selfishness and vanity arent' the only culprits. There are people who don't always play nicely either as they poke fun at a person, sometimes ruthlessly. There are people who believe ridicule serves a purpose in controlling people when they misbehave socially. Hugo Schywzer (over at Jezebel) wrote an article about how some people need to be put in their place through mockery. I disagree completely with him. Mocking people, regardless of the reason, costs everyone through the loss of potential. It is mockery that leads to the fear of making mistakes and in turn, an unwillingness to take creative chances. Let me give an example of the negative impact of fear from ridicule.

When I was in my 30's, I played B league softball. By the time I reached my second year on the team, I was a decent singles hitter. I discovered that if I only swung the bat with about two-thirds of my potential, I had the most control. Trying to hit with full power was problematic and resulted in a lot of strikes. Not so good. To make matters worse, most teams had an “unwritten” rule that if you struck out, the entire team razzed you. Not just a little, a lot. The potential for ridicule stopped me dead in my tracks. As a result of my fear, I remained a singles hitter even though inside of me, I wanted to hit a home run. Over the two years of my involvement with softball, my dad and I would talk about playing ball. He always coaxed me along by saying I should give it my all. He'd tell me about he used to watch this fella in minor league give one hundred percent. The minor league player, a small man in stature, would step up to the plate and swing the bat with everything he had. Sometimes he'd swing so hard he'd lose his balance and fall down. He struck out a lot too. But when he connected, he'd send that ball out of the park. Okay, so he hit a homer once in a while. Big deal you say. And most people would argue that a singles hitter is a better asset to the team more so than an on-again, off-again home run hitter. True, but the real issue is that in my mind, I knew I wasn't trying my best at hitting because of my fear of ridicule. I felt bad inside. I wanted to try and slam that ball as a hard as I could just to see if I could hit one out of the park. Now that I've stopped playing softball, I will never know whether I could have done it or not. It's sad knowing I didn't try because of fear. Instead of taking a chance, I let other people rule me. And that's not only bad for me, it's bad for them. Those internal negative feelings spill out in unexpected ways, sometimes through hostility or other unpleasant emotions. No one wins. So in regards to Hugo Schwyzer's argument about mockery having value, he's wrong - ridicule or mockery are never valuable regardless of the context.

Back to the issue of failures, I think it's important to be supportive of others when they experience failure. It's a self-serving and selfish relationship if we expect support from others but offer none in return. I'm not saying we shouldn't be critical. Constructive criticism has immense value. But the usage of tact is important. What we shouldn't do is use negative criticisms that attack the person. And equally so, flowery words are just as useless as negative criticism. Empty praise offers nothing to the person who is trying to grow artistically. In fact, empty praise can sometimes be detrimental in that it can make a person stop listening because of the lack of useful information. Well thought out words that express a clear and concise meaning of what we think about a work or a piece serve best.

Speaking about selfishness, I think the selfish attitude is part of what dooms so many relationships. Thinking about it from a heterosexual perspective (I have no experience or any desires to learn about the other perspective), the man typically wants the scenario to stay the same. He is essentially trying to force the woman into a static mold of what she was when they first met. The woman typically (yes, these are generalizations) seeks to change the man into her image of what is acceptable. Both people lose because they are not allowing the other person to be who they need to be. And this leads to failure. But is it a good kind of failure? Not if the lesson is ignored. So there's more to failure than just experiencing it: we need to pay attention and examine the small details of the process. Learning from failure is no easy task, otherwise things like relationships would be a lot easier.

With failure, more often than not, our low self-esteem and willingness to turn control of our self-value over to others allows us to become prisoners to our fears. We fear others might ridicule or criticize us in public and and prove we are useless, a sham or not dependable. And that's a bad situation to be in. Add in excessive vanity, or a desire to look superior to others, and things get ugly quick. Essentially, comparison is a dangerous tool. It has value when trying to learn from failure. But when it becomes a primary focus where we compare our worth to others in a vanity-related sense, failure loses its luster as a tool.

In my opinion, the first step away from the fear of failure is to build an internal self-image that has more confidence. Not necessarily an easy task. I struggle with it constantly. Ironically, even attempting to accept failure involves the process of failure. There will be times when we step outside of the safety zone and try something. When we stumble, people scoff and we tend to fall back to using existing approaches rather than continue using something we are not confident with. I had this happen yesterday. I wanted to compliment a fellow student but used the wrong words. I wanted to clarify but my mind went blank and I simply repeated what I said with a change on the emphasis. Someone snorted in what I took as a sign of an indication of the stupidity of my statement. Maybe it was a poorly worded statement but the intent was honest and well meaning. Nonetheless, I felt repressed as a result. So where did I stumble? By focusing on the person snorting, it made me not want to speak up. It made me run scenarios of what it meant and how I should have reacted. None of these add value because it already happened. I was wasting time and energy on something that added no value.

We've been insulted, attacked verbally and ridiculed so many times we have a hard time letting things go. We've been trained to be competitive but sometimes we miss the point that competition doesn't haven't to be a zero sum game where there is only one winner. If we don't take first place, we think we're a loser. Rather than focus on learning what we can from the scenario and ignoring the useless aspects, we focus on the negative. We want to be Ken and Barbies with perfection being the norm. Sorry, wrong answer. First off, we aren't plastic. Second, those failures provide wonderful little quirks that add to our personality in unique ways. For that matter, how we fail can be quite comical at times. We make gestures, sounds or do whatever else it is we do to relieve the stress. But there's a sense of uniqueness to it that can make others smile if they don't slip in to a condescending mode. A group failure can be quite the interesting experience when everyone is doing a stream of consciousness dump of their first thoughts to a solution. Lots of humor emerges and people begin to laugh when their guard goes down. But again, it rarely happens unless the environment is safe.

That brings me to the core of the topic: it's not about failure, but about taking creative risks. If we don't take creative risks, we'll never traverse the strange corridors we perceive as dimly lit and full of potentially frightening beasts. Like the book, “Where the Wild Things Are,” in reality, those spaces are sometimes wide open, flooded with light and occupied by the colorful arrangement of creatures only our imagination can put into form. It's up to us to explore those new spaces. Don't be afraid to open Pandora's box because the creativity and imagination that is trapped inside is waiting to get out and kick our success into high gear. Be it anger, happiness, sadness or fear, let's express those thoughts and share them with the world rather than taking the easy road. Take creative risks, face the inevitable failures and don't take a route simply because it requires the least amount of effort. But to do so, first we need to create a safe and effective environment for working in.

So how do you go about setting up a safe and effective environment to do your work at? Or more aptly put, how do you create an environment that rewards taking creative chances? It's difficult, especially with how ambiguous communication is. Even the simplest statement can be loaded with unintended (or intended) barbs that stab and hack away at people. In my opinion, the best way to set up a healthy, productive environment is to start putting yourself out there and letting others see you fail, laugh about it and even accept negative criticism. Don't accept the negative, but rather acknowledge it and then let it roll off your back like a duck. The internalization is part of what get's us into trouble. We go rigid and allow insults to wound us rather than do the zen thing and let the negative energy pass through with less collateral damage.

I think the atmosphere we set up in our studio is the first step. Take into consideration what makes you feel at ease enough to step outside of your comfort zone. In my case, having an open and clean workspace at the start of project that I'm able to totally trash during the creative process is a must. After each project, taking a few hours brings me right back to a starting point again. That includes putting everything back into its place so I can find it when I need it. It also means changing my state of mind when I dive into the brainstorming phase of project making it a no rules game. Anything and everything goes. Things can heap up. I can even drag in the kitchen sink if it helps with the process. The most important aspect about this is dropping any fixed routines. The routines are what make bog me down in the mud when I need to be charging through the thickets to see what's on the other side. Maybe it's more thickets. Who cares. So I get a bunch of scratches charging through the bushes. They'll heal and I might find a delicious blackberry patch in the process. Mmm, blackberries.

Another important aspect is to ensure I have only the necessary sources of stimulation on hand. Too many distraction are a bad thing as it's too easy to get lost. A computer has been one of the holdouts for me so far. I have a laptop I use for music, but not for surfing. At least not when I'm creating. Surfing and collecting ideas is a beforehand step. Yes, I realize I said I should avoid applying boundaries and rules, but that's during the creative brainstorming process. During the implementation phase, its more important for me to limit distractions. Mind you, music is an essential for me so some low-key Goa or ambient background music works exceedingly well. The piece I'm listening to now from Mark Egorov is perfect with its minimal elements of a piano are relaxing. Not that I don't mind getting stoked though. A bit of The Union Underground or The Riddler can get me going when I'm in need of a hammering beat pumping out from the sub-woofer jammed under the desk.

Reminders of incentive are important too. But they're a bit harder to do. I'm not talking about posters with kittens hanging on a bar and captions saying “Hang in there!” I'm talking about things that fire me up when I look a them. A reminder of a seed idea. It can be a picture or an item. In my case, a vacuum tube does wonders for me even though it would be meaningless to someone else. The unique shape of the tube drives my mind and my motivations such that I want to see my imagined vision take shape. When I look at the tube's odd shape, it shifts my mind into a different place, a more creative area. One where the every day rules don't apply. It doesn't directly provide safety, but it does stir a nostalgic feeling which in turn, brings out the sense of safety and a willingness to take chances. Discovering what brings out those feelings of safety and the willingness to take risks is the challenge we face. The fact that our views have a fluid-like quality where they can change without notice means it's even harder to nail down what will do the job. Don't worry about it, just explore. Take a chance and explore a number of creative avenues. Expect failures, learn from them and don't beat yourself up. It won't be easy and it might not always be fun, but we'll be better artists for taking the hard road rather than sitting in an easy chair. Let's break the cycle of negative criticism by only offering constructive criticism to ourselves and others. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Choosing a Healthy Artistic Community

I've had an account on a photo sharing site called Pixdaus since last December. I initially hoped the site would provide a community where people shared photos they took personally. I soon discovered that while some members took their own photos, it appears that more than few in the top 50 who are given the spotlight are likely uploading other people's photos. Some of the members were uploading thousands of photos. While it's not an impossible feat to shoot so many photos, it is difficult to shoot quality photos in such numbers. And it's even more difficult to shoot quality photos that sometimes come from different corners of the world.

Fundementally, what I think is happening is a popularity contest has emerged where some members duke it out for a position in the highly visible top 50 slots. If you're not in the top 50, finding a person or their photos is not as easy. So for those of anyone who isn't in the top 50 of one of the five highlighted categories, you can pretty much forget having any visibility as the high volume posters flood the channels, obscuring others through sheer noise.

I give things a chance. If they don't contribute something in return, I move on which is the case for Pixdaus. It's been contributions with little or no returns. So I've sent a request to Pixdaus asking to have my account deleted. As of current, I've been met with radio silence. Update 3/18/2013: my account and content have been deleted by Pixdaus as per my request. I also received a one word confirmation email that said, "Deleted". A bit of research shows Pixdaus has had some bad PR in this department in the past. I found a forum post over on PBase entitled, "Are your photos being used on Pixdaus?" In the comments, one person made the following comment:

"Yet another photo sharing site where users steal and post images they find." 

Not exactly a positive comment in my opinion. Ultimately, the Pixdaus site owner responded to the complaints people had but it remains to be seen what happens with my correspondence. It's mostly likely the Pixdaus owner has reasonable intent but that doesn't diminish the negative impact of the issue. Looks like I should have done more research before I started posting photos there. Just for disclosure purposes, here's the latest email support request I've sent to Pixdaus:

"I submitted a request to have my account deleted March 13, 2013. This is my second request to have my account deleted as well as the removal of all of my uploaded photos.
My account id is '...'. My reason for leaving is due to an issue with a number of members who by appearance, are uploading photos from others without even providing proper attribution. This is not acceptable nor does it provide a level play field for those of us like myself who take our own photos.
My initial thoughts were that this is a site for sharing artistically shot photos taken by individuals. Over time, I've watched certain members uploading thousands of photos that were taken from all around the world. I doubt many of these members are truly jet-setters who can be in Africa one day and South America the next. Turning a blind eye to the behavior is not my standard operating procedure and so I ask for my account and uploaded content to be deleted."

Even if Pixdaus black-holes my emails and doesn't respond, it doesn't truly matter. They have no real impact on me as I've moved on in search of a more symbiotic environment where I receive something in return for the effort I give to the community. Pixdaus failed completely in that regard as I can't say anything of value surfaced from my interaction. Mostly just three point photo votes where pictures of pieces of toast trounced my photos like "Alone in the Dark" that took several days of effort to set up. Such is life.

In the end, it isn't about being overly cautious with picking the communities we involve ourselves with. But rather, it's about watching to see how interactive the community is with us in return. Time is required to build the communication channels, but don't wait forever on something that isn't going to be anything beyond a popularity contest. In other words, simply be involved. When we're involved in the right community, others will interact with us. If it's the wrong community, we'll know and will be able to free ourselves by moving on to a healthier environment.

The Value of a Digital Scrapbook

Update 9/15/2013: For whatever reasons, the formatting on this article was messed up and when I tried to correct it, the post got trashed. I had to republish the page as a result.

When I'm in a lull, when ideas fail but I feel the urge to create and can't, it's a frustrating place to be. I've been there more times than I care to think. Sometimes it's when I'm writing. Other times, it's when I'm trying to express myself visually. And in some cases, it's simply when I want to entertain myself by building or doing something amusing or unusual. Creativity is an elusive beast that comes and goes when it feels like it.

Sitting and staring at the metaphorical blank piece of paper or empty canvas doesn't help. The same ideas, the old ruts and the predictable thoughts are what run through my head. I make no progress. To fight the lethargic feeling in my mind when I'm stuck for ideas, I'll go surfing on the Internet. Sites like Tumblr or Google Images provide fodder for the brain to use as inspirational content. I'll sift through the reams of photos looking for something that will trigger the "that gives me an idea," light bulb effect.

When I find an interesting photo that shows promise, I'll archive it so I can look at it at my leisure to extract the potential it holds within. My growing collection of photos has become a scrapbook of potential project ideas. Not everything in the scrapbook will yield a successful tangent to follow or even provide a seed for an idea. But having a large pool of pictures to stimulate the mind does wonders.

I'm constantly on the hunt for photos. Sometimes even videos have interesting scenes in them that prove useful. For example, I recall seeing a prop in a movie scene inside of a room filled with oddities. One of those oddities was a sculpture of what I called a Salvador Dali cat. The cat had immensely long legs and stood out as surreal. I liked the idea and want to tinker with it. I have the image in my head but since I wasn't collecting images at the time when I saw it, I didn't save the video (or at least a screen capture). I don't recall the movie title either but I fortunately I have a recollection of what the cat looked like.

Not wanting to lose fleeting thoughts of Salvador Dali cats and the likes, I started to save digital images as I encounter them. If it has potential, I stash it away in my scrapbook folder. I really should backup my scrapbook archive too because one never knows when a hard drive crash will happen, separating me from the potential ideas I've amassed.

While the idea of saving seed ideas is not new, I thought I'd share the concept regardless. Even the most simple idea can sometimes be a new idea to someone who is taking their first steps into the process of enhancing their creativity.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Creativity and Obsession: The Evil Twins

The clock says 2:30 AM. I'm awake and watching TV but not really paying attention to the show, some horror flick called "Asylum". My mind is active. Thoughts race around and won't stop. For the moment, the ringing in my right ear is louder than my left. It distracts me, but only momentarily since I'm almost accustomed the accursed tinnitus which never stops either. I'm reminded by the ringing that there is a pharmaceutical drug called "Quietus" that helps quiet the ringing for some people. I'm think to myself, "I need some Quietus for the mind," but I know I wouldn't take any such substance even if it existed. Better living through chemistry has never worked for me. Besides, I'm used to a busy brain at this phase of life. Well, as used to it as you can possibly be. For that matter, the racing mind syndrome was no stranger to me even as a kid. I recall talking with my dad about it and listening to his stories about how he couldn't stop thinking about the projects he was working either. Like father, like son.

A few hours pass and I'm still awake. It's nearing morning and I'm watching "Two Days in the Valley". This really cute Asian girl in the movie catches my eye but it's time to get up and start the day so I shut the TV off. My mind is still grinding away. I decide to scribble out this blog post since I feel the need to journal my thoughts.

Over the course of the night, my mind was basically grinding away at one of my infamous grand ideas that have earned me the label of being a schemer. My grand schemes are sometimes near impossible. Impossible, perhaps. Or at least difficult and time consumptive in the least. But it doesn't stop me from scheming. Perhaps before I go further, a little contextual background might help to explain where my thoughts are coming from. Let's ask Mister Peabody if I can borrow the WABAC machine to back up a few days shall we?

It was few days back when I was roaming the Internet looking for ideas to use as a seed for starting a new project. After 20 or 30 minutes of surfing, I felt the trail getting hot. As always, I'm never quite sure what the source of inspiration is or was. Perhaps it's not even anything concrete. Maybe a swirl of ideas all mixed together, each competing to rise to the top but rarely taking form beyond a nebulous or slippery shape of an imaginary idea. 

But even though I can't finger what starts me on my path to madness, I know when there's something bubbling beneath the surface. I can feel it rising up, trying to take real form. To me, it feels no different than it did when I was young and struggling to identify who I was. In this case, my idea is a weird intermingling of Steampunk, nostalgia and colored light. Yeah, weird, I know. But I don't know how else to describe the oddities that try to gel into a real form within my mind. I know my idea borders on ridiculous, yet has the potential to be interesting at the same time. I feel compelled to help give form to it so I can be free of it. Art is odd that way. To some extent, at least for me, it's about freeing ideas from my mind. If I don't free it, the idea will be lost forever and that feels like a loss. So I dive further into trying to find what it is I want from this idea.

This goes on for several days. My mind bounces about thinking of different ways I can express my thought. My other infatuation rises exponentially as my brain wants the release of the feel good substance dopamine. I once again go surfing to satisfy the urges (in several ways), then with a bit of luck, stumble across something motivational. This time it's an article about a man who is creating Nixie tubes at home. Yep, another strange subject, but it's relate on several levels: nostalgia, colored light and artistry through glass. Now I'm even more into the thought of doing this project than ever. If this fella can roll his own Nixie tubes, I should be able to rig something too if I expend enough effort.

Let's take a detour just for one paragraph. One of my major frustrations with myself is my inability to establish what I would term as a mentor network connection. When I was browsing the web for ideas, I kept finding stories about various artists who met and interacted with someone influential that had a huge impact on their work. For all my attempts, I fail miserably at finding others to interact with artistically. There are times I wonder if my background and upbringing sometimes interfere. More than a few people I've been around at work sites have tales to tell of high profile people they've interacted with. Me? Nothing. Not even a brush with anyone. Hell, getting someone to spit down on me with contempt is asking too much it seems. Even with reaching out at school and joining a local mailing list that sends out well over a dozen notifications about art related activities per day, the result is the same. As a noob, it's hard to have anyone take me seriously. People sometimes see it, the passion, the near boiling over obsession I possess. But nothing in the lines of bonds or interactions form with others.

Not that I don't have an ability to function alone. I have done so and will continue to do so. But for artistic endeavors, working with someone adds so much more. Being able to toss an idea out and hear what others think adds immense value. Is the idea appealing? Is it so off the wall no one will give a rat's arse? I have no more of clue about that than I do about knowing what's upcoming on the hot trends horizon or even how to attract the girls - both of which I fail at miserably. 

I simply don't understand how the cards of fate are shuffled and dealt when it comes to who the winners and losers are going to be in the who-you-know poker game. Perhaps it's me. For that matter, most likely it is me. Let me tell ya, isolation is a horrible teacher. By ourselves, we can't learn as much as we can with someone else. Sigh. Back to the solitude, at least for now. That and feeling jealousy towards the folks who do meet the Salvador Dali's, the Ansel Adam's and the Andy Warhol's of this world. Or to have experienced having someone like Ray Harryhausen telling you your drawings lack proportion and that you need to focus on learning how to draw (I read a story about someone having that very experience). Those thoughts expose my fear of growing old, dying and never achieving anything of value. I said it before and I'll say it again, I'm a small and petty man who wants to interact with giants. How do I make it be my turn to stand impressed in the shadow of giants? Maybe it's a caste system. You either know people or you don't. I dunno.

By this time, I realize my obsessive characteristics are assuming a dominate role in my personality. It's odd how it happens so abruptly. What happens is that I start sleeping less, eat less and have a greater difficulty in controlling my mind. All this time, my mind is working on the problem trying to create a plan of action. Sometimes nothing ever emerges. At other times, I will follow a pathway of discovery and learning to a dead end. Sometimes a very expensive pathway. Dabbling as it were. I had an ex-girlfriend who used to talk about how she disliked that quality in me. She'd say, "You constantly move from thing to think like a butterfly. You never stay with anything long enough to face failure." In essence, she was ridiculing me for more than being flighty, she was calling me out as being vane to which there is some truth. But the hunger for experimental knowledge makes me expressive. And that hunger is fueled by my obsessive nature. It would seem, obsessive compulsive behaviors, at least for me, are the deeper force at work. The obsessive attribute makes me drill into subjects with a fury for a length of time while the compulsive causes me to drop it and move on. Wary be the ladies, behavior like mine does not instill confidence of someone who is a life long partner. Hence part of the reason I am single. That and my bursts of creative insanity, er creative energy.

The core point I am trying to make is that obsessive/compulsive behaviors have a connection with creativity. Not eating for hours when you're starving is just one manifestation. Unable to stop to get a bite of food or a drink of water because you feel the need to make more progress is a common thing for someone like me. Sleepless nights of waking to think. For me, it's hours of scheming to think of ways to take classes in neon. It's asking to friends and family if they can help find old radios with vacuum tubes knowing full well most everyone will look at me with wondering what kind of catnip I got into. But that's all part of the madness. Even if people roll their eyes at me when I talk about things, it doesn't matter. This is who I am and this is what I make the purpose of my life to be: to express myself.

The moral of the story? The onset of creativity is a chain reaction process. One thing leads to another and the whole process usually becomes fuzzy by the time you reach a recognizable point where a concrete idea emerges. The chain reaction is fueled by obsessive behavior, dopamine addiction and what few dollars I have in my bank account. Ultimately, the need to create never goes away, it just changes its shape. I've come to learn, creativity and obsessiveness are the evil twins that can't be separated.

With that in mind, I think what I'm going to do is create a series of ongoing posts about my vacuum tube project here. By providing a journal of my thoughts, maybe some additional value will arise. Keep in mind, what something starts out as might not have anything to do with how it ends. For that matter, it might not ever get off the ground so this could turn into a seemingly pointless stream of consciousness dump. Either way, I'll give it a try and see what happens.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

EU To Pron: Pron Be Gone

The EU is treading into the pool of fighting pornography by trying to "Eliminate gender stereotypes in the EU". An interesting analysis can be found over on Falkvinge. The article pointed out this section from the EU bill:

"17. Calls on the EU and its Member States to take concrete action on its resolution of 16 September 1997 on discrimination against women in advertising which called for a ban on all forms of pornography in the media and on the advertising of sex tourism"

The strike-through was present in the original bill but was removed later. While it specifically mentions advertising, I think this targets a more than meets the eye. It would seem, sex, or at least communication in regards to sex is becoming more and more risky. Not because of sexually transmitted diseases, but because of governmental regulations. I'd swear some of these agendas being pushed would claim you'll get herpes just by talking about sex. Guess what, 80 percent of people have type-1 herpes by the time their 50 (but not everyone shows visible signs). So maybe we all talk about sex too much ay? Well now, let's make more regulations and ban that talk shall we?

I realize the surface intent is to stop the objectification of women, but laws are rarely effective in this manner in my opinion. Fines or imprisonment for sexual harassment (or trafficking in pornography) in some manner will eventually become an abused law. The way to defeat sexism is through education and via parents setting good examples as role models.

What I will agree with is how advertising does horrible damage to society all in the quest of profits for its associated businesses and individuals. But where I diverge from the above is that it doesn't damage just women. Men suffer too, but in less obvious ways. Think there aren't social pressures on men about their physical stature or other attributes I shall not mention here? In this SixPack Joe's opinion, you'd be dead wrong if you said no. Advertising tells us every single day what a real man (or woman) is. Watch a cologne commercial some time. Got that square jaw? Wear our cologne and you're a man. No square jaw? Well, sorry sissy boy, no cologne for you because the girls want a real man. And for the ladies, better have an itty-bitty waist and stick that round thing in my... oops, Sir Mix-A-Lot got me going with them lyrics. Okay, okay, so I'm guilty of sexism by using those lyrics but I claim immunity through humor. Fundamentally, we all suffer from the media's portrayal of men and woman as needing to be sexually perfect objects. We're human, we aren't perfect. No amount of airbrushing is going to give me that square jaw I want so badly. Perhaps surgery but I don't play that game. The parts I have are the part I keep. Take that advertising!

Step on over to cracked dot com and take a looksie at this quickie article about advertising, sexism and men. I won't say the cracked dot com article really backs up my point that men are discriminated against too, but it does provide an interesting read and shows how men and women tangle with words on the subject. The comments section quickly devovles into tit for tat combat comments of "I hate how Axe commercials portray women as idiots" and angry shouts of "stopping dissing feminism." Well, I'd stop dissing it if it did what it claims and set out for equality for all. But sorry, using the words "Male chauvinistic pig"  is not about equality. Of course, not all feminists use such words. Perhaps it's more the lesbian separtists that do so. In that case, it's the separatists I dislike. Ah, I digress. Sorry. The point is, men and women both suffer from various groups trying to exploit them. As to why I mentioned the comments section, it goes back to an observation I've learned over time. When people emerge from both sides and throw tense words around, it usually means the situation has some level of unfairness for everyone in involved. It's not just a one-sided series of wrong doings. In this case, both men and women are the targets of sexism in some form or another.

I'm all for equality. But I'm also for keeping the government out of my bedroom. Were it that I had a partner currently, only she and I should decide what happens in our sex life, not some anonymous law that may have started with good intent.

The way I see it, the EU parliament is effectively saying: "when you have sex, turn out the lights, think good thoughts and the horrible deed will be over soon enough." Women might say the very last part of my farcical statement is true, but when you get down to it, I don't think anyone wants the government in the bedroom.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Retro-Primitive: The Art of Recycling

Ever get an idea too late in the game? That's a regular frustration for me. It usually starts with an unusual idea rumbling around in my brain because of something I see. For example, yesterday I saw a piece of art that had the silhouette of a parking meter in it. The idea hit me that an old parking meter head might be interesting to make some form of 3D art with.

A quick check of the city warehouse sale site turned up what was a false hit about parking meters. A deeper search of the Internet found at least one hit but with the price starting at one hundred dollars and going upward, it was prohibitive for experimental art. While the price may not be out of line with what the cities auctioned them away for, I'm willing to bet an eagle-eyed shopper back in the early 2000's could have found a far better bargain on the meters as cities pulled them from service. Sigh!

In the form of a rhetorical question, I ask myself why is it that ideas surface after a window of opportunity is gone? And why is it I'm so cheap that I can rarely move beyond gulping too hard at the price tag of hardware for tinkering? I talked with some folks about it and they simply raise an eyebrow saying, "if you want to play, you have to pay." But I look in my mothball filled wallet and think how one hundred dollars feels likes too much when you don't even know if you can make it into anything aesthetic. There has to a be a way to find old, unique items in a more affordable manner. I'm not talking valuable antiques. More so, I'm talking about having the wherewithal to actively think about watching for good deals on surplus as the inevitable cycle of upgrading technology marches along. Upgrades have happened around me my entire life but it seems I don't get a "bug" to build something until the source of materials has long since dried up.

Another good example is tubes from old radios. Man, talk about a way to make some funky art. I know enough about electronics having obtained a ham radio license back when I was around 14 so there's no concern on my part about building something safely. But tubes are in demand now as antiques. Heck, we even had boxes of the things around the farm but not anymore. For any audio enthusiast, I can make them cry with the following story:

Ages ago, way back in the 70's, my grandfather found a yard sale where someone was selling a collection of old tubes. If I recall, in total including the oddities like the old pro-camera imaging tubes (huge), there were easily over a thousand tubes in the collection. Among the more plentiful were 6AU6s and 12AX7s.  As for the 12AX7 moniker, anyone who knows amplifiers will recognize and covet a 12AX7. Needless to say, as a young lad, I was not exactly forward thinking or logical for that matter. Did you know that a 12AX7 makes the most gratifying popping sound when it meets a solid surface after being flung from the hand? More than a few precious tubes met with an untimely end. Smashy, smashy! As of today, I'd almost sell my own mother to retrieve some of those tubes. Good thing I love my mother. Tubes! Argh, another case of, "But it was in my hands for so long!" Grr. Stupid non-future seeing brain, why must you fail me so? Work darn you brain, work!

With the old story aside, one question that comes to mind, where do people find really odd things to make art with? Does anyone have other sources they use? Thrift stores and yard sales come to mind but both take a lot of time for any scavenger hunts to pay off I think. It's so hard to find things like old clocks with gears and springs or AM radios with tubes is far more difficult now. What good are gears, springs, levers or tubes you ask? Well, take a look at some of this Steampunk style art:

Sublime Streampunk Art: Metal Moving-Parts Mech Giraffe

Steampunk art exhibition revealed

Steampunk Insects Created from Bullets

Steampunk USB Thumb Drives

The tube thumb drives are interesting usages of expired tubes, but I'd like to go even more retro-primitive by creating an encased art project that uses tubes in their natural glowing state regardless of the need to do periodic replacement of them when that old familiar red-orange glow ceases. Oh man, I'm becoming nostalgic in wanting to relive aspects of my childhood. Wait, that's an excellent way for art to serve it's purpose... Yes! A feel-good moment for me as well as an epiphany. The thought of creating art to revive nostalgic feelings while making something aesthetically pleasing feels like an appropriate avenue to explore. Now if only I had parts or at least the time to go hunting for them.

With that in mind, I'll try to share my experiences and any acquired knowledge I obtain so anyone else who is interested in locating sources of materials can benefit. This is what community is about. To me, it's not about bogarting things only for myself. It's a two-street of giving and receiving, even if only through knowledge. Along the lines of sharing information (even if only trivial), I did find several sites that sell tubes and/or sockets. One is called Electron Tube Supplier and the other is Vacuum Tubes Inc. I have still have to research to see if they are legitimate. As I find affordable and/or reliable sources of "raw" materials, I'll share links.

The example I've used in this case, Steampunk, might not be everyone's preferred style. But it does establish a strong connection between recycling and art, or what I'm calling retrojunk, the merger of art and junk. That connection not only intrigues me, but makes me want to try my hand at creating something - anything! But I need to obtain resources to work with. Maybe an old VCR or something will yield some goodies in an affordable manner. Time to start rooting around for second-hand resources that can be re-purposed. Double sigh! The madness never stops for me it seems. Packratitus springs up from this stuff so care must be exercised. It's no wonder I'm so warped and single.