Monday, August 31, 2015


I'm a city boy and I have no idea what real farming is like. I only know it can't be the paradise that you see in jigsaw puzzle art and sentimental posters. My guess is that it's hard that ordinary people do everything they can to escape from it, and they always have.

I seem to remember reading that farming began in the Middle East about 11,000 years ago.  My own guess is that it's at least 2 or 3 times older than that. I imagine that a few people practiced it on a very small scale, and only in the most fertile places, for thousands of years. What made a difference 11,000 years ago was...I'm guessing...

...the discovery of liquor! Only getting blasted all day long could make grueling work like that tolerable.

Think about it. Imagine hoeing endless rows of cabbage on a bleak and empty field under the hot sun. The only thing that would make it tolerable is the expectation that eventually you'd reach a jug of liquor that's hidden in a bush at the end of the row.

I'm guessing that once liquor made small scale farming feasible, then slavery was invented to grow little farms into big ones. Slavery probably always existed on a small scale, but liquor-induced farming kicked it up a notch...a big notch!

Did slave owners give their slaves liquor? My guess is that they did. After all, it probably increased productivity. My further guess is that slave owners eventually stopped doing this because liquor addiction was spreading from the slaves to them, the slave owners. 'Just a guess.

Okay, almost everything I've said is conjecture. I've read very little on the subject. You have to admit, though, that it sounds plausible.

Friday, August 28, 2015


This is Puppis A, a supernova remnant seen through a gap in a large foreground nebula, the Vela Super Nova Remnant. If you're a longtime reader of the astronomy posts here then you probably realize that this is not the way nova remnants are supposed to look.

Look how fragmented the red clouds are, as if they were torn to pieces by an angry giant. Not only that but the blue pieces of the cloud are long and fibrous, and the pieces are parallel...not the shape you'd expect in a conventional explosion. One of the red clouds on the right has a corkscrew shape. So what gives here? I don't know. 

Do you suppose there was one big explosion then ejected fragments blew up in secondary explosions the way some fireworks do? I'm probably wrong. 

For context, here's a much wider shot of the foreground cloud we were peeking through in the topmost photo. Look at the number of stars in the background. This is somewhere in the star-dense middle region of the galaxy. Stars are born and die quickly there.

It's a violent place with (I'm guessing) cumulative solar winds of an intensity that's hard to imagine. Maybe we should be surprised when any remnants have a normal shape in a rough neighborhood like this one.

Back in our neighborhood, here's (above) the familiar Crab Nebula, looking better than you've ever seen it before. The star that created it went nova in 1054 AD. When I was a kid a local science museum sold black and white glossies of this object and I bought one. It looked like a simple doughnut with slightly fuzzy edges and a star in the middle. Now,   with aid of the Hubble, it looks like an explosion in a cat fur warehouse.

The rapidly enlarging cloud is now 10 light years across.

Above, a color enhanced Pluto as seen by the New Horizons spacecraft in July. The probe is now headed for an asteroid in the Keiper Belt. It's a billion miles more remote than Pluto.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


I know nothing about the fashion business but I know a little about one of the big designers because there's so many books about him. I'm talking about Christian Lacroix (above). He's evidently in love with color and the walls of his studio are covered with gouache sketches, art books and exotic fabric samples.
It's easy to see that Lacroix isn't just the owner of his studio, he's its chief morale officer.  The ubiquity of his work says to workers and visitors alike that this is a studio dominated by artists. If you're not an artist yourself you'll feel intimidated and out of place there, like you have two left feet. It's a scary environment for nonartists and that's the way it should be.

An artist's environment should make an outsider feel he's in a gypsy camp, full of exotic sights and sounds. It should be a world apart.

I wish art schools were like that. You'd think that art schools would set the tone for cool, artsy work environments, but they seldom do. An art school that can afford it will generally opt for the austere "angular minimalist" look (above). It's an architect's environment, not an artist's.

Schools probably have to do makes parents and regulators feel good and you can't disregard people like that. Some schools solve the problem by keeping the minimalist lobby...

...but nurturing a rats nest of filthy, cozy artist environments on other floors.

The horrible truth is that creative artists sometimes prefer crummy, isolated environments. Maybe that allows them to tune out distractions and focus entirely on their work.

If you're a digital artist there's half a chance that you work in one of those trendy bullpen environments (above), but my guess is that artists don't do their best work in places like that. It doesn't satisfy the need of all artists to rise above the crowd and establish their own identity.

Background painters' work should be present all over the studio. It's good for the morale of the other artists to see it. It's a constant reminder that creativity is expected, that its an artist's job to entertain, surprise and to stimulate the audience's imagination.

Saturday, August 22, 2015


Yes, my guess is that media of all kinds, but especially theatre and adventure novels,  contributed to the outbreak of the American Civil War and influenced our behavior right up to the Hippie Revolution in the 1960s.

Beginning with the invention of melodrama in France in the 1780s Americans were increasingly steeped in romantic hero stories that made ordinary trades seem unappealing and dull. The appearance of Dumas' ground breaking actioner "The Three Musketeers" in the 1840s was like kerosene poured on an already raging fire. The appearance of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" pushed it over the edge.

We have an image of the 19th Century America as one of unrelieved physical labor, but was it? There were melodramas, classical music concerts and opera. Shakespeare played even in small towns in the American West. In 1847 the "Shakespeare Riots" occurred when fans of different Shakespeare companies clashed violently on the city streets and people were killed.

There were showboat shows, Vaudeville, and saloon concerts.

There were minstrel shows, Hippodrome spectacles, and human and animal fights.

Add to that medicine shows, recitals, church theatre, races, state, local and world fairs, circuses, magic shows, dances, and Vaudeville.

And did I mention burlesque, public lectures and readings, debates, political rallies, rousing band concerts, sports, penny dreadfuls and magazines, romance stories, and increasingly illustrated newspapers?

Let us not forget Fourth of July celebrations, Christmas pageants, puppet shows and temperance plays.

Oops! I forgot equestrian shows, harvest celebrations and revival meetings. Geez, it's a wonder that anyone ever found time to work!

My guess is that nearly everybody, even the relatively poor, attended shows at least once a week, probably more. It's almost as if the people who lived in the 1800s had television, just like we do. People then were saturated with media, only for them it was an edgy new thing that stimulated new desires.

One last thought: people wonder how a thug like Hitler managed to come to power in the most educated country in the world. The standard reasons offered are no doubt correct but I'll add a minor reason to the list: adventure media.  For over a century the public was exposed to an unprecedented number of romantic plays and hero stories and they unwittingly did propaganda for the idea that any individual, if sufficiently bold, could live a life of adventure, excitement and pageantry. When millions of people were converted to this belief it was only a matter of time before somebody found a way to base a political system on it.

Interesting, eh?

Friday, August 21, 2015


I just saw "Trip to Italy" on Netflix and enjoyed it immensely. There's not much plot. It's just a travelogue about two British actors who are paid to take a motor trip through Italy and write about it. Here's a few framegrabs.

Italian landscapes differ from American ones. We have beautiful hills too but our roads are often cluttered with signs and cars, and Italian landscapes seem to have a more pleasing layout than ours.

I'm dying to know how they do it. The landscape looks like it has an overall plan, as if an artist figured it out, yet I'm guessing that the land is owned by different families, with no artistic co-ordination.

The car in the film enters a town and we discover that people build very close to the roads here. You walk outside the door and you're practically out in the street...but it works.

The buildings are shaped like kids blocks. The greenery is a nice counterpoint. How did that come about? Did the townspeople have an artist who had to approve the type and location of every building and tree?

The town is situated on a bay.

Houses look great when they appear to cascade down a hill. Even so, you have to pity the pedestrians who have to walk uphill every day. Is this practical? Maybe. After all, people pay whatever it takes to live on San Francisco hills that are steeper than this.

I wish my house was built below road level like this restaurant.

Skipping ahead, our guys are now ensconced in a hotel with a marvelous view and a pretty and poised guide.

The visitors are stunned into silence by the immensity of the scene.

After a bit they bit begin to talk. Only the biggest and smallest subjects seem appropriate.

Byron stayed in this town, maybe even in this hotel. He loved hearing the Italian language spoken. The film quotes him:

I love the language, that bastard Latin / That melts like kisses from a female mouth / 'Sounds as if it should be writ on satin / And syllables that read like sweet sounds.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015


"I was at IKEA yesterday and I thought I'd put up a few of the pictures I took there. Most of them are from an exhibit showing how IKEA might furnish really tiny apartments and homes. I thought they did a good job. See if you agree."

Here's (above) the living room, dining room and kitchen, all in one continuous space. It's a bit claustrophobic, but not nearly as much as you'd expect. Having white furniture and white walls makes the area seem bigger. 

 You'd need a bigger table than this, even with the extender up. Even so, it might be okay if you're eating alone.

 Extra chairs hang from hooks on the wall.

Off the kitchen, on the other side of the wall behind the sofa, is a corridor containing the bathroom and closets.

There's (above) the bedroom. It's pretty minimal. The bed looks like it only sleeps one.

One last picture: here's (above) the living room as seen from the dining table. You see another glimpse of the bed in the background. Storage boxes on top of the right hand bookshelves are black which hides them in shadow and reduces the storage clutter. Interesting, eh?

"I wonder if IKEA sells many of those "small space" suites? Maybe there's a lot of people who'll sacrifice space to live in exciting, expensive places.

I used to know a magazine editor who worked in Manhattan and she lived in a very tiny but well-furnished apartment. She seemed happy. Hmmmmm. Maybe it does work for some people."

Before I close I'll throw in a couple of unrelated IKEA pictures. I like this craftsman, "Seven Dwarves" style oak table. It would make a good desk. No...wait a minute... you couldn't slip file drawers under there. Maybe something simpler would be better.

I also like this idea (above) for a womans sewing room. The idea of a movable clothes rack situated in front of a three-part mirror is an interesting one. You'd have to roll the rack away to use the mirror, but that's okay.

I'll add that this is the way I imagine rooms must be like in the garment industry.  I like rooms for the home that are informed by working areas in the real world. I like to be reminded of commerce, of making things to sell.

"Anyway, that's it! See you later!"