Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Birthday, Happy Halloween--my 12th year sober.

I don't usually mention this but 12 seems sort of special. 12 years ago today I was "celebrating" Halloween at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. I had checked myself in when it became apparent that I could NOT have another drink after 5 previous years of sobriety. Halloween night 2000 was my final evening in the Hospital (talk about weird!) and tomorrow marks my 12th year "on the wagon." It is the single most important thing I ever did in my life. Happy Halloween to you, happy birthday to me!
The paragraph above is a post today, Halloween, 2012, from my Facebook page. It suddenly struck me as significant enough to post here on a public forum for anyone who might appreciate it but even more so for anyone struggling with alcoholism. It's nothing more than an announcement. It's not a solution but hopefully someone finds in it some inspiration. The solution is inside you. What I discovered, with all the support that is around and support is a good thing, the answer finally comes from the individual, not from a higher power and not from the person sitting next to you at a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous but from inside you. Internally my creative spirit and drive were the things I harmed the most most by drinking and as it turned out they were the things I put in the place of my alcoholism, they are my never ending cure. May you find yours if you are in this dilemma. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Hello, Frank Zappa!

 I have mentioned this story elsewhere in the past. I'm mentioning it here to see if it finally gets some attention from someone who knows because I'm not entirely sure where I got this story and as a huge fan of Frank Zappa and the music of Frank Zappa---I think it's a great story.
Zappa's "rock opera," Joe's Garage is about a lot of stuff as it relates to a rock and roll band, things that take place on the road, free will and censorship. It contains a favorite song of Frank's, Watermelon In Easter Hay.
Since it's here and if you don't know anything about Frank you don't know this is really sort of a sacred song (meaning I'm surprised it's here.) The story I heard and I have never been able to find it again was... Frank was on his death bed, requested to have this playing or it was already, he asked for a coke, raised it slightly in the air and said... "things go better with coke." I want to believe that story because it works so well. Hello Frank Zappa. :-)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Audio CD sales up in 2020!

I just went online to buy a CD of the latest release from I band I like. I believe the album release date was in January.  I wanted a CD, something tangible, something I could hold in my hand and look at. The first thing I found upon Goolgling the band name + the album title were a bunch of links to pirated copies. Then I narrowed Google down to "shopping," still with no luck. Then I went directly to Amazon and searched on the same. I found the $9.99 MP3 download version of the album but wait… there was a link to "Also available in CD Format" where I found…

We've been hearing about this, that record companies would be stopping the distribution of albums on CD but this is the first time I've run into it. While I CAN still get a CD, this was a sign. It's a German band, not mainstream music so I'm sure that effects things. I can order it from the band's website for 24.50 EUR ($32.06 at the moment) including shipping and whoever's tax I'm paying but I have to create an account there and log in to confirm all this.

CDs started making a huge impact on distribution and sales of vinyl records once CD players became affordable in the early 80's and they took over market share by the late 80's. By 1991 vinyl records left mainstream album distribution. Thing is, record albums have had a resurgence in recent years, in 2009 almost 3 million records were sold, the most in ten years. Fact is vinyl records as an overall buying experience will never be beat by any other medium. The act of going to the local record store, thumbing through the records was an energizing event.. Even though I grew up in a large suburb of Los Angeles there was always a small independent record store around and you could even make requests to hear some of the music you planned to buy (or just wanted to hear) while you were shopping. During the mid-70s my friends and I would frequent a local record shop called Odd Tunes and Mole Music where we would often have after hours listening sessions with the owner and his lady friend. We'd dim the lights, sit back on a couch and otherwise indulge while listening from an enormous selection. I was exposed to music I may never have heard otherwise. I remember one album in particular, Mountain In The Clouds by Miroslav Vitous-- you weren't going to just hear that--not anywhere. It was a wonderful time when stereos were furniture and not little devices we threw in our pockets or stuff we connected to our cell phones.

Miroslav Vitous, from the album Magical Shepard (not highly recommended-but Mountain In The Clouds is.) Custom double neck bass/guitar by Rex Bogue.

Music wasn't very portable until the Walkman was released in 1979 and it took a year or two before that dropped in price. In 2005 I bought my current Sherwood A/B home cassette deck because I found a box load of irreplaceable recordings I wanted to digitize. I first went shopping at stereo stores but gave up quickly. One salesperson, probably 19-20 years old didn't know what I was talking about. I finally described the tape and said she may have seen one in an older car. That's when she said no, we don't have any of those. I bought the Sherwood online. I used to carry around a rather bulky about 12" x 8" x 4" Panasonic cassette player, AM/FM radio, early 70's. 'Actually taped a lot of music off the radio with that. Really, I'm not kidding. But it certainly wasn't convenient and music listening was much more of a social event than it is today, those portable solutions were mainly used when you couldn't find a place to listen to music without parents around. What was typical was sitting around large pieces of furniture and these pieces of furniture housed our stereo equipment.

My earliest childhood home listening experience was in front of this. This housed Altec-Lansing speakers (8" full range), a Harman/Kardon tube stereo receiver (currently under repair by me) and a Girard turntable. This was brand new circa 1962. That's my cat, Lucy The Cat, sticking her head out circa today.

So, a little math but we'll round off the years for sake of simplicity. Say the CD took over vinyl records pretty completely by 1989 then records had their revival 20 years later in 2009 but there were modest sales coming into play as early as 1998. I'm going to recommend this--hang onto your CD collections and see what renewed value they have out of either nostalgia or just because people like to have stuff. This is going to happen by 2020. Also, by 2040 record LPs will become the Art Nouveau framed and hanging in people's living rooms and music itself will have become illegal a la Frank Zappa's, Joe's Garage. If you think you'll be around then, prepare to go underground.

"Our studies have shown that this horrible force is so dangerous to society at large that laws are being drawn up at this very moment to stop it forever! Cruel and inhuman punishments are being carefully described in tiny paragraphs so they won't conflict with the Constitution (which, itself, is being modified in order to accommodate THE FUTURE)."
-The Central Scrutinizer
(Scene One, Frank Zappa's, Joe Garage) 

(By the way, if anybody actually reads this and is curious about the album I was shopping for it is the 2011 release by a band called Sylvan titled Sceneries and it looks like I'm going to order from their website.) Look for it on eBay in 2020.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Stuff on my desk - The future of point and shoot digital cameras

I was going to lump a few items together and to a sort of review stuff on my desk (or otherwise nearby) as sort of commentary/review. Instead I decided to break these down individually. First up is my point and shoot Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH1 camera. But think of this more generically, referencing digital point and shoot cameras in general.

This camera goes just about everywhere with me and has for 1 year and 11 months. It's not a current model. It's a nice little 12 MP camera that also shoots not horrible 720p video. I bought it to 'upgrade" from a Canon SD1000, 7.1 MP camera which at $179 was about $30 higher in price than the Lumix when the Lumix was new. The other reason I have a pocket camera is because I don't own a cell phone. Yes, this is true and I have not owned a cell phone since 1994. But there are other reasons for having a pocket camera and the ones that seems most significant is you are presumably getting better optics, a larger sensor and therefore nicer images. I don't care how good you think the photos are off your phone, if it's got a cheap little plastic lens it can't be that good. Whatever one gets out of putting a lens on top of the native plastic lens you're still starting off with a plastic lens.

I often see pictures off iPhones, etc., on sites like Facebook usually processed though some utility app, where people are raving how great they are. Really? Seriously? Or they're just trying to be nice. I see at best average pictures image quality-wise. Of course there are those people who wouldn't know the difference between an Ansel Adams and the dad's 1971 Polaroid of El Capitan, even if they were hit over the head with a Sequoia tree. Obviously things are only as good as the subject matter in the moment anyway. I mean some of the greatest pictures in history were taken using some pretty sub-par tools, right?

My perspective is, because people are saying the pocket camera will die due to better and better cameras in cell phones and everybody (except me) has a cell phone, keep the quality of the optics high in the point in shoot, continually improve the quality of the sensor and for heaven's sake---make the sensor user friendly to maintain or make it self-cleaning. Did you know I was leading up to this? By the way phone folks, more megapixels doesn't necessarily mean a better picture.

Devices like point and shoot cameras have been designed from the get go not to allow for things like user-maintenance. I think this is really short sited on the part of the manufacturers. In a bygone era cameras were designed to last a lifetime. Now they're designed to be disposed off but the camera makers maintain this position--they'll be replaced. Well sure but they're starting to be replaced by the cameras in the cell phone and they are successfully closing off the market of having something that takes better pictures than a phone in one's pocket. Presumably enough people still want better pictures although that desire is also being absorbed by "good enough." Personally I'd like to have the smallest possible, most optically versatile, best picture taking device I can in my pocket. I'd also like to be able to keep it that way.

The camera makers have finally realized on the DSLR, where people are laying out significant amounts of money, that a sensor cleaning system would be a good benefit to sales. The way this works is vibrations are sent to the sensor and that has a certain degree of success in knocking the dust off. The dust is still in the camera though.

Canon has a multi-level technology for dealing with dust on certain DSLR models. I know about Canon because I own a Canon. I'll assume the other top camera makers are on top of this in some similar fashion too. (Images from

Step one, the use of materials which are less inclined to attract dust

Step two,  use of vibration to get what dust that adheres to fall off. Hopefully

Step 3, mapping the dust image so it can be "removed" after the fact. As far as this step goes I'd rather make these decisions myself with tools in Photoshop.

So they try to high-tech, dummy-proof the dust aspect of owning a DSLR but it seems they sort of forgot the traditional methods of dust removal for SLR cameras--we went in with a soft cloth, a blower brush and/or a can of dust-off and did it ourselves. Why the camera manufactures don't think the end-user can adapt to the newer technology is beyond me.

Anyway, back to my Lumix point and shoot. Other Lumix pocket cameras are designed similarly while  mine actually seems to be one of the more difficult models for accessing the CCD sensor and manually removing dust. After  you remove a number of screws with a # 0 bit (most likely) this is what you see. I'm going to assume that if you're still reading this you feel mechanically inclined enough to figure out which screws you need to remove to get to this point. To remove any ribbon cable lift the connector gently with a pair of tweezers. Sometimes you can simply back a cable off out of your way without disconnecting.

Under that circular plate (the CCD block) I have marked, which in the case of this Lumix is sloppily taped down with thin black pain to deal with tape, is the CCD block. The sensor is attached to the opposite side of the block so be careful lifting it, under that is the infrared filter sitting directly behind the lens. It is the motion of the lens moving in and out when you turn the camera on and off that sucks the dust inside. Carrying a camera around in your pocket isn't a lot of help either. The infrared filter is where most of the dust will reside. I prefer to hold on to this delicately but firmly with tweezers along the black plastic housing and hit it with some compressed air. Same with the sensor. Then promptly get things back together before more dust settles.

Essentially my advice as a lowly consumer to the big camera makers is make this process easier, allow us easy access to clean both the filter and the sensor. Make the small format more attractive to buy for the person who wants to take better pictures than a cell phone would, keep improving on the sensor for these cameras and keep improving upon the quality and versatility of the lens systems including the O.I.S., Optical Image Stabilizer for motion picture and improved optical zoom, while keeping the retail cost down. Also, improve low light performance and flash. I'm thinking too--what about a small LED fill light option for close up video in low light? It might seem to be a sort of novelty but right now you've got people using the LCD on phones as a fill light.

Perhaps you'll hang on to a market at that level instead of the old concept of thinking the consumer will simply lay out another $150-$250+ for a new camera every year or so. They still might be willing to do that by the way, besides buying a new phone.

One additional note, at the high-end, the latest Lumix point and shoot, the DMC-ZS20(TZ30), has the addition of a GPS system to provide precise map data for your images. In case you forgot where you were. I could see this as useful though especially long into the future. I'm currently going through 100s of family photos many long before I was born and it would be really nice to know exactly when and where they had been taken. I guess my family wasn't always too keen on writing notes on the back of photos.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Zen and the art of Zombie killing


Once upon a time I was, quite frankly, great at this sport. I was in fact more serious about archery than any other self-mastery in my life. It is without question a Zen discipline of precision and concentration--total absorption into the body's tension and release. Yesterday for probably the 4th time over many years my 21 year old son asked me to coach him in this. I'm not sure about his motivations though... He said he wants to be prepared for when the Zombies come.

 Shoot fast son.

The bow is an original Jennings Compound made o my specifications in 1971 (age 15) by Tom Jennings. Tom was the first bow maker to really modify the original Allen Compound for competitive archery. By the age of 16 I was one of the top 3 "young adult" archers for the state of California. At the time CA was one of the most competitive states in archery. Young Adult was a division specifically created for kids like me because we were too good to compete in youth divisions and it was too embarrassing to have us go against the adults.

Then there's this...

Friday, January 27, 2012

Batman's Epiphany

The moment when Batman realized the bat purse wasn't going to cut it...


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Thinking Outside Of The Box

In September of 2008 I was looking through "want ads," well, we don't really call them that anymore we call them, "job postings." Anyway, there seemed to be some frequency in people looking for "outside of the box" thinkers, doers, sages and seers... people, I guess. It's one of those terms that makes me think, "look for some talent" in your human resources department. That and the requirement for "multitasking." We all know now that multitasking is a myth, right? If you highlight "multitasking is a myth, " right mouse click, Search Google for "multitasking is a myth," as I just did, lo and behold there's a link to an article in Scientific American entitled, The Myth of Multitasking. The first thing it states is we have not gotten better at multitasking but have rather gotten better at switching back and forth between tasks. That's as far as I read. I might add, it appears to me that we've gotten better moving from task A to task B, C or maybe even D and in the meantime everyone's politely forgotten about task A. Fact is, computers have a hard enough time multitasking why should we be expected to?

Back to the box. Thinking outside the box elicited an image in my head that day and I decided I needed to see it more clearly, so I made this image.

In fact in looking back it appears I made 26 variations of this image between September 15 & 16, 2008. Apparently I liked this one best because it ended up on my business card with the proud caption, "Thinking Outside Of The Box." Just like a movie title. Fact is, as I have already alluded to, I think it's a stupid saying and the whole point was to make sarcastic mockery of its stupidity. A lot of people really like my card though and actually so do I but then I think outside of the box.

About 1 year and 11 months later I decided to show people just how big the box really was. After working on a CG elephant for something entirely different I created, "seeking thinking outside of the box." Perhaps my elephant was a subconscious interpretation of certain HR departments. Or not.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Year of the Black Water Dragon.

The Year 2012 is the 4709th Chinese year. China enters the 4709th year today, January 23, 2012. Also, the Chinese Year uses the cycle of 60 Stem-Branch counting systems and the Black Water Dragon is the 28th Stem-Branch in the cycle.

Having never seen a Black Water Dragon I could only imagine and this is what I came up with, my baby Black Water Dragon. I will call him Walter.

Happy New Year Everyone!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Squirrel Nests

Did you know that squirrels build nests? Well they do. I missed out on getting a photo or video of this so you'll just have to imagine. Yesterday I was out on my daily late afternoon walk, most of this occurs at the local Jr. college. There is one point about midway on the average walk, 2.7 miles or so in, where I pass a men's room on the campus. Sometimes I find this to my advantage. Yesterday as I'm approaching the bathroom I see what looks to be a very odd white animal with a long white tail. As I get closer I realize it's a squirrel and this little critter has just robbed the bathroom of a paper toilet seat protective cover (yes, it was clean) and about 6 feet of toilet paper. He scurried into a tree-like manicured bush well before I was in camera range and I wasn't inclined to poke around too much and upset him.

If you look carefully, toward the bottom center of the image you'll see he also has himself a tennis ball. I call him a he merely out of convenience, the only way to distinguish a male from a female squirrel is to hold them upside down and look. Besides, he was in the men's room.

About a mile before this spot (or a couple miles later depending on which way I'm going) there are several Sweetgum trees. The sweetgums are on the property of the elementary school I attended in the 1960s. It's hard to see the squirrels nests amongst the leaves but once fall finishes it's job they become quite apparent. You will frequently find more nests, also called dreys, where there are squirrels than squirrels themselves because if a nest gets infested with fleas or other parasites they will leave and build elsewhere. Squirrels are actually rather clean and rarely carry rabies.

Squirrel Joke

An owl and a squirrel are sitting in a tree, watching a farmer go by. The owl turns to the squirrel and says nothing, because owls can't talk.

The owl then eats the squirrel because it's a bird of prey.

(People who majored in sciences find that joke funny.)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Vitruvian Guitar Man

Every now and again there is one specific reason I decide to draw something and that reason is... I want to make myself a t-shirt. The 1st effort for my Vitruvian Guitar Man took place in 2007 and there was some distraction that had me put it aside. In May of 2009 I saw another example of a t-shirt with this and was so enraged, err... no, inspired, I decided to finish my drawing.

The original Vitruvian Man drawing was created by Leonardo da Vinci circa 1487. The drawing is based on the correlations of ideal human proportions with geometry described by the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius in Book III of his treatise De Architectura. Vitruvius described the human figure as being the principal source of proportion among the Classical orders of architecture. Leonardo's drawing is traditionally named in honor of the architect. (source: Wikipedia)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Apollo 11 astronaut, Buzz Aldrin, walks his dog (on the moon.)

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin, lunar module pilot, stands on the surface of the moon near the leg of the lunar module, Eagle, during the Apollo 11 moonwalk. Astronaut Neil Armstrong, mission commander, took this photograph with a 70mm lunar surface camera. While Armstrong and Aldrin descended in the lunar module to explore the Sea of Tranquility, astronaut Michael Collins, command module pilot, remained in lunar orbit with the Command and Service Module, Columbia. (Source: Wikipedia)

I, on the other hand, imagined he was holding something. Suddenly it seemed obvious.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Wacom Bamboo Stylus for the iPad (my impressions)

Yesterday my Wacom Bamboo Stylus for the iPad came in the mail. The first thing I learned about using it was I am inclined to drag my hand around on the screen when I draw. I think left handed people are particularly predisposed toward this behavior. The remedy for now was to throw on a cycling glove. Eventually I'll find some thin cotton gloves and cut the fingers off, probably leaving the little finger intact. You still want your finger tips free for menu navigation, gestures, some drawing and because you want to feel the stylus.

Other observations:

  • I have long fingers I find the Bamboo to be somewhat short. I think it could use another inch or so. I already heard the joke in my head so forget it.
  • It requires a bit of pressure and since the tip is a rubber nib, ball-like and squishy hollow at the tip, you get a certain amount of drag from that but I think you get some drag from charcoal pencils too so what do I know. Keep in mind I'm a hobbyist when it comes to drawing. I am, in fact, drawing mostly to support other creative digital workflows and secondarily because I would like to learn to draw better.
  • Back to squishy, the tip housing unscrews so the nib can be replaced. If I already had at least one additional nib I'd try packing it with something to see if I can find a better feel. If you're reading this trying to decide on a Bamboo or some other stylus and you're wondering how to order additional nibs Wacom has that hidden away on their site for some reason (I guess there's a reason?!?) Here's the link. Out of stock and no add to cart right now, so no backorders. I could kick myself on that one but I was waiting for the stylus to arrive. Anyway, I'll probably try something like a latex caulk in a nib once I can get some extras.
  • The nib is also a little rubber dust magnet, I suggest going over your iPad with a microfiber cloth before drawing. It's not as clean as you think it is.
  • The price: You'll see this everywhere, the price sucks! I paid $25.43 on Amazon with free shipping. The Griffin stylus is under $11 + shipping or get your order over $25 on Amazon and it'll ship for free. I got the Wacom for the name and it seemed to get the best reviews but for what it is the price is ridiculous.
Overall impression so far, it's a lot better than me trying to draw with the tips of my fingers. I am simply not good at that plus I think once I get into a vector drawing program on the iPad the benefits of a stylus will be even more pronounced. It also has me finally learning Sketchbook Pro for the iPad, the 1st app I ever bought for the iPad2. BTW, I recently bumped into the user manual for Sketchbook Pro for the iPad here. This link will download the PDF. I don't believe Autodesk makes this documnet obvious in anyway, especially considering the name of the document is, file_48931.pdf. I have a sort of long bitter-sweet relationship with AutoDesk I won't get into. That aside, I had made a New Year's resolution to draw more with pen/pencil and paper and a 1/2 hour later I ordered the stylus but I think the main thing for me is to draw in a manner more conventional to analog drawing with more frequency and a $1,000 Wacom Cintiq is out of the picture (my old Wacom has seen better days.) I also like the idea of being able to sit in a recliner, a waiting room, parked in a car, etc. and being able to draw. I'll work on the finger thing as I go.

January 20, 2012 Update

After numerous periodic check-ins on the Wacom site I was finally able to order the 3-pack of extra nibs today. Talk about your ripoffs. The $4.95 for 3 little pieces of rubber is bad enough but they add on $5 for shipping. The use the UPS service that drops it off with the USPS somewhere along the way. They also quote, "Allow 12-15 business days for delivery after order processing." Come on, put them in a bubble pack and throw them in the mail!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

David rocks!

Viewed head on, the statue of David seems out of proportion. The upper portions of the statue appear somewhat larger than is natural. However, when viewed from below, the perspective creates the illusion of proportion. I drew the guitar properly to scale. However, I needed to scale down his right hand (picking) considerably to be in proper proportion to the guitar.

"In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it."—Michelangelo

Monday, January 2, 2012

Bye bye 2011. Nice knowing ya.

The last sunset of 2011, San Fernando Valley, CA.

Lucy the Cat gets a new helicopter for the holidays.

Lucy's new helicopter arrived yesterday. This video was done kind of quick and dirty this morning. The game plan is to try and keep the thing out of harms way but sort of dangle it in front of her. I have no way of moving forward/back, left/right with the camera in my hand though. Most of the action is at the end of this including Lucy  swatting and getting nipped at 2:41.

RC Helicopters as cat toys.

For anybody else interested in a RC helicopter. Here's a brief report. Lucy's old heli was 2 channel. 2-ch goes up and down and has a l/r spin. Don't get one. This new Syma S107G is 3-ch, it also goes forward and back via the tail rotor. I have landed this in my hand, much greater control. 4-ch also has a left/right lean or aileron. Plus, f/b doesn't use a tail rotor it uses servos to the bottom rotor for f/b. Even more control. For a small indoor heli the best 4-ch buy is a Blade mCX RTF, about $50 more than I paid for the S107G.


I'm thinking about moving all the stuff I do on Facebook to this blog. I mean, what's the difference where you post stuff if it's ignored anyway, right? I also figure that I have more freedom of expression here and that the kind of stuff I do and might post is better suited to this format. So basically what I'm going to do to start off is move my last few or so Facebook posts to here and see how things look. Exciting huh?