Photo Safari Sunday

CAME ON WEDNESDAY this week. Because Toni and I spent Sunday working around the house — mostly to do with taxes — butt in chair, pen in hand, working the numbers. Running them upon occasion, but really, just adding up long columns of figures and writing the total on a sheet of paper.

Wednesday, we went to the accountant (whom we’ve used since the early ’80s) and presented him with the fruits of our labor, for him to organize into a coherent statement of our incomes and deductions and figure out how little we can get away with paying the gooberment this year.

No point in talking specifics here, as everybody goes through some version of the same dance. Last December, I had a passenger who was also a Lyft driver who talked to me, asking how I handled taxes and stuff. I told him how I track income and expenses.

Of course, this is my first year doing this, so I’m going to have to tweak my system so that, at the end of the calendar year, it disgorges the correct set of numbers with no combing through the whole mess to winkle out the what of the that.

At the end of the session, while we were getting our coats on, the accountant asked where were planning to go to breakfast. I averred that it was our intention to head to the Perkins in North College Hill (about two miles away from his office). He recommended a place north of his office about three miles called The Sweetheart Cafe — a little hole-in-the-wall, patronized mostly by locals, tucked up in the corner of a strip mall behind a Hobby Lobby just past Northgate Mall going out Colerain Avenue.

He started listing all the goodies he enjoyed there, and Toni latched onto the idea right away. I had been looking forward to eggs Benedict at Perkins, so was a little reluctant, but was persuaded. I looked the address up in Waze and figured out that I knew just about where the place was, so we went there. And were glad. If you happen to be looking for breakfast in the rough area of College Hill-Mt Airy-Groesbeck-White Oak-Northgate-Springdale-Bevis neighborhoods in Cincinnati, you could do a lot worse. Though it’s probably 25 miles from home, we plan to return when we can.

Anyway, after we ate, we turned the nose of the car toward Toni’s goal of the day: Elmwood Place-Ivorydale-St Bernard.

She’d spotted an area of interest from the expressway and had described it to me as best she could and said she couldn’t figure out how to get there. I knew what she meant and had been wanting to go there myself; I was able to cobble together a way to get close and headed off that way. We snufffled around a bit in Hartwell and Carthage — around the Hamilton County Fairgrounds and some No Trespassing areas near National Distillery, then dove down into Elmwood. Toni would call out sights she found interesting, and I navigated the blocks to find them and shoot them — old churches, neat houses, ghost signs, industrial sites that promised our favorite textures of rust, stairstepped bricks, peeling paint, and spalled concrete. And doors. I go for architectural detail; Toni goes for doors and windows and ghost signs.

Some arc-det (ARChitectural-DETail) from a storefront on Vine Street in Elmwood:

We tooled around Elmwood Place a bit, circling blocks, stopping in front of interesting buildings — puzzling the natives — Toni leaning out her side of the car with her cell phone (she’s gotten damned good with that thing, for all she’s only reluctantly accomodating to the Samsung camera), I sticking a long lens out the driver’s side window. We even got out once to shoot a ghost sign on the side of an old drug store (I think). The frustating and fascinating thing about ghost signs is figuring out what they originally said. This one, in particular is possibly a palimpsest and badly faded. As is evident by this snap. (Click to embiggen.)

The door pic at top was taken late in our ramble, in Walnut Hills, on the edge of Avondale, near the old Reading Road Sears store and the old Ford Factory (now an out-clinic for Children’s Hospital). We were looking for a way to get to the old bakery on the former Melish Avenue (which was subsumed into Martin Luther King, Jr. drive (a.k.a. Em-El-Kay)). We got there, eventually, but hadn’t yet, when I turned a corner off Stanton and we found ourselves in a lower parking lot to the Children’s location, hard by I-71 and the MLK Drive exit northbound. It became clear that the parking lot was private property, so I turned around and headed out, when Toni shouted, “Stop!” and leaned out her window. I pulled up to the curb by a loading dock and there was this beautiful old sliding firedoor, with intact traveler hardware in a painted brick wall. She shot it and I leaned across the car and shot it, too.

The neat thing I noticed right away, in the flash preview, was that the shadow from the overhang formed a gradient, dark to light down the door and wall to the bright steel edge of the dock. So, even in gray, flat light on a snowy day, it’s possible to get interesting, beautiful light — no matter how subtle.

Comment to Your

HEART’S CONTENT or comment your heart’s content, whatever. For the past however, in an apparently misguided attempt to keep things “current” (whatever that is), comments on an individual post would close after two weeks. I have turned that off and comments will — or should — be open indefinitely. I’m sure this is going to mean more work for me, moderating and so forth, but I think it will be worth it, if it makes the blog more welcoming.

Alger says, “Thank you.”

For new and returning Trollistas, Da Doll (“Ç’est moi,” she says with a coquettish moue), has this primer. The comment system works like this: The first time you comment, your comment will be held in moderation. Once a moderator (moi, again –Doll) approves your comment, you, as a comment author, have one approved comment and can comment without moderation for the foreseeable future.

Several incarnations of this blog ago, we had a membership system. It fell by the wayside amongst our changes of hosts and blogging platforms — a period we refer to as “Our Time in the Wilderness.” Now that we are settled here on WordPress at DreamHost, Alger and I have been kicking around the idea of reinstating that fine institution. (Membership, that is.) But first, we need to figure out what benefits that would confer, and second, we need to find a pret-a-porter system to instantiate it. When we do, you’ll be the first to learn about it. But Da Doll is pretty sure it will start with some kind of registration to comment — which is why it’s germane to the subject at hand.

Blogging All Along

OF COURSE, THE IRONY IS that I have been — blogging all along, that is — and I have the stats to prove it. (Speaking of which, I need a privacy-respecting alternative to Google Analytics.)

Last night, I started a comment thread on Facebook and commented on Instapundit. I’ve put out tentative feelers on this topic before, but, as a friend of Prof. Reynolds put it, “With all this privacy crap about Facebook rearing its ugly head, I’m thinking about returning to blogging.”

I would seriously like substantive answers. I have over 1200 Friends on Facebook. Please do me the favor of responding. If I were to leave Facebook and “go back to the blog,” as Prof Reynolds put it. Would many — or any — of you come along with and participate at BabyTrollBlog?

Responses have been neutral-to-negative on balance. Which illustrates the market penetration incumbent socmed (SOCial MEDia) have versus blogs. Most readers find the incumbents more convenient than blogs. Apparently, the privacy crap doesn’t outweigh the convenience. Which, I suppose is the same conundrum leftists face when they think people should be willing to pay a higher price for goods that appear to address some concerns of social justice for that reason alone, but they aren’t; they go for the low-price item every time. That’s how markets work.

We in the blogosphere better hope that the perceived cost of socmed’s assaults on privacy outweighs the perceived inconvenience of patronizing blogs. Otherwise, it’s a lot of effort for little return.

Our Friend Cedar

SANDERSON has a new post up on the subject of broken windows policing. You know, the way Rudy Giuliani is credited with cleaning up New York. The neat part is that she chose some of Alger’s photography to illustrate it. Guess who’s chuffed.

Book Loft Revisited

AS I WROTE SUNDAY NIGHT Toni and I went for our usual weekend photo safari on an overnighter to Columbus’s German Village tourist area and Ohio’s Hocking Valley. Left Saturday morning in the rain and came back Sunday night to news of high water all along the Ohio and tributaries.

Funny… We were driving in the rain, saw plenty of watercourses in spate, lots of drowned farm fields, but I — at least — didn’t get many pictures of “the flood”. I haven’t seen many that Toni took, either.

Sunday morning, we got up, got breakfast at the Bob Evanos across the road (there’s always one across the road), complimented the waitress on her (red) hair, and headed back into Columbus for a little toddle around German Village and a revisit to the Book Loft.

Saw more of GV than we did Saturday. Judging by the looks of the houses — mostly brick one- and two-story, with some three- — I’d guess the place was built over a short period in the early 19th Century, somewhat as Over the Rhine was in Cincinnati, by German immigrants. Thus the brewery district nearby. It doesn’t seem as though the housing stock was allowed to deteriorate as badly as OTR’s before gentrification set in.

Made a shorter visit to the Book Loft this time, then set out to the southeast of Columbus to do a little sightseeing in the valley of the Hocking River. As promised, interesting pix:

Book Loft Reified

SUNDAY EVENING as Toni and I were finishing our lunch at the Frisch’s on Lila Avenue in Milford, we estimated it would take a little under a half hour to get home and we wouldn’t get unpacked at all that night. A half-hour after we left the restaurant, we stumbled through unloading the car, staggered across the street, with all our impedimenta, and I was unpacked and in PJs a half-hour later.

We had just spent something over eight hours in the car and a half-hour stumbling around in the Book Loft for the second time in one weekend, since a Bob Evans breakfast that couldn’t be beat. That second time in a weekend is critical to your understanding of the matter.

You see, last week (Monday) I had shared a post of interest, featuring some words about a fascinating-sounding bookstore in the German Village section of Columbus called The Book Loft. Which store comprises 32 rooms in what turned out to be two floors of shotgun flats from the 1890s (I guess) on South Third Street. It is the kind of place that makes a bibliophile horny with the want-to-buy’s and can have your last dime burning a hole in your pocket. The sign claims 500,000 volumes in 32 rooms. I’m not even going to challenge their count, though I remain skeptical. That’s a lotta books. But, even so there’s a lotta books there. A good time was had by all. Money spent, and a lot of climbing of stairs (There’s a stairwell every two rooms it seems like, and, as the old mechanic at the service station used to put it, “Y’cain’t git theya from heeyer.” The place is definitely not ADA compliant nor friendly to the mobility-challenged.). I got a book and Toni got two. Would have spent more, but budgets must; when needs drive, desire sits in back.

Toni came back with the suggestion that we leave for Columbus after she got off work on Saturday, spend Saturday night in a hotel (Red Roof. Note: there’s one on South Front Street, four blocks from the Book Loft.) We reserved a room at the Red Roof in Grove City (about 7 miles away, and right by the exit off I71 North. We checked in and headed over to German Village. It was raining, so I had hassles with the traffic. Someday, I’ll learn.

We were lucky enough to find a parking spot on South Third Street, right across and half-block down from the Book Loft. Only had to cruise the neighborhood once. This is another key point; if you are at all mobility challenged, the closest parking lots are several blocks away — too far to hobble on a cane. It’s worthwhile to orbit the block, looking for an open spot. Plus: do a recce so you know what all the signs mean before you have to pick or reject a spot based on legalities. Also, if you have a handicapped placard, be prepared to wield it.

Go expecting to spend some serious coin. I think Toni and I spent close to a hundred dollars in two cursory visits. If we had been willing to hang in the store for what it’s worth and able to spend three or four (or five) figures, it could have been done. Most readily. I can see myself dropping ten grand in there on a weekend, though I can’t see myself having that much to spend, if you get my drift.

They don’t shy from high price tags, although I suspect nearly every book in the store is marked down somewhat. I bought a book on Art Noveau, for example, that lists about fifty bucks, but got it for under thirty. But you can be tempted, believe me. On the way out Saturday night, I spotted a book still in the publisher’s shipping box: The Complete Little Nemo by Windsor McKay. I oo’d and ah’d appropriately, but knew without asking that I couldn’t afford it. Plus: we don’t have room for it in our house. Not shelf space, mind. That I could come up with — or build. No. I’m talking about room absolute. The thing is a coffee-table book. As in: put legs on it, it’d be one. What would you guess? $150? $500? I don’t know myself, but, as I said, I know I can’t afford it.

Saturday night after the book store, we went to a place Toni had scouted out in advance. It was close to our hotel, didn’t sound like a chain (we discovered otherwise later) and sounded promising on food and priciness. It was on Stringtown Road in Grove City and called Planks. It was an OSU hangout. Not that people from OSU hang out there specifically, though I’m sure a few do, but that it is a sports bar whose focus is local Columbus-area teams, including the Buckeyes. (The area’s like that. You’d have thought from all the O’s on people’s foreheads, that we were somewhere close to campus, but no. It’s that the Bucks are more popular in Central Ohio than the Bengals are around here. I forget what Toni had, but I had my old standby, a club sandwich with fries, washed down with Yuengling draft. (Happy hours during the week, they serve Yuengling draft for a dollar a glass. Mine went for $6.50. Oh, well. Win some lose some.) Our waitress was top-shelf. Very efficient and professionally friendly without the usual smarm that chains like Longhorn burn into their wait staff. Judging by appearances — both staff and customer — ours was hardly unique. I think the whole staff is aces. Big tip. The sandwich was huge. Turkey, bacon, ham. I’d guess four ounces of each. On a toasted double-decker with vegggies I didn’t even notice. And I think there was cheese, too. It was good. I almost had to leave the toothpicks in, it tried that hard to fall apart in my hands.

The fries deserve special mention. First, it was a huge serving. They’re billed as “Fresh cut” which sounds good. I think they used two or three Idahoes to make mine. Wowsa. I almost freaked when they came to the table (and you should learn from my experience and have faith). They looked like they were burned — dark from the oil. But they tasted like a little slice of heaven. Toni speculated that the seasoning my have darkened them somewhat.

The place has a Cheers-like atmosphere you’d expect from a big-time, historical sports bar in a big sports town like Columbus. (The photo at top was taken from our table through the servers’ door down the length of and behind the bar.)

As with the Red Roof, we discovered that there is a location of Plank’s (no idea how closely related, though the signs look the same in both places, so the assumption they are sisters seems legit) near German Village. Word to the wise. It seems worth noting that the German Village is neighbored on the West side (South Front Street) by The Brewery District. it’s not like Cincinnati where there’s a brewery on every block at the bare minimum, but there do seem to be a few, including the one this fellow represents. I don’t really know enough about local brands to say what breweries may be resident in the district (if any are) and which are not exactly local (like: some of the craft beers served in pubs (there was an Irish pub on Front Street, I seem to recall) and bars might have come from as far away as Cincinnati. But I don’t know.

Also to notice that the German Village area is about six blocks by six blocks, extending east from Front Street (though it would seem that the district proper doesn’t get really going until you cross South Pearl Street or City Park Avenue.) and South from East Livingstone to Thurman, just below the city park referred to in the name of CPA. (I never caught its formal name, but it looks as though there’s a statue of Christopher Columbus in the middle of it. (Kind of like the Statue of Alexander Hamilton on the Main Street of his namesake city.) The hitching post at right stands in front of a house on City Park Avenue. There are several of them and in between them are limestone blocks which look as though they were placed there to help (possibly inebriated) gentlemen to mount their horses, said horses having hitherto been hitched at the hitching post.

After dinner, we returned to the Red Roof, showered, changed into PJs, hung out and read for awhile, then went to bed.

It shouldn’t reflect on the motel, but it does, that there were stomping elephants overhead and a herd of water buffalo parading outside our door and bitching at each other in teenage voices. It made getting to sleep difficult, so I sat up late and made notes about the next day’s itinerary from our road atlas.

I’m beat and need to go to bed, so I will continue this tomorrow. It will include lots of neat pictures.

The Liberty Position…

…ON PRIVACY: Like me, my mother (female parental unit) is a writer. Unlike Heinlein’s rules for writers, she did not, when I was growing up, have a private room where she went to write. Her typewriter — an IBM Selectric (pre-golf-ball) — was on a desk in front of the back window of our dining room in the rental house in Oakley (Cincinnati) where we lived for the latter half of the Sixties and up to the Bicentennial. There was always a sheet of paper in the machine, and her progress on that page was readily visible to all passersby.

We were forbidden to read on pain of… (whatever. The punishment was never specified; never had to be.)

The notion was that Mom’s writing was personal and private — as sacred as her (or our own) innermost thoughts — UNTIL and UNLESS she chose to share it. I was allowed to read the novel she wrote (and would love to see it published, for all its 50s-era post apocalypse setting and tropes are outdated). But only on her conditions.

It was an early lesson in the nature of privacy. Even though a thing is in plain view, in public or private circumstances, it is not yours to dispose of. It belongs exclusively to its creator or owner and consuming — or even looking at it — is taboo. Including the so-called “plain view” principle enshrined in post-constitutional case law.

There is no exception in the Constitution for cases where a person’s “persons, papers, or effects” are in plain view or in “public”. The plain wording of the Fourth Amendment brooks no such exception and, in the very fact of the words, makes it clear that the “plain view” or “in public” exception carved out by agents of the state is or ought to be null and void. (Since when are agents of the state fit to define the limits of state authority under the Constitution? Yes, of course, the courts are nominated as judges of such in that document, but there must be limits set by the actual text of it. thus far and no farther.) If a thing is not properly yours, you have no right to dispose of it. And that goes double for agents of the state.

However, it should be recognized (and obeyed) that the language of most of the articles of the Bill of Rights does not limit its intent to the state or its agents. The language of the Fourth, for instance:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

…it should be noted, does not limit its scope to actions of the state, nor does it brook the notion of ANY exception. It is absolute in its scope. “Shall not” has a specific and clear meaning when used in law. And it is universal. Any and all actors must respect and guarantee this security. Including but not limited to the state and its agents.

The same may be said, by the way, of the language of the Second Amendment.

The clarity, universality, and absoluteness of the language of the Fourth makes it clear that, if an agent of the state is engaged in a lawful (warranted) search, and stumbles upon something not named in the warrant, that something is not admissible in court and may not be used as a pretext for a warrant or further investigation. The principle is not, “If it’s in plain view, it’s fair game.” It’s: “If it was not specifically named in the warrant authorizing the search, you didn’t see it. Could not have seen it, in fact. Since you did not get legal permission to look for it.”

Statists will argue that this is an unfair burden on agents of the state. But the notion of constitutional liberty is not founded on the convenience of the state, but on the comfort and freedom of the people. In the vernacular: “Sucks to be you, doesn’t it?”

The same principle applies for non-state actors. For example, the phone company (neither the manufacturer of your equipment nor the carrier of your signal) does not have the legitimate permission to share your data — any data — with any other player, state actor or non-, without a warrant issued by a judge of appropriate authority and under the limits set out in the Amendment as to specificity. This would — or should — eviscerate Google’s entire business model.

Further, I would argue that those entities whose business model or raison d’etre includes the possession and handling of personal information or meta-data should have and exercise a fiduciary responsibility to protect such data from assaults from all comers (including the state) and that the courts should be instructed to pay such duty the same respect afforded the confessional, and client-provider relationships in the law and medicine.

It should be clear that the courts have not read the clear text of the law thusly and should be reined in by legislation.

Let us call this an absolutist position on privacy — one favoring the people’s natural civil right of privacy. After all, if the notion of privacy can be extended to a license to kill unborn children, even up to an after birth, it certainly ought to cover a far more reasonable interpretation.

Merry Fucking Christmas with Love from Miscrosoft

THE SATURDAY BEFORE Christmas — the 23d — Microsoft chose to push a Windows update, which, according to what I see, included the ability to link the computer to an Android phone, and the takeover of all image files on the system by an app called Photos.

Some background: I’m a long-time graphic arts professional. I started using microcomputers for art and design around 1990, when the Wintel operating system was Windows 3. The illustration app was CorelDRAW! (versison 2 at the time, though it was quickly replaced by version 3). The bitmap editor was … well, there wasn’t one. Some brief period later, Macromedia brought Freehand to the PC and Adobe brought forth a version of Illustrator. Then Aldus came out with Photostyler. That was the one. We bought it where I worked. It came with a scanner. No. Photostyler was bundled with the scanner, not the scanner with Photostyler, if you get the difference.

Whereas the Mac had always integrated the handling of fonts and image files with the OS, Windows made little provision for this. So the user was forced to think for himself. Some of us though of that as a feature, not a bug. Over the next year or so — before Windows 3.11 came out and vastly improved things for us — I and my colleagues, developed a system for handling fonts and our files, partially built of a combination of best-of-breed apps, and partially of a certain protocol and discipline of file and folder naming and handling practices.

Over time, things have changed. The OS has grown up. The fussy OCD treatment of font files, and system folders has relaxed — or the need for it has slackened some. Some capabilities have been added to the OS (though not nearly as many as Miscrosoft would have you believe — the OS has changed remarkably little since the early ’90s in some ways) Please remember I am talking of the days before the Internet blew up. Things were quite primitive then. I used to say, “The very best that’s out there — the state of the art — is barely adequate to the task at hand.”

Over time, we the users, and the beta-testers and peer support sysops and forum staff, arrived at a modus vivendi with software companies. Rule one was — and, really, always has been: DO NOT ALTER USER DATA. Period. End of discussion — full stop.

For the most part, with a few notable exceptions — I’m not looking at Adobe or Corel or anybody, really, because they all did it — that rule, that Prime Directive of Personal Computing — has been honored pretty well.

And for most of that time, the difference between professional apps and the kiddy cars was that the pro stuff gave the user adult controls over where his data resided, how the software accessed it, and how it was visible OUTSIDE of the program.

The amateur, kiddy-car stuff took (and takes) over and decides where the data is allowed to reside and who (in terms of software) has access to it, and it sets the system defaults as what’s to be done with a file and what programs you can open it with. Bleah. Crap.

Thus we come to Photos. Now I’m pretty raw on that site because I’ve been fighting with Dropbox. My idea is that only stuff I want there gets put there. Dropbox seems to want to assume it gets all the data on my system — and it’s going to pop up windows that interfere with my shit whenever I plug in something to a USB port — even if it’s just a phone or a tablet to charge, Dropbox wants to upload all the data in its memory — to the Dropbox folder.

Which won’t work, because I have a specific organizational protocol to follow as to where I put files. So I can find them later. So they’re kept with other files relevant to the project(s) they’re for. Plus: I don’t trust the cloud, so I’m not likely to put my copyrighted, for-sale work product on somebody else’s computer. Not to mention, I have a responsibility to my clients to maintain their confidentiality, and can’t really be sure of that if the work I’m doing for them leaves my direct control. I know that many of my colleagues think I’m odd and quirky (old fashioned and out of date) but I don’t think the time of man has anything to do with principles. Either they apply always, or they never did. There’s no such thing as an outdated principle.

Military and intelligence types have an assumption that, if somebody puts a lot of effort into developing a tool or a weapon, it’s a pretty safe bet that evinces an intent to use it for the purpose it’s meant for. If somebody spends millions of dollar on a system that can capture my data, I feel justified in thinking they might — all protests of innocence nothwithstanding — intend someday to capture my data. In which case, I’d be a fool to trust them with said data. No. Dropbox. You don’t get my photos before I’ve even opened them in Photoshop. So I want to store them on my computer — take note: **MY** computer — where and as I plot will assist me with my work, and not where the dumb arrogance of a software engineer leads him to assume is best.

So, immediately after the final restart of my system after the Windows update (that’s where we came in — remember?), I noticed that the image that has been my desktop for YEARS (and two computers, to tell the truth) was missing. In trying to rein in the settings, I discovered that the large tree of folders (that’s one feature of my file organization — endlessly branching trees of folders branching out from a single parent folder one step down from the root directory of the drive — which is meant to make it easy to back up the contents by mirroring them to another storage device) where the image was to be stored … was gone. !!!!! As it is THE directory tree in which I store ALL of my graphic work, representing my life’s work, you betcha damned skippy I was pissed off. And more than a little frantic.

So the lesson here is 1) never trust anybody in computer tech. Don’t care who they are, they’re out for themselves and don’t care much for fiduciary responsibility. You remember the old Quaker motto? “I will not cheat thee, but I will do my level best to outwit thee.” Sort of like “Minbari never lie.” (But they never tell the truth.) If you trust your data to them, more the fool you. And 2) never ask, “Whose computer is it, anyway?” Don’t get too clever with how you name folders — especially mission critical folders. The OS may one days decide one of them is redundant and delete it.

And keep an unerase utility handy.

They Say You Shouldn’t

FALL IN LOVE WITH your writing. That you should be willing to kill your children. All of that. Nevertheless, I think this might be one of the best scenes I’ve ever written that doesn’t come to a conclusion.

And, to paraphrase River Song: Spoilers, sweetie.

Post Graduate Housing, North Campus, East College, February 15, 1998


“What’s this, Babe?” Xe asked, a rectangle of white paper — a photo print — in her hand.

“Where’d you get that?” Rowan demanded, all defensive and bristling.

“It was in that drawer you told me to use.”

“Oh.” The big climb-down. “Sorry. I must have missed it when I was cleaning.”

“So who is that?” She in the photo was incredibly beautiful in an exotic way. Gypsy? Very romantic, nevertheless, with raven hair in ringlets and deep, dark, soulful, anime eyes.


“Wassa Morgan?” Xe wasn’t confrontational, just curious. She could tell instantly from the Elf princess’s reaction that she might as well have shouted a deadly insult and thrown down a chain mail gauntlet. “I’m sorry,” she blurted in a burst of sudden contrition. “Forget I asked.”

Rowan sighed. “No. I’m sorry. You should know. Morgan was my roommate when we were both getting our doctorates at the Thaum. I stayed to do post-doc work here; she went to work at Hephaestus Industries, taking a place on the Executive Action team — the Nine Walkers.”

“That was Mitchell Drummond’s bunch,” Xe realized out loud.

“Yes,” Rowan said. It was hard to imagine a word that could be freighted with as much weltschmertz and agony of the heart that wasn’t no. But Rowan didn’t cry. Only looked like she might. Quite a concession for the normally stone-faced Elf royal.

Light dawned in the dark dolly’s mind. “She was your girlfriend.”

“And I hers.”

“She was killed.”

“In Athens. By Astarté.” Rowan’s eyes remained hooded. She would not meet Xe’s gaze, no matter how sympathetic and loving.

“So you owe Gabrielle…”

“After a fashion.” Which might have been the only thing that had held her back from a full-on physical assault of Redpath and Drummond on being told that the Genesis undertaking had been officially unsanctioned work and she was unlikely to get course credit for her work on it — that the newly-born of the project, Gabrielle East had somehow managed to catch the Goddess Astarté in a distracted moment and take off her head with a Japanese sword. Even so, Rowan had left the mark of her hand on Redpath’s cheek. Xe hadn’t been there at that precise moment — only later that night — but she’d heard about it, nearly in real time. Albeit from sources less-than-reliable. She and Rowan were among a very select handful of folks who knew that the Gabrielle dolly had survived the night of her Genesis and was hunted by the Babylonian God Marduk. Wherever she was, she had yet to be found, (it had only been two days, after all), but were she to reappear on campus, it would be the death of her, for sure.


Callsign Baby Troll

A SNIPPET FROM the current work in progress to exposit the origin of Dolly’s nickname, Baby Troll.

Callsign: Baby Troll

The Gabrielle Dolly

When she and Aphrodite first arrived in Camp Meander via teleport, in September of ’97, the recruit company had been already a week into its training cycle. The dolly had, therefor, considerable catching up to do. She imagined and was subsequently told that there had been much debate as to whether it was wise to put her in such a position. It was seen by some as setting her up for failure. But Aphrodite was antsy and wanted her charge embarked on some activity — and meaningful activity at that; make-work was unacceptable. She asserted that the dolly would suffer far greater developmental damage from inactivity than from any possible failure. Further, she claimed, the dolly would not fail in any case.

An assessment with which the dolly was rather in greater agreement before she embarked on her training than she would be later on.

Until she got caught up, the dolly was subject to much harsh, no-nonsense treatment at the hands of the instructors, as she was always the last in her platoon at everything. Not only was she inexperienced and playing catchup, she was also smaller, lighter, and weaker than her platoon mates. Each new obstacle, each new task was to her a greater challenge than it would ever be to her comrades — even the billilaala, who were more her size.

It started the first day as she fell in on the parade ground with the rest and ended up at the wrong end of her rank. To be fair, they’d told her to line up according to height. Since everybody was taller than she, she figured it was mox nix — she’d always be the shortest and it made no never-mind which end she was on. She picked an end at random and took her position there. It was, however, a lapse which could not fail to attract the eye and ire of the lead instructor — Gunnery Sergeant Meru, a reputed martinet born in the Patkar Hills of Northern Burma and emigrant to the Canadian Rockies.

“What have we here?” the towering frekun ang said as she approached the dolly’s position at the wrong end of the rank. “Is this a baby Troll?”

Later, they would have better discipline, but it was early days, still, and the platoon had yet to learn better than to laugh.

“You lot think that’s funny, do you?” Meru asked in her very best parade ground voice. “Let’s see how funny you find it after a morning on the Main Loop. By squads. Double-time… HARCH!”

The Main Loop was a fifty-mile track that circumscribed most of the base. It was not paved. It was not level. It was cleared on occasion when NCOs thought some recruit unit needed to work on its brush-clearing skills. But otherwise, it was left alone, and the vegetation overgrew it with wild abandon. It was poorly marked. Passage through the woods just there was colloquially known as bush-whacking. It was held as an article of faith by all recruits that some alleged portions of the Loop existed only in the collective imaginations of the junior training NCOs, who accompanied trainee units on the route — and woe betide you if you mistook the trail. They might even send you back to start over. Independent Study, it was called.

For having been the cause of the platoon’s having to run the Loop — nobody ever walked the whole thing — the dolly caught holy Hell. She also earned a nickname from the experience. Nicknames were uncomfortable things to earn in Basic in the Troll Guard, so the instructors generally tried to find one for everybody — to spread the misery around evenly and find appropriate radio callsigns for everyone. The dolly’s was, from that day forth, Baby Troll. She’d be forever trying to live it down — until she learned to make it a badge of honor and accept it as her callsign. It’s worth noting that, once she’d made that accommodation with reality — as the Americans put it, once she’d embraced the suck — she was generally treated with greater respect.


Staring at the Walls

Mural at Katharina’s Cafe-Konditorei, 8th & Washington, Newport, in progress at post time. (Click to embiggen.)

WE SET OUT WITH A specific collection of goals — places we wanted to photograph on this trip: the new Edie Harper on the American Building, the new image of Rosemary Clooney (?) at Liberty & Pleasant Street, Central Fairmount School, and so-on.

As usual, our tendency to follow our noses once we got started sidetracked us almost immediately. Leaving the Bob Evans in Newport Shopping Center, where we had breakfast, Toni wanted to stop at a McDonald’s to get a cup of Diet Coke to sip on over the afternoon. I knew that there was a McDonald’s a block or two further out Monmouth street, so we headed there. Sitting in the drive-by lane, I was struck by the shape of a tree looming over the houses opposite.

It stands curbside between two houses on Linden Road which runs between Newport and Southgate, a gorgeous little neighborhood of funky craftsman houses mixed with early Victorian brick.

Rolling north on Monmouth, Toni spotted something and requested a detour. I don’t recall the exact sight that drew us aside, but we soon ended up circling (four or five times) the same blocks between Saratoga, Washington, Sixth and Ninth, with an occasional jog over to Monmouth. Along the way, the mural seen in my rearview mirror (above) caught my eye and we ended up circling blocks to get to within snapping distance of that.

Of course there are a lot of pix taken I’m not putting up here. I have plans for them, though. Toni has put up a bunch of what she took (including better shots of the mural above) on Facebook, so, if you’re her FB friend, you can check those out.

One of the cooler things that Cincinnati does is permit this group of artsy types, called Art Works, to paint murals on walls — buildings, retaining walls, you-name-it — to beautify the city. It’s been going on in one form or another since the ’70s, when the effort was called Urban Walls and there were a half-dozen of them all over downtown. Now there are hundreds, scattered over the whole city and in other cities as well. (There are a couple in Newport, for example.)

One of our famous families here, immigrants from a town upriver on the Kentucky side, are the Clooneys. Rosemary, Nick, and George. I’m pretty sure that this mural is meant to represent Rosemary, who was an icon in local TV and radio in the forties and fifties. It’s on the side of a building of railroad flats at the corner of Pleasant and Liberty Streets in the world-famous Over the Rhine.

Oh, and we did finally manage to get to one area I had as a goal for the day — Fairmount. The city is building out a project called the Lick Run Greenway between Queen City and Westwood avenues from State/Beekman out almost to Wyoming where it comes north down from Price Hill. I had noticed in Lyft trips through the area that there was rapid demolition being done and that, if the picturesque scenes were to be captured before they’re all gone, we’d have to get out there toot sweet. It’s not an area I suspect anybody is nostalgic about. For as long as I can remember, it’s been a low-rent dump, blighted, benighted, and all that, which is why the city is tearing it down and building a monument to the politicians spending our tax dollars on it. No doubt, it will be pretty.

There are a few gems being lost in the process. The old St. Francis Hospital, (featured a week or so ago on this blog), being one. Another is a bit of a surprise, nestled on a hillside alongside vertiginous White Street — Central Fairmount School. Which, as far as I know, is to be abandoned or torn down, unlike many of its contemporaries elsewhere in the city.

Reservoir Wall, Eden Park, 8-19-17

SOME FORTY-ODD years ago, the Park Board blew out the south wall of the reservoir in Eden Park and built a new reflecting pool atop it, providing the park’s users with a bilevel play field. In the time since, the upper level has been used mostly for quotidian recreation — frisbee throws, dog chases, et al and fairs and festivals, while the lower level is used a a baseball diamond, basketball court, and so-forth, while the top of the wall itself is used as a place for romantic walks and imaginary lovers’ leaps. (Never heard of the last, but it could be done.).

(Click to embiggen.)

I’ve always thought this to be a subject best treated in grayscale, thus the utterly desaturated tones.

Observation 006 – 08-13-17

Observatory with Clouds

A BRIEF DEPARTURE from my Cloud Observatory department, the Cincinnati Observatory — atop Mt. Lookout on Cincinnati’s East Side — with dramatic clouds. (Image composited in Photoshop.)

Extra Texture

THIS ONE CAUGHT MY EYE while I was on a ride with passenger. And, for the first time ever, I circled back around after I dropped her off and went to where I could get the shot.

The building is in the South Avondale neighborhood of Cincinnati, right by Walnut Hills and Corryville, at the corner of Union Street and Reading Road. I took the shot from my car while standing on Bowman Terrace, a block away. Minimal color processing in Photoshop.

(Click to embiggen.)


LADY JANE GREY named after the famous pretender queen of England, played by Helena Bonham Carter in the BBC Production of the same name.

(Click to embiggen.)

This image was taken under low-light conditions at under 18 inches with my Nokia Lumia 1020 camera phone and processed using Google’s Nik Collection, Color Efex Pro4, in Photoshop. Saved from flattened .psd to .jpg with maximum image quality selected.

How We Spent Our Sunday

AS IS BECOMING A CUSTOM here of late, Toni and I set out in the short bus for an afternoon of picture shooting. Well. No. We didn’t set out to do that. We were going to go to breakfast and then check out this urban ruins location Toni had read about in one of our local free news sheets. It was to be a one-shot, not an entire afternoon. The site is a compound of abandoned Victorian (pre-Civil War) houses, called Alexander Circle in Tower Park, in the Northern Kentucky suburb of Fort Thomas.

On the way there, we passed an interesting-looking cemetery in the city of Southgate, next door to Fort Thomas.

“Could we go in there?” Toni asked.

I allowed as how I’d never seen it posted no trespassing, so we probably could. “Want to on the way back?” I asked.

“If we come back by here,” Toni said. And I mumbled something about how that could be arranged.

Alexander Circle proved all that was promised. It’s the kind of place that makes your mouth water and your fingers itch for the pen to sign the papers. Nothing we could afford, mind, but much one could want. The houses are all huge and, as the sign notes, basically the officers’ quarters for the Fort. They’ve been abandoned since — I imagine — the Fort was decommissioned and are in sad condition, barely on the cusp of condemnation, and deeply in need of some TLC. There’s a sign posted that it’s U.S. Government property and trespassing is verboten. (Which, I imagine, no matter the town’s manifest patriotism, must stick in the craws of the community-oriented folks of Fort Thomas). But we managed to circumnavigate the circle, even if we couldn’t get into the actual street itself.

Then, on the way back, I returned north on Alexandria Pike to Evergreen Cemetery, no doubt familiar to all those who know the general area. The cemetery stands on some 250 hilly acres in the city of Southgate, Kentucky, a hop, skip, and a roll from the I-471 exit to US 27. You glide through the wide, wrought iron, double gates and enter a gentler time.

A time in which Rust may not have slept, but from which it surely entered into eternal rest. We took dozens of pictures each, strolling around the grounds, stopping for interesting sights and views. I’m sure that you’ll be seeing many of them from each of us, here and on Facebook, in times to come.

An afterword: I have complained a good bit lately about the inadequacies of my cell phone’s camera (Samsung Galaxy 6s). While I cannot afford to buy a real camera at the moment, I will be making plans to obtain one in the near-ish future. Meantime, I’ve bitten the bullet and charged up my late, lamented Nokia Lumia, in order to use its absolutely brilliant camera. We will see in the next whenever how much better I can do using it per preference. Watch this space.

Pro tip: Word Press will throw an error if you try to upload a media file while it is still open for editing in Photoshop. Word up.

Oot and Aboot

THE IDA STREET Bridge planters. Ida Street is one of the main streets of the Cincinnati neighborhood, Mt. Adams — a 600-700-foot-tall hill looming over the downtown area and the river. It’s a trendy, yuppified bohemian enclave (my mother once likened it to Greenwich Village), with inflated property values and no parking on its narrow, twisting streets. The bridge is an Art Deco arch which forms an elegant backdrop for views of the west side of The Hill (as Mt. Adams is known to the locals) from down in the basin. These planters caught my eye when I was traveling through. Saturday, I was up there again and had a moment to stop on the bridge and snap a few shots.

Click to embiggen.

A Second Hearty Eff-You to Facebook on This Subject.

I POSTED A photograph to Facebook. Without even asking — and certainly without permission (which would be absolutely denied) — the Fartbook decided to crop it in a way I neither approve or welcome, and make it into a panable image. I reproduce the approved (and copyrighted) version here (caption below). I shall take the original post down once this one goes live.


Old St. Francis Hospital (Central Fairmount, Cincinnati), from the light at Quebec & Westwood. I’d like to get a shot clear of wires, but that means getting out of the car and standing on the sidewalk the other side of the stoplight on Westwood Ave — a fraught proposition for someone with my mobility problems. Still, the logitistics of it aren’t impossible, so…

We In the Right Need

TO STOP ASSERTING that leftist myrmidons, by their Alinskyite tactics, are alienating “half the country.” Admit it: the right is far MORE than half. We represent a majority view. An electoral majority, not an ethnic majority, although there’s that, too.

Ellipses 17 June 2017

THE CORNER AT NRO: David Frum used to be someone we in the Right listened to, at least. We tend to do that, the Left’s “You know nothing of other opinions because you live in an echo chamber” tu quoque notwithstanding. We tend to stop listening when they go all craphouse rat insane. Case in point…

No. The Second Amendment Is Not Given Special Treatment.

MEGAN FOX: Unhinged Rhetoric About ‘Nazis’ and Trump Derangement Syndrome Lead to Bloodshed I suspect that they will — someday — rue the day. But that day is not this day. Yet.

ACE: nor should they.

Ellipses: June 15, 2017

BACK IN THE OLD DAYS back when I had more to say about current events, I used to do this feature I called Ellipses — quick links and quotes, á Instapundit — in a bunch as line items, separated by ellipses (…). See if this works.

ROGER KIMBALL: Trump and the end of the beginning.

I particularly love this metaphor:

There is a small pen of chihuahuas yapping wildly that Trump should be impeached because, because, because—the doggies will get back to us later with a reason. (The real reason is simply that they don’t like Mr. Trump.)

Heh. The legacy partisan press as ankle-biters. Indeed.

FIRE: Rejecting the “heckler’s veto” That for those who say only the government can impose censorship. To which I say, “It’s spinach and to hell with it.” It is pernicious. It is illegitimate. It ought not be countenanced in a liberal society. And to Hell with it!

And that’s how they work. If this little snippet of an Ellipsis gets a decent reaction, I’ll try to do more. Back then, they were the feature I found easiest to do, and the rest of what I view as the golden-age BabyTrollBlog followed in their train. Readers from that period, who might miss it and desire a resurgence of that content, should do well to let me know.

An Embarrassment of Riches

IN THE MAIL AGAIN TODAY (Well, the mail brought something second day in a row, not the SAME thing.): Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology. It’s a gorgeous package, especially for a trade paperback. I hope it doesn’t suck. (Not that I expect it to.)

Lost Cities

IN THE MAIL Lost City of Stone: The Story of Nan Madol, the “Atlantis” of the Pacific by Bill S. Ballinger.

In working up the back story of my ficton — or, at least, of the generation of the Nineteenth Century — I have devised a plot — scarcely original, a Tarzanian tale of wiley, adventurous white Europeans stealing a priceless cultural treasure from hapless native dark people. And this done literally at the behest of a God. In this case: Aphrodite, the Greek Goddess of Love. It centers around the natives of Ponape, the island location of Nan Madol, a mysterious Petra in the Caroline Islands. The book caught my imagination and is providing me background material about the city.

QOTD – 5 May 2017

Claiming total certainty about the science traduces the spirit of science and creates openings for doubt whenever a climate claim proves wrong. Demanding abrupt and expensive changes in public policy raises fair questions about ideological intentions. Censoriously asserting one’s moral superiority and treating skeptics as imbeciles and deplorables wins few converts.

–Bret Stephens, in THAT article in The New York Times, which I doubt those of you on the Left have even read, either in part or its entirety. And you should be ashamed of such intellectual dishonesty.

Better Nate than Lever

CONTINUING OUR LONG-STANDING tradition of missing our own landmark dates (e.g, Dolly’s birthday), I neglected to chime in yesterday on this blog’s fifteenth anniversary.

Obscure old-joke reference in title.

I’d claim having been in the throes of a nasty cold as an excuse, but nevertheless: mea culpa.

The Vacuity of Journos

CAN BE REVEALED in the stupidity of the cliches they use. E.G.: “Changed the course of history.” Every one of them uses it to describe epochal events. What does it mean? History is the record of major events. The course of history is set, because it happened in the past. You cannot — by definition — change the course of history while it’s happening. You can MAKE history, and most epochal events are history-making.

To change the course of history would be to alter the past. Or discover something new about the past that will have an altering effect on the record. Say: Hitler and Eva Braun were discovered in the bunker in flagrante hiding this fact was what drove Goebbels to drag their bodies out and burn them in the garden, or whatever. This is contrary to what is known or thought about the events of April, 1945, and would change history, though the events of that time have not changed, nor our understanding of them, so the course of history remains unchanged.

Observation 006: 13 March 2017

Afternoon cloudscape over Fairmount, Western Cincinnati, taken from the top deck of the Western Hills Viaduct, above the Mill Creek Valley.

Gorgeous Light

ON THURSDAY AFTERNOON Cell phone camera demonstrates its inadequacies. Not that I couldn’t have gotten what I saw using it, but that I couldn’t get it in a snapshot.

Taking time to set up a shot and work the meter to get the desired exposure is not something that’s easy to do when one is behind the wheel.

The Cincinnati Club at Fourth and Broadway. Layered in Photoshop and foreground and sky separated to allow for exposure adjustment.

The Cloud Observatory: Observation 005, 03-05-17

Works in Progress Update

JUST A QUICK NOTE to keep everybody up-to-date. #ThisIsThePlaceILovedHerMemoir is still in-progress, albeit stalled. As I said to J, although I know what’s next, I don’t feel moved to continue just now. I’m back to the first of the story-a-week challenge, the first of what I’m calling “The Further Adventures” of Dolly and Drummond. It’s been almost three weeks since I started it and It’s far from finished. I have two other starts, (including the HashTag and a third in an entirely other ficton). Progress being made in fits and starts on all. Also: working still on The Origin Protocols. No significant wordage down recently on anything. A lot of staring at blank and half-blank screens and — air quotes — “thinking”.

I’m Sure Most of You

WILL HAVE HEARD but just in case you haven’t. The Dear and priceless Connie du Toit has passed, leaving the world bereft of her scintillating presence. And her beloved Kim is now alone in life and reaches out via a renewal of his blogness at Splendid Isolation Go. Read. Register so you can comment. It will doubtless be a lively community and participation will only be possible via commentary.

Dolly and I will attempt to keep up, though I’m dead certain Kim will set a lively pace.

It’s Dolly’s Birthday!!!

EVEN WHEN I THINK about it in advance and plan for it, I tend to forget this central fact about my ficton: Gabrielle Francesca “Dolly” East made The Leap from a free-floating anima to a fully-integrated soul inhabiting a human body — in short, she was born — today 19 years ago, February 14, 1998.

Shortly thereafter, I wrote this novel, detailing the first twelve hours of Dolly’s life.

Check it out. Buy it, if you are so moved. Enjoy it. I am certain you will.

Happy Valentine’s Day. As Niel Finn of Crowded House put it: I don’t pretend to know what you want, but I offer love.

This Is The Place Update

THIS IS THE PLACE I LOVED HER — the memoir mentioned earlier, has progressed to 7500 words in (so far) 9 chapters. It’s a short book and will be a fast read. I expect it will also be a heart-wrencher. At least, bringing forth the memories requisite to writing it is proving to be so.

I am taking as my text for the sermon lyrics from Crowded House songs — at present mainly “She Goes On” but, almost inevitably, “Fall At Your Feet”, as the latter song has proven to be a literal script for what I should have said to her forty-four years ago.

Artful Living Announcement

I HAVE AN ANNOUNCEMNT to make — for all of you following along at home. I have two new stories starting up. One is a science fiction story that I’m trying to make unique and special, given it’s about an old-ish topic. The other is a literary memoir — which may prove the kiss of death for it — but I’m strongly moved by recent currents in my lifestream.

The Origin Protocols (Baby Troll Chronicles, Book Three) is still in process.

That’s all I had to say.

On Process

THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE BEEN PAYING ATTENTION will have noticed that I am building in my Pinterest profile a series of boards full of pins containing reference images of stock decorative elements. The main board (the oldest one) is called Art Lessons. One of the more recent boards is Art Elements:

Many of the elements I’ve pinned there are oriented toward the design of ceramic tiles, about which I know a little (very little), having designed one.

In the fall of 2003, Sting’s Sacred Love album was released. And shortly thereafter, preparations began for a tour in support of the record. When long time Sting associate and tour manager Billy Francis contacted me to begin design work on the passes for the tour, he told me that Sting had played with a lot of diverse influences from around the world and wanted, as a theme, some Islamic influences. I immediately thought (though I didn’t say it then) of the line from Al Stewart’s “Year of the Cat”: By the blue-tiled wall near the market stalls/There’s a hidden door she leads you to./’These days,’ she says, ‘I feel my life/Just like a river running through/The Year of the Cat. The key point there being the “blue-tiled” bit. Moroccan tiles are famously blue. And intricate. And of wonderful workmanship. I don’t remember which one of us zeroed in on the ceramic tile design, but whoever it was, that became one of my focuses.

First, I found an image to be used as a reference. The image I found was perfect. It represented perfectly the tile I felt we were looking for. The only problem, as I remember it, was that the image was a photograph taken at an angle and the design wasn’t perfectly square and true, which meant, if I followed it exactly, my design would be all wibberty-jobberty. Not on. So I had to use it literally as a reference and NOT as a pattern. I had to figure out the size and proportions and the intervals, angles, and repeats geometrically. It wasn’t hard, but it was tedious.

Somewhere along in the process, I received in FedEx a DVD of photographs of Sting. The images were from a photographer (who works with Sting a lot) and had been heavily processed for use in the CD packaging for the Sacred Love album. Billy and I talked through ideas for the various pictures — this one to be used for the satin passes, that one for laminates, the third for signage and so-forth. We’ll do some post processing on one of them for the second leg and specials. (That may not have been the run of the actual conversations, but that’s how the process generally worked.) In the lot was a picture of Sting, barefoot, sitting on the floor with his back against a wall. The wall was in heavy shadow (The picture may appear in the CD package — I don’t recall.) I conceived the idea — harkening back to the “Year of the Cat” quote, of making a wall out of the tiles I was building — tilting them in perspective — and masking the figure of Sting to “float” above them so it looked like the wall he was leaning against was made of these beautiful Moroccan tiles of blue, white, and gold. Similar treatments in monochrome for the satin passes. (At the time we were still printing satin passes offset, not digitally, and so couldn’t print full-color except at great cost. Laminates were digital and so full-color, as well as being higher-value, so worthwhile doing something special (more on that in a bit).)

I worked the eventual pattern of the tile in CorelDRAW — giving myself the leeway to work the geometry in a vector application, which provided greater sharpness and precision to the design. Then I saved it out to Illustrator format which could be exchanged with Photoshop, where I had the ability to overlay color and lighting effects.

A fully-realized copy of the design, called startile with grout.

Although the image looks natural — and does more so in a smaller format and in perspective — it is wholly artificial. The geometric patterns are flat black-and-white. Each has an added color overlay and various shadowing and embossing or debossing to add the third dimension The white border is the “grout” to ensure that, in a step-and-repeat wallpaper pattern, there is a space between the tiles.

And, the “finished” product. Well, not completely. This is the base art, without type — which is added in CorelDRAW just before making up for printing. And I faked it. This isn’t the “real” image, but one I reproduced from memory. And, on the top-level laminate, issued to the inner circle of band, crew, staff, and management, the Sting logo script was stamped in gold leaf. I wish I could show the process of masking the image of Sting, and adding the shadow, but I no longer have access to those images, as they are the property of my former employer. Although, if you do a Google image search on Sting Sacred Love laminate, you’ll see a lot of other designs I did for this tour and other ones. (I never got the Sacred Love laminates onto my Pinterest board and, for some reason I can’t fathom, Otto has stopped displaying passes on their Web site. (CB: If you read this, can you shed some light on that?)

Throw Forward Wednesday: An Update

THE JOB I REFERRED COYLY TO the other week is no secret, I’ve just been coming to terms with it. It’s this simple: I’m driving for Lyft — the gig economy ride share service. In an interim progress report, it seems to be going well. I’m maintaining an acceptable-to-fair star rating and have a 100% acceptance rating (which probably means nothing to anyone not directly involved), and I’m making money. Not hand-over-fist, and not nearly $35/hour (though I can see how it’s possible). I can see how it can be a reasonable part-time job (I’m shooting to be on the road 36 hours a week), supplementing other income streams, or providing the mainstay of a diverse set of them.

The other day, Toni regaled me with some tales of her youth, spent in Detroit among a rich community of friends and family and a music scene that you have to see close up to realize how cool it would have been to be there.

Today, out doing my gig economy gig, I found myself taking a tour down memory lane, while listening to the nostalgia-inducing music of Crowded House on shuffle play on Spotify. I had a trip take me to the neighborhood that my high school crowd sometimes called Blonde Hill for the fact that my Jewish American Princess sweetheart lived there. After dropping off my rider, I tootled up the hill to what used to be her street. Just taking the turns at the stop signs, memories came flooding back. I followed the doglegs back to the cul de sac in front of her old house. There was another, similar one next to it that, somehow, I didn’t remember from back then. But I recognized the pattern of the windows on the front wall — the living room on the left, the kitchen on the right. The steep grade to the garage I don’t remember anybody ever using. They all parked on the street.

You have to picture all this to the sound track of Crowded House and a state of mind prone to fits of depressive nostalgia: she was the love of my life — the one who got away. She was entirely justified in leaving me, but, as Amanda Marshall put it, it broke me. I still feel it, but it was — also as the song goes — no-no-no-no-o body’s fault but mine. In a mood that grows out of Willie Nelson’s “To All the Girls I Loved Before,” I wonder whatever became of her. She’d be 61, now (she’s nine months younger than I). Is the petite girl who, on figure skates on Eden Park’s Mirror Lake, evoked Elton John’s Tiny Dancer for me still in there somewhere? God how I’ve missed her!

Then, a few moments later, I found myself again translated to another of my old stomping grounds — this time the University of Cincinnati area, called Clifton, and the various places I lived there in my early 20s, from leaving High School and hanging out in a co-op house near the Zoo, through my first solo apartment, the job at the Palace Theater, and starting out at Otto, on through until Toni and I, recently married, moved out of our expensive apartment on the other side of the hill to a house in a tonier ZIP code with a cheaper monthly mortgage payment.

Looking at this post, with its lack of a real conclusion, I suspect that the new job will be the source of other posts. I hope they will be entertaining. More-so than the one below, which finally explains from my perspective, what became of the greatest gig in the world and my mysterious departure from it.

“I Still Cry In the Night” — How I Torpedoed My Career

AND THREW AWAY THE DREAM JOB OF A LIFETIME in two or three keystrokes. It was really that simple.

Lawyers and others who deal in confidences place these mouse-type disclaimers at the bottoms of their emails (one assumes by default) to the effect of “This is privileged communication. If you’re reading it and not the intended addressee, stop, and discard the email. Notify the sender.” And such-like. Over the years, I had thought maybe we at Otto should have such a disclaimer on our stuff, but never did anything about it. It probably wouldn’t have helped me in my terminal situation, but I might have had at worst one leg to stand on, instead of having them both cut out from under me.

In the middle of a work week last December, I was, among my other tasks and duties, engaged in an exchange of emails with a person who was very thoroughly playing the asshole. They were jerking my chain and generally revealing themselves to be someone with whom I would never have a comfortable relationship. There have been others like that down the years. You meet lots of them in life … But this person was an unique specimen of the breed.

Watching a documentary on Netflix over the weekend: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers — Running Down a Dream, I found myself nodding in agreement with Benmont Tench (at least I think he was the one who said this), relating of a time he found himself disillusioned with the music business — how sleazy it is and how many slimey and corrupt, individuals — how many malignant narcissists — there are in it… and then allowing that he came to the realization that most business, indeed most of life, is like that and the music business is hardly unique in that way.

Well, moving along, I was begging to be relieved of the burden of dealing with this particular individual. But it’s matter of policy (one I myself can lay claim to, as a matter of fact) that we didn’t say, “No.” That there was always a way we would try to meet a prospective customer’s needs or demands, no matter how unreasonable they might seem. And, as it had been my prospecting efforts which had brought this person to light, I was kinda stuck with them. Nevertheless, I bitched. And there were sympathetic ears in the office for me to bitch to, as it was agreed that, good customer service aside, this person was pushing the outside of the envelope.

One morning, I found a message from them in my InBox. It was insulting in the extreme, full-on unearned condescension and a good deal of malign spew. I probably would have been justified in simply ignoring it. And, if I had, you probably would not be reading this sad tale. I forwarded it to one of those sympathetic ears with a note asserting that it was not our place as a business to tell a customer not to behave like that, but…

At least, I thought I did.

Turned out that, instead of hitting Alt-W to forward the message, I must have hit Alt-R to reply, because it seems my little mini rant, couched in terms virtually guaranteed to inflame your garden variety malignant narcissist, was actually sent to the person in question. I called a spade a spade, making no bones about it, albeit laying out said calling in a way that was not truly actionable. I didn’t say, “You, (sir or madam) are a douchebag,” I said, “It’s not our place to tell people not to behave like a douchebag.” Nevertheless, they threatened to sue if I weren’t fired. I’m at all not certain how libel can be shown to be the case in a private communication, but … whatever. My defense, pretty lame as it was was that I had not intended the message for the individual, but for my coworker, and, in my view, they had improperly intercepted a privileged communication. But I was quickly persuaded that wouldn’t fly. Although the matter clearly was not actionable, the mere bringing of a suit and the cost of defending it could prove ruinous, so, I had to — so to speak — lean in and take one for the team.

Of course, it would have been nice if my employers had said, “Scroom. You’ve been a loyal employee for 35 years and nobody dictates our personnel policy — NO BODY.” But it’s business and they didn’t. In fact, they couldn’t get me out the door fast enough.

None of which is the point of this plaint. After a tearful goodbye to my work wife, I cleared out my desk, changed what passwords I reasonably could, and handed over the rest, and rode the elevator down and out of the world that had been my life for 35 years, spanning five decades, three cities in two states, my marriage, and all the rest.

Last fall, a video crew from Kentucky Educational Television had been shooting in the loft and, in a conversational moment, I asserted to the producer/reporter that “Most of what’s on the walls here (framed passes and RIAA platinum disc awards) is mine.” In the course of my exit, my work wife repeated that back to me. I hadn’t even realized she’d heard me. How could 35 years of a life simply be thrown on the scrap heap like that? I still cry in the night.

Tonight I lay awake, thinking about it — running over the sound track of the aforementioned documentary in my mind — and wondered how many, of all the hundreds and thousands of people I’ve met and worked with over the years even know I’m gone? How many, when they find out, will even care? Will any of them miss me — miss the things I did for them? Over the years, I’ve tried to teach the front line folk that their job is first and foremost to be the customer’s advocate. Will that ethos survive in a bottom-line kind of atmosphere?

I think, in the intervening months, I’ve heard from two of my former clients: one the touring director for a top country act, the other the tour manager for a Mexican folk singer. Both I have known since the early eighties. I’m still active on LinkedIn and Facebook. You’d think SOMEbody would write or call to ask, “What happened to you?” But: crickets. I sometimes wonder if the person who got me fired (Do they know they ruined my life?) is glad of their kill and wears my figurative scalp on their belt with pride.

I guess it’s true, what Orwell said. In a time of universal deceit, truth-telling may be seen as a revolutionary (or criminal) act. Be careful who you tell the truth to. They may not like hearing it.

Blogroll Change of Note

AUTHOR MARKO KLOOS formerly of the Munchkin Wrangler blog and Tam’s comment threads fame, and recently, here, of MilSF authorship fame, has moved or is moving his principal venue to a new URL: We have adjusted our blogroll to suit. So should you.

It should be noted that this change happened back in May, so we are — as per usual — behind the curve and there is a blue ton of good stuff already there, and Marko moved the MW archives over, (something I should do here, when I can get a round tuit) so don’t be afraid to dive right in.

As the Weather Toughens Up

AND, INDEED, THEY ARE evacuating Gatlinburg due to fires we hope a rain storm juiced by a hurricane in the Gulf might lay down enough precipitation to abate the fires some, I am once again thinking about art and possibly revamping the cover styles for the Baby Troll Chronicles series.

Bearing in mind that a cover design has to sell the book, not describe it, I find myself drawn to 19th Century advertising posters designed and illustrated by Czech artist, Alphonse Mucha, whom I have typed as the heart and soul of the Art Nouveau movement. I’m a major fan of art nouveau for the romantic feel of it and the crafsmanship that it requires — unlike the BS poseur-ism of modern and post modern — scorn quotes — “art.” That plus that I, being lazy, can essentially “steal” (in Picasso’s terms) virtually whole designs and yet score points for a practical level of “originality”. The image at right could be a romanticized rendition of Drummond and Dolly in hot-and-heavy clinch all while ticking each and every box to sell the book.

It’s right down the line with how, over my career at Otto, I would teach myself a particular style of commercial art — Peter Max, Punk rock album cover, San Francisco Art Nouveau, what-have-you — and rip off its jargon and vernacular for my projects. Of course, your ordinary backstage pass project doesn’t call for or allow the kind of depth and extent that a real ripoff requires, so the touch has to be light, and actually, barely recognizable as being such. (Sort of qualifies as Heinlein’s filing off the serial numbers.)

For these book covers, I’m going to study and appropriate art nouveau — and, along the way, generate a large amount of collateral. I’ll be starting in two places at once — first, the general layout and framing techniques and, second, the fine-detail illustration techniques and motifs. The finish will be the main figures to fill the frames, showing the characters. Then we’ll throw type over the top: our title and credits. Each title — by the time we’re done with this first lot, there’ll be three — will be covered in 3 formats, hardback, trade paperback, and eback. We may not be able to publish hard cover with the resources available to indies right now. But someday — one hopes someday soon — we will. No sense in doing all the work now only to have to do it all over down the road. Have it ready now and, when the opportunity knocks, you’ll be ready.

I only started the raw layout sketches today, so it’ll be a slow-ish process. But I’ll be posting every day or two with progress reports. I hope.

In My Early Teens, Despite Never Having Been…

OUT TO SEA, OR EVEN out on water in anything more substantial than a car ferry, I designed a sailboat. Which, to my delight, my nautically-inclined leatherneck uncle pronounced a fair-looking craft. He even thought it would float.

In world building my ficton for the Baby Troll Chronicles, I’ve included in my back story a character who is partly attached to the modern stories of the adventures of Gabrielle “Dolly” East, her karmic predecessor, Gabrielle Francesca East, called the most successful Childe of the East in the long history of Upothesa, who held that office from 1838 to 1863 and founded East College of the Americas, which is the main venue for most of the stories.

During her tenure, GFE1, as I call her for short, served for a time as the chief factor of the commercial enterprises of the Greek God Hephaestus — Olympia Trading, Ltd. As such, she was required to travel the world at some length (indeed, spending all of her 20s at sea, participating in such various historical events as the founding of Hong Kong and the Crimean War). Her vehicle for these travels is an iconic sailing vessel, which I have early on typed as a sloop and christened Bella Donna (Italian, meaning Beautiful Lady). The choice of sloop seemed appropriate at first, as it could be crewed by a small complement, but would be seaworthy for long voyages, given opportunities and resources for resupply.

Here recently, I’ve been exercising my love of sailing ships and conning them across the open water by gathering images of tall ships on a Pinterest board I’ve called Tall Ships, Blue Water. Along with that, I’ve been reading about sailing vessels — renewing my acquaintance with the types. And I’ve come to think that the sloop is not so much the appropriate type for Bella Donna, the first Gabrielle Francesca’s yacht and have settled, perhaps, on a schooner, such as The Lady Washington (left below) or The Pride of Baltimore (right), although a three-masted, ketch-rigged, fore-and-aft, topsail schooner would fit the bill completely, which takes us into the realm more of a brig or a brigantine.

As I take up my pencil and pens to re-up my drafting chops, I find myself eager to try drawing a sailing vessel of some type, albeit not one so complex and sophisticated as those above. Wish me success, please.

For some reason, the embed code for the pins of the ship images above is problematic. If you can’t see the thumbnails and want to see the full images, click on the box(es) to be taken to the Pinterest board in question. There’s a wealth of reading on the subject at Wikipedia, and, being as the subject is not one where opinions are as heated as, say, whether or not Hillary Clinton is a double-damned dirty traitor or Donald Trump is a money-grubbing parvenu, most of the articles may be trusted as relatively accurate.

Bryce-ing Weather and the Art Thing

BEHIND THE SCENES HERE AT Casa d’Alger, it’s been a busy summer. Mostly because of me hustling to earn some money, but also because of me working to improve my art. And recover lost skills. Just wanted to surface for a minute, here, and post a couple of examples of what I’ve been doing. This is a rendering from Bryce.


Bryce, for the uninitiated is an application that’s about 20 years old or so. It was developed by Kai Krause of Kai’s Power Tools fame and is made to build landscapes and scenes of places — like gardens and yards and houses, and suchlike. It sees a lot of use in game development and fantasy illustration. And book covers, which is why I’m using it. I used to use it extensively at Otto, but have fallen out of practice. Here’s a design I did for the Moody Blues back around the turn of the millennium using Bryce and a couple of other apps — Raydream Designer and Photoshop for the most part. In the way things develop, it’s a fairly crude illustration. I can conceive far more sophisticated images, now, but this, in its day was fairly complex and hard to do.

My intention, here, is to work toward several possible interior and exterior scenes that might be candidates for cover art, with the addition of character figures inserted in post. But, there being many a slip twixt cup and lip, things may change between now and then. We’ll see.

Not Wanting to Beat a Dead Horse

I HAVE BEEN PRETTY QUIET on the issue of global warming. As I have said ad nauseam, in order for the conjecture to prove worthy — indeed — of even the most cursory investigation, (let alone the full-court-press for terraforming the greens are mounting) it must demonstrate at least a reasonableness to the four legs of the stool.

In order for global warming to be worth anything other than maximum derision, it must be demonstrated, first, that the phenomenon exists at all — that there is, indeed, warming. Second, there must be a reasonable probability that the phenomenon is truly global in scope. Third, it must be demonstrated to be man-caused. And fourth, it must be shown to a reasonable degree of likelihood that the effects will be harmful and on a scale which outweighs the cost of potential remediation. In short, it must be demonstrated that the whole thing is Catastrophic, Anthropogenic, Global, Warming. If any one of the legs fails, the whole falls apart.

I have rehearsed here all the reasons why, far from only one, ALL FOUR of the legs fail — and abysmally so.

It appears I may have oversimplified the case. Dr. Ira Glickstein has posted at Watt’s Up With That? what looks to me on the merits very much like a dispositive takedown of CAGW, not only on the merits of the conjecture, but even on those of the proposed solutions.

I think it’s pretty clear that it may be taken that anyone who still “believes” global warming is a serious issue is someone who is barely able to count to twenty with his shoes on — if that — and needs to wear padded garments when let out of the house.

Print That Out And I’ll Chop It

IN A DISCUSSION AMONG WRITERS and fans on another blog, the notion of a chop — a stamp or seal used to sign and sanctify a document — for authors, the idea being to allow said author to sign more autographs and/or books in a shorter period of time.

Reading the various comments, it came to mind that I have used the concept in the past myself — signing work with a winged capital “A”, as can be seen in this frame from my orphaned comic strip, Jazzcat.

And that I might want to play with the notion of trying it again — to update the idea from forty years ago to the 21st Century. An image I had seen recently — an illustration by an asian woman, the provenance of which I can’t recall any more — put me in mind of a certain style of sig or logo that is, indeed, derivative of Chinese chop seals. examples of which can be seen on this Pinterest board (which I am now following). Designs like those seen can be rendered onto a custom made rubber stamp or, at greater expense, a formal chop-type seal. I do not have the facility with either the Chinese language or the system of writing to design my own of either, though, sometime in the future, given an improved pecuniary circumstance, if I can form a favorite aphorism to thus encode, I might have one made for myself. Meantimes, I tried my hand at a sort of a roundeyes version of the idea.

chop_malger_base_160628If you google “artists’ signatures”, you’ll find page after page of images of things like the Chinese chops and seals. And, in a lot of cases, the designs take advantage of the resemblance of geometric primitives — circles, squares, triangles, etc — to some arcane alphabet. I decided to take that as a jumping off point, using my initials — MPA — as the input filter. The result, as you can see, looks like the back of an envelope — which is kind of meta, if you think about it.

The image I’ve been carrying in my mind is, as best I can remember it, in two colors — black and red, with the design and characters reversed out to the (white) paper color. So I played with the basic logo to make several variations, but not wanting to get too far from something that, in the absence of a stamp or seal, could be drawn with a few quick strokes of a pen. The results below. (Click to embiggen.)


Of course, given a Photoshop install (which I don’t have at the moment — the subscription for PSCC being beyond my reach*), one could readily spin off a wide variation with textures, embossing, shadows, glows, and lens flare, though you’d want to keep it simple. Either you can use a rubber stamp — which you can get custom-made for a reasonable fee — or you want to draw the chop by hand. If you get to the point where you have to use a 4-color, die-cut sticker, the idea of simplifying the autograph process has just jumped the shark.

*Though, it could be made possible were person or persons among the readership here moved to make contributions to the as-yet-ongoing GoFundMe campaign (button at right). Such would also serve the purpose of kick-starting my freelance art business, which is, at this moment (see posts below), stillborn.

For a Little Political Moment

IN THE MORNING… I heard someone yesterday objecting to Ted Cruz (at least I think the intent was objection) on the basis that “he thinks everybody in America should start their day on their knees in prayer.” My response: “Not a bad idea.” The conversation turned there to matters not germane to this post, so we will leave it.

I can hear a lot of my atheist friends objecting on a First Amendment basis, which I, frankly, consider balderdash. The Amendment commands, first: “Congress shall make no law.” Which places no limit on anyone else, anywhere else in this great and vast nation, and is utterly silent on the matter of mere suggestions from public officials or private citizens. (It should be pointed out that, constitutionally, Congress is the sole legislative authority at the Federal level (and ONLY the Federal level — setting aside the so-called supremacy principle for the nonce), a principle which, these days, is honored more in the breach with every Thomas E., Tricky Dick, and Harry S. issuing orders, regulations, and ukases right, left, center, fore, and aft.) and no other pronouncement may have the force of law, so … what’s the bother?

The First Amendment (and requirements within the Articles) are said to demand a wall of separation between Church and State. Which is a silly notion, since we have no Church for there to be a wall between it and the State (which has gotten entirely too big for its britches anyway) — big-“C” as in The Church — in America, (that pesky no-establishment thing), only a bunch of little-“c” churches. Yet, by demanding said wall, the anti-theists, in effect, establish their own church.

For it seems that the semi-(NGO-style)-official High Church of America has, by default become the New and Reform Church of Christ Anti-theist, or so the anti-theists would have us believe, claiming the Founders were “deists” who, having worshiped in Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, and even Catholic churches for nigh on two hundred years, didn’t ascribe to Christianity. Such is the anti-theist Big Lie, which, having been repeated often and loudly for decades, now, is close to becoming Received Truth, though We the (little) People seem to be resisting the notion somewhat of late.

Lest my atheist friends be offended (such offense not being my purpose here), I should state my opinion, which it seems is close to observable fact, that while atheism is simply another strain of religious belief, which is to be greeted with a shrug and a “suit yourself” by Americans everywhere, ANTI-theism, the toxic strain which seeks to breach the OTHER part of the First Amendment — the part which demands Congress make no law respecting the free exercise of religion — is, in effect, an offense against individual rights: simple bigotry, not to be tolerated.

So, when a man of faith is open about it, rather than concealing his intent by obfuscation, persiflage, and outright lies, and makes a suggestion which is, on the face of it, utterly harmless, and may even redound in a net good to the country as a whole, one has to ask those objectors (in tones Christians must get tired of hearing in response to objections to moral decay in the country), “What are you so upset about?”

Artsy Fartsy Living

SO I’M SITTING HERE THINKING Photography’s an art, innit? Right?

There was a big controversy about that back when I was a boy photographer back in the ’60s. They said, “Anybody can TAKE a picture.” (Implying, of course, that there’s not much art in that.)

Of course, as the true photographers knew all along, you don’t so much TAKE a picture, as you MAKE a picture. Even were it possible to capture a scene exactly as it is in a given instant, the next instant, it will change — subtly or in gross. And, in photographing the scene, you influence its appearance, as well as the quantum existence of its constituents.

Plus, a photograph prevents you from actually knowing a given scene. There’s the NCIS example, when di Nozzo explained to Kate why they still sketch crime scenes. Others, I’m certain, abound. Even I knew all that back then. It concludeth to say that there is more artifice in a photograph than not.

In my HS days, though, my specialty was candid portraits. Even on the yearbook staff, it was an acknowledged specialty. And I took my text from Henri Cartier-Bresson**, who was famous for his fly-on-the-wall mode of getting images. I even carried a black camera, as inspired by HC-B.

(And, funnily enough, I look up at the camera hanging by its strap off the baker’s rack I use for a desk and — sure enough — I’m still carrying a black Nikon.)

And the shots of mine that made it into the book(s) the years I was on the staff were candid. Though I suspect I wasn’t all that unobtrusive. Sitting in a high school classroom, ignoring the teacher, snapping away, shooting endless rolls of Tri-X, candid shots of self-conscious teenagers: hard to avoid being noticed. And being a 6-foot-plus hulk, (albeit pretty skinny back then), dressed in dark colors, with that big old camera stuck up to my eye all the time.

malger selfie 160422earnie_in_window_lightBut that’s still my style, making candid portraits of the world around me. Nowadays with digital cameras — in the phone, yet (What’ll they think of next!?), it’s easier to capture what you see, though sometimes, it’s still a tough job to get what you see in the frame. Even in a mirror. Not gonna state it as a rule, but it does seem to me as though you can’t get a camera in a position to where you can photograph yourself as you see you in a mirror. The perspective is always wrong — the shapes of objects are distorted subtly. Here, I was looking at the image in the mirror, but the image is looking at the screen on the phone, thus lidding the eyes, it being impossible to look two directions at once.

Serendipity plays a pivotal role in instantaneous art — that is art over which the artist has only when-to-push-the-button control over when to freeze the motion that is an inevitable component of any scene — even the stillest of still lives. In the fast-moving art of candid photography, even the most carefully-framed shot will reveal the unexpected — which can often be seen as a bonus.

serendipity_illustration_btb_160424jane looks upFor example: in the images to the right, the top shot is the intended frame. I was trying to get a picture of Loki. Jane just photobombed me. But Loki moved too fast for the shutter to “freeze” him in action, thus making him too blurry for a normally acceptable shot. (I say normally, because I’ve had blurry shots turn out cool enough to use for some purpose, but it’s not common.) But The image of Jane, when framed and cropped correctly, is of interest. So it is treated so and saved as one of “my” pictures.

**The link goes to a Wikipedia article about Henri Cartier-Bresson. For the love of God, if you have the slightest interest in art or fine-art photography, go and read the article. Follow the links. Buy the books — especially Cartier-Bresson’s The Decisive Moment.

Yet Another Art-a-Day Post

TWO WEEKS LATER. In fact, it’s been so long, with the interim so eventful, I barely recall the subject matter alluded to in the March 29 post. However, today, I have a different subject to relate to you.

Part of my take — right or wrong — on this exercise is that we participants ought to present current works IN PROGRESS. A sort of a semi-formalized What I Did Today. Being a procrastinator, I’m going to lag that a bit. But I think I have an excuse. I was up until 3AM fighting with the machinery and software to transfer photos from my phone to my computer. (If anybody knows a transfer utility superior to Air Droid, please enlighten me. For me, it keeps losing the WiFi connection and failing of transfer. The photo set for today’s post totals out at 43MB. I’ve no idea why, even at WiFi speeds, that should take long enough to time out.) So my post TODAY is about what I did YESTERDAY. For what I did TODAY, tune in TOMORROW. (Or maybe later, depending on how well I can keep to this schedule. Past performance being a reliable indicator of future results. (Or however that goes.))

20160412_171354Swennyway. What I did yesterday was build a shelf. For my wife Toni (whose birthday was Monday, BTW) to go on the exposed brick chimney above her desk in the Study at Casa d’Alger. So, as a spoiler, here’s what it looks like, now finished. Process shots next. (Click to embiggen. Click all the little pictures if you want to see them bigger.)

The whole thing stems from when Toni started collecting things VW. Well, no, I suspect it goes back to the eighties when we collected Lladro porcelain figurines. We have a large stock of cats, flappers … I think there’s a ship under sail in there. Birds, bunnies, rocks, ashtrays (not so many of those since both of us quit smoking). Tux, the Linux penguin. A rubber duckie. Mugs and mugs full of pencils and markers. And, here lately, Toni’s been developing quite the garageful of bugs and buses. And neat, framed art — photos and prints.

It’s started to get a bit crowded over there. So Toni started looking for corbels. I was picturing a pair of nice acanthus leaves, or an owl or a gargoyle. But she ended up with some nice, Shaker-esque brackets. Seven inches tall by five deep. With dadoes cut top and back and screw eyes mounted in the dadoes.

Left Corbel20160412_174719Meantime, let us consider the field. As you can see in the pic above (and the left and right ends, herewith), there is casing molding either side of the brick, covering the seam between the brick and the drywall. Og and I selected this and the dentil molding that runs around the ceiling line of the whole room (or will once it’s done). It’s triple-fluted, so the placement of the corbels is critical. It would have been nicer if they had been the same width as the molding, but you do with what you have. The downside of this is that it becomes obvious that the two pieces — the molding board and the corbel — were not made to go together. If they had, either there would be a table cut into the molding to bed the corbel or the flutes would have been stopped short of the corbel’s position. However, simply mounting the corbel on the molding, with the flutes continuing under it doesn’t look THAT bad. And the upside is that there is a well-centered trough in which to position the mounting screw, which makes the mounting easier.

Before mounting the corbels, I set a six-foot level across the space and drew a line on the moldings to serve as a guide to everything. Then I measured the corbels to make sure I was setting the screws in the right place to position the tops level to each other and the base line. Good thing I did that. On one, the keyhole for the mounting screw was centered 1316” down on the other, the drop was 1¾”. I also noticed to my chagrin that the manufacturer had neglected to include a bracket for the shelf in the top dado. Seemed a rather dumb design decision to me, but, hey — they’re selling, so it must work for them. I’ll never buy another anything from that manufacturer and I doubt they’ll miss me.

Having marked the drops, I set the screws and drove them in with the drill, leaving the heads proud (and testing with the brackets periodically, adjusting with a hand screwdriver). I take a moment to note here that the idiot teenager who designed these things specified flat head screws, rather than the application appropriate round or pan head (with or without washer).

20160412_165438Then the action moved outside with a collection of tools and a six-foot number one grade white pine one by six bought previously. I cut it to length. (Love my Diablo blade — a quick spritz of WD40 on the running blade helps fora cleaner cut and helps keep the blade clean.) 57 inches was our rough measurement to determine needed stock, but the actual length turned out to be 56¾”

20160412_165555Once cut to length, I wanted to chamfer the top edges on three sides (not the side against the wall. My router is a Bosch 2¼ HP beast that weighs a ton but is suprisingly easy to handle and quite nimble on the wood. It handles like a dream when its running. The spinning motor has enough mass to have a gyroscope effect, making the thing tend to want to stay steady. I pulled it out of storage for this project and was surprised when I opened the case to find that I’d put it away with the chamfer bit already locked up and height adjusted to a cut depth appropriate for a ¾” board. It was the work of a couple of minutes to finish the edges.

We’d agreed not to put any kind of sealant or finish on the shelf because of Ditto. Birds don’t take well to the volatile organic compounds that are outgassed from paints and varnishes, not to mention solvents, so you don’t use them in areas where birds are — or even nearby. (And that includes deodorizers.) So the final step in building this shelf was to sand it smooth and clean — free of blemishes and splinters. Not too hard, since I’d started out with white wood to begin with. I put a quarter-sheet of 320 grit sandpaper in my Bosch orbital pad sander — another power tool that’s a dream to use — and smoothed the face and edges, softening the corners as I went. I spotted and smoothed one place where the router had chattered a bit and missed another one. I bet nobody else will ever see it.

Next time, a pretty jewel of a piece.

The Artfully Living Post: 3/29/16

THE EAGLE SHITS TODAY by which I mean, Amazon royalty payments to authors who have elected to receive via direct deposit will drop today — according to what Amazon has sent out. My take: big whoop. If only my books were selling better, I might muster more enthusiasm. Still and all, I must be grateful for every fan. To do otherwise is declasse.

And, one should also keep in mind that the reason we are here on this mission is with the hope that, by enhancing my illustrating skills, I might improve the interesting-ness (is so a word) of my covers and improve my sales. So. To our muttons. (Add media.)

20160328_181957 As the school-days poem goes, I meant to do my work today. I spent a good deal of time gathering links to matter relevant and illustrations of principles great and small, but ran out of time (and energy) before I got to actually putting pencil to paper to draw the intended art for today. (Remember? We’re posting a work a day? That one.)

But… When I pulled out my pad of drawing bristol, I found the bit of visual doggerel at right tucked in behind the cover. It is a beginning exercise from a drawing lesson I never completed. For my usual reason — impatience. And therein lieth a lesson. I have little patience to wait (or work) for results. I want to achieve what I see in my mind’s eye right away. So, because so much comes so easily to me that I’ve come to expect it, it is harder for me than it ought to be to learn some subjects that require that I apply myself diligently. The exercise at hand is one that requires long practice and rigid control. Because the artist needs to lay down line after line after line of graphite so closely and evenly spaced that the resulting field appears to be a continuous swatch of a single color — or shade of gray. And, I think you can tell from the drawing of Ms. Easton in yesterday’s post I have little patience for finicky details. And when you say it like that, I think to myself that I really ought to grow up and buckle down to work instead of wanting it all RIGHT NOW. I do that a lot — have to remind myself to adult. Adultin’s hard doncha know. The technique is called the 5 Pencil Method and is espoused by Darrel Tank. You could do worse. If your results are a tenth of what Tank achieves, you’ll do well.

Tomorrow — I won’t promised, because I’ve learned better than to make promises I may not keep — or the next post, anyway, I do promise to get onto the choice of a face shape for a character under design. See you then.

Arting Livefully

MY YOUNGER FRIEND, CEDAR is undertaking to post a piece of art — no matter how trivial-seeming — every day for a year. I have seized on this notion as being a way to boot myself in the butt and get some serious time in on the drawing board.

I have just recently set up a work space in a corner of the office at Casa d’Alger — catty-corner from the bird’s cage, though not out of earshot of him when he gets all wound up (he’s self-winding) and starts in on the ear-splitting shrieks. The intent is that, now having a place to work, I will take advantage of any opportunity. But, I have found over my career in the field that opportunity never fails to take advantage of the opportunity to slip away, so that opportunity must be paired with a requirement for work to be done in order to permit progress. So the formula for self-employement needs to look something like this: opportunity to work plus work to be done over a deadline equals project. Having a project implies explicitly (or, as Dolly would put it: explies) the will to work or the desire.

The situation is far from ideal, so my perfectionism (the cynical or snarktastic individual will call it OCD) will niggle at me until I get the object of my desire

…A five-foot drawing table from Ikea on a tilt-and-height-adjustable trestle base. It’s not expensive for what it is, but I have no money right now and no income (but I do have a method for accepting donations — click the Go Fund Me link at right — hint-hint), so even the $150 for that table (most pro-level drawing tables run in the $500 range) is out of reach.

My present table is a piece of 1/2″ cheap-assed Chinese “hardwood” ply with a 1×2 stretcher glued to the bottom and clamped into the jaws of a Black&Decker Workmate. If you’re not used to working on a drawing table, this may not hit you right off, but those who have will get it immediately: the biggest drawback to this arrangement is that the work surface is flat. Level. Like a table.

And, that it’s not dedicated solely to arting means that I’ll have to take it down when I want to use the Workmate for something else — like building a shelf for SWMBO, which is coming up this week.

Which brings us back to the topic at hand — making excuses. (Sorry if your head got whipped around by that sudden change in direction, but there have been hints.)

I’m going to try the same thing: post a piece of art every day. I hope not to be so long-winded every time as I have been here. As my goal — the project, which is necessary to the demand for work-to-be-done, is to improve the covers of the Dolly stories (again, sorry for the sudden tangent) — my first task, or sub-project, is to devise a character design of Dolly. Which means drawing — first with pencil, then in pen and ink, with color following on — of a human face and figure, from the skin out. I will be following self-assigned lessons.

My preferred text, Giovanni Civardi’s Complete Guide to Drawing has a whole section on drawing the human figure, heads and faces, hands, and so-forth, but is primarily aimed at classical fine art technique, and what I’m after is a more modern, comic style (comic book, manga, anime), so I will be drawing (pun intended) lessons from elsewhere. For the last year or so, I have been gathering images and articles from around the Web to a Pinterest Board, called Art Lessons There are around 700 pins on the board right now, and I am constantly adding more on an ongoing basis, so you may imagine that most of them are not relevant to the topic at hand. Nor are the lessons on “how to draw” (although Civardi’s does touch on technique), as it’s assumed that the student will already have a modicum of eye-hand coordination to make him able to draw what he sees. (There, though, the main trick is in the seeing — I know you’re tired of hearing that, but until you “get” it, it’s going to keep being repeated. And then you’ll get it and start preaching it yourself.)

And, now, to the nut of things. I can imaging that those of you who have been following along at home are scratching your little wooden heads and asking: “This guy claims to have been a professional for an entire career; why is he starting with the basics?” Good question. Here’s a dirty little secret: commercial artists don’t do much art. That is, to say, that what an artist does is art by definition, and therefor, what commercial artists do is to be considered art, but what we-they-I do/did wasn’t what a lot of people consider art. That is, to say, I didn’t really draw or paint on a daily basis and have never made any sculpture. And, truth be told, very few of the images I used in my designs were of my own original creation. And, I suspect, that, up to a certain level, this is universally true of all production commercial designers. We manipulate images and do so according to accepted design standards, and to technical specifications, but there’s only so much “art” (pron: “aht”) in it.

sheena_easton_drawingWhat art there is is more like this: a picture of the Scottish singer, Sheena Easton. It is essentially a tracing (it could be a copy, I don’t really remember) from a photograph. In processing terms, it would have been a CMYK separation from a printed piece (a CD longbox), which would have to be scanned in what was then known as a “copydot and rescreen” process in order to be actually used, but which would have potentially added several thousand dollars to the product cost. So, if memory serves, we never used the photograph, but only logos and type to produce the work for the tour. So the image is “orphaned.” It is work product and the image it references was never used by us.

And, as the drawing — not the scan, which is fresh today — is from sometime around 1990 (Wikipedia says the album — What Comes Naturally — was released in 1991, which sounds about right.) Which makes it a quarter-century old, and could be the last time I drew an image with my own hand, as Otto was in the process of going digital for art and prepress even then, so the rest of my output from then to last December was done on a computer. Which means that I haven’t drawn in twenty-five or so years. And, like any motor skill, drawing ability can deteriorate over time if not used. So, if I want to make the illustrations for my own covers, and not be held captive by the availability and price of others, and be permitted the liberty of making any image I can imagine and execute, and not having to rely on modifying stock photos, I need to be able to draw the human figure.

That’s why.

Word Press is reporting over 1200 words so far, so I’m going to cut this short and continue tomorrow. I intend my first efforts to be the exploration of the shapes of female faces. There are a whole bunch of charts of heads of manga/anime/comic characters in the Art Lessons boards. If you want to read ahead (that’s how you spot the ambitious ones), feel free. Until then, then.

The Cloud Observatory: Observation 004/0316

Playing with a processing module of Google’s Nik Collection.


My take on this after one session is that the user would be better served were it unified with an over-arching interface. (In fairness, it’s intended to be used with a parent application, such as Photoshop.)