Maintenance Required

A few years ago, I bought a used car.  The dealer assured me it had just been fully serviced, but I noticed a warning flag on the dashboard, it said “Maintenance Required.” Every car requires regular maintenance, but I figured this was a warning about something specific. It seemed to drive OK, it didn’t seem to have anything wrong.

After a few thousand miles, I took it in for an oil change, but the light stayed on. Eventually I had to do some major repairs. The clutch cylinder had to be replaced. The light stayed on. I had to replace the timing chain and the steering rack, that was a really expensive repair. But still the light stayed on.

After replacing the steering rack, I had to take the car to another shop to have the wheels aligned. There really was nothing left on the car that hadn’t been serviced, but that damn Maintenance Required flag was still on. I mentioned this to the mechanic, he seemed puzzled and said, “lemme see that.” So he got in the car and looked, then he took the key and poked it into a little slot under the flag, and it reset. The flag was gone.

I asked him what happened. He said the flag is hooked to the odometer, it goes off every 5000 miles to tell you to change the oil. But the car doesn’t know when you changed the oil, the mechanic has to reset the flag manually.

I Want To Be An Anglepoise Lamp

The Soft Boys – (I Want To Be An) Anglepoise Lamp – 1978

When I first entered Art School, one of my first purchases was a Luxo Lamp. It’s a classic design that has endured the test of time. It was cheap, I think I only paid about $20. I clamped it to the edge of my drafting table, and I kept it attached to my various desks over the next thirty years. A few years ago, it fell apart and I threw it out.

Luxo Lamp

Recently I decided to buy a new Luxo Lamp. I thought it would be cheap, I looked online and now they’re over $165! My local art supplies store has a generic model listed online for about $18. What a deal. I went to the store, cash in hand, but they were sold out. I could order it online, but I hate to buy a cheap knock-off without seeing it first. It might be too cheap.

I checked at various outlets around town, I thought it would be easy to find a cheap swing arm lamp. But no. The best I could find was a cheap knock-off of the Luxo Jr. at Target, for about $40. It was only about 18 inches tall, that defeats the whole purpose of the Luxo. The classic Luxo LS-1 has a 45 inch reach, you can put it up high and illuminate your whole desk, or pull it down close for more brightness. I used a 100w full-spectrum incandescent bulb which has a good color balance, so I could work at night and still be able to judge colors accurately.

Unfortunately, this is probably the worst time in recent history to buy a desk lamp. New Federal energy standards were imposed on incandescent bulbs to make them more efficient. Of course some people think it’s a conspiracy and are even hoarding light bulbs. That’s ridiculous, new energy-efficient incandescent bulbs are already on the market, they are better than ever. There are plenty of alternative bulbs that are even more efficient, CFL bulbs have been around for a while, but people don’t like them because they have a colder light. I don’t like them because they have Mercury in them and you have to recycle them. Stores that sell CFLs are required to take them back and recycle them, but I’m sure they just throw them in the trash. Now LED lighting is getting cheaper, but it’s still really expensive.

So I thought maybe instead of the lamp, I’d try to get brighter bulbs for my wall-mounted lamps. They have tiny Type B sockets so the biggest bulb I can use is 60w. I have been looking everywhere for some simple 60w-equivalent LED bulbs that would fit. The standard bulbs put out 650 lumens, but I can’t find any LED bulbs that would output anything close to that. My office is already too dim, I want more light, efficiency be damned. It might be better to replace the whole wall fixture to use the regular Type A bulbs.

Now I am back where I started, no new lamp, and a dimly lit office. I suppose I will have to do some serious research and buy a proper LED desk lamp. That’s going to be expensive, I haven’t seen a decent model for under $100. The only thing that bothers me about LED lamps is that they don’t burn out, they just get dimmer. It will take a long time, maybe 10 years before they become noticeably dimmer. It will happen so gradually, nobody will notice. The manufacturers don’t know exactly how dim they will get. I kept my old Luxo for thirty years. I could keep a new LED lamp for another thirty, and eventually I will be back where I started, in a dimly lit office.

Dream Crash

Last night at about 4AM, I was awakened by the noise of a loud conversation. I wondered who was talking so loud, maybe it was a noisy neighbor. I tossed and turned, and could not get back to sleep because a light was on. Then I wondered where that bright light was coming from.

It was coming from my office. My computer monitor was on, and a video was playing. It took me a few groggy moments to figure out what happened.

I always put my computer in sleep mode just before I go to bed. Somehow, the computer crashed while it was in sleep mode, and rebooted itself. My web browser restarted, and restored all the open windows. Then a video that I paused earlier that evening, started playing.

I think from now on, I’ll mute the sound too, when I go to bed.

Cold War

I have been forced to block my blog to all internet addresses in China and Russia. My blog receives thousands of spam comments every week from these countries, it is a waste of my time and my computer resources. Ironically, it is a waste of their time and resources, since all the spam gets blocked. Perhaps they want people to voluntarily close off their websites to their countries, to stop the free flow of ideas. Perhaps they are succeeding.

Amish Cookbook

My grandparents were Old Order Amish, although my parents were not. Our house always had lots of Amish aunties babysitting, cleaning, and cooking, so I grew up eating a lot of traditional Amish cooking. It’s usually simple fare.

I found an amusing Amish cookbook in my mother’s collection. It is very small, about 3×5 inches and printed on a mimeograph. I especially love the old IBM Selectric script font. This was definitely not produced by the Amish. Sometimes they ask their Mennonite friends to do this sort of work. Mennonites often live near Amish communities, but they are not restricted from using technology.

I am presenting the first recipe in the book, and I promise that someday I will scan the entire book and publish it here.

AmishSpaghetti

1998: Hot New Products from Japan

Long ago around 1998, I used to publish a website with scans of new or unusual  products that appeared in Japanese magazines. Some of them are now obsolete, some have become commonplace. So I thought it would be worth republishing this little time capsule of 1998, exactly as I published it back then. I have several more of these articles, and I’ll post them all.


New Hi-Tech Japanese products

Here are some new products on display in Japanese magazines

gsmphone

These are the new global satellite phones, and a sattelite text pager. These are made by Kyocera. There is a note describing the cost per minute in Japan and the US. Note that the cost in Japan is $2.61 per minute, compared to $6.54 in the USA (at an exchange rate of 130 Yen per US dollar).

neko-1

And who could resist a “maneki neko” for their portable phone? It lights up and glows when you talk and transmit!. The maneki neko is a traditional figure, a friendly beckoning cat. I suppose it makes your portable phone a little more “friendly.”

Bodymon: body monitoring devices

Body monitoring toys are a new fad.

slim1

This “Slim de Major” is a device about the size of a Tamagotchi, and has a tape measure included. You enter your body measurements, and apparently you also input your exercise activities. It keeps track of this data, and judging from the game icons, it tells you whether you are fat, thin, or have a big butt.

Slim2

Update: My sister looked at this page. I told her I couldn’t figure out what the top right icon meant. She said it obviously means “Thunder Thighs.”

wrist

This device measures blood pressure and heart rates. Its can monitor continuously and issue alarms.

tsuba

I’m not quite sure what device does. It is called the “Tsubo Curator” and it measures and tracks your “tsubo” (whatever that is). The background has pictures of thumbs with various moods and conditions (stress, irritability) written on them. I assume the device measures the skin on your thumb and assesses your condition.

Update: I located “tsubo” in a Japanese dictionary, and it describes tsubo as a point on the body where you would perform moxibustion. These are some type of “energy points” on the body, like acupuncture points. The theory is that your body’s energy flows through these points, and this device must measure it somehow. I’m not too sure how it would do this, maybe galvanic skin response or something simple (it’s a simple little device).

Toys

pocketstn

Sony’s Pocketstation is a tamagotchi-sized accessory for your Playstation. You can carry it around and play the game on the little screen, or use it with your Playstation. Can I bring my Crash Bandicoot over to your Playstation for a visit?

scooter

Electric scooters. Not exactly high-tech, but it looks like a lot of fun. For Japanese speakers: note use of the popular catchphrase, “dacchuu no” (don’t you know?)

toys

On the left, a silly toy called “Digi-Ken.” It appears to be an old traditional kids toy, there’s a large sphere with a hole, its suspended on a string, and you have to swing the sphere and try to spear it. Except this one is digital. I guess it plays music and lights up if you succeed. I hope it is more interesting to play with than a Yo-Yo.

On the right is the Polaroid Xiao camera, it takes small instant pictures, about the size of those print-club stickers you see everywhere. A nice idea, to make a tiny camera that can make instant prints in this format.

Fancy Wristwatches

watches

The Seiko wristwatch on the left stores about 25 phone numbers or website addresses. I don’t see the point of pushing a bunch of buttons to input a complex URL into my wristwatch, when I could just write it down on a piece of paper. Note that the watch is displaying the URL for Seiko, which is.. www.seiko.co.jp. I never would have guessed, since the display ran out of room after only “http://www.s”

The watch on the right has a special sensor (the grey patch on the front). It can measure sound waves in the air and determine the beats per minute of the song you are hearing. Apparently, this BPM data is vital for people who go to dance clubs.

ruputer

The “Ruputer” (wrist computer) is a full PDA that interfaces with your desktop computer. You can not input data directly, but you can use it to download data from your desktop PC’s scheduler and address book. The Ruputer will retrieve and display it.

My Art

People always ask to see my artworks on the web. I always tell them I can’t put them on the web, or anywhere else. You have to see them firsthand. I use an antiquated alternate photo process, Gum Bichromate. I can make photographic prints with any watercolor pigment, I use metallic pigments that change appearance depending on the lighting and the angle you view them. Taking a photo of the artwork would be like trying to take a photo of a mirror.

But I can show the prints on video, so I can view it from multiple angles, and demonstrate how the prints change as I move. The iPhone takes decent high rez videos, so I made a couple of videos to demonstrate the effect. I figure this gives you about 5% of the experience of viewing the print with your own eyes.

This 8×10″ print uses copper, silver, and gold pigment. The gold lines are nearly transparent if you look straight at the print, but at an angle, they shine brightly, showing a birefringent effect. The different pigments reflect at slightly different angles, the silver is nearly invisible when the gold is bright.

Here is a larger 11×17″ print, it’s one layer of solid gold and very reflective, not translucent like the previous print. I intended to print on top of this gold layer, but I found a blurry spot I didn’t like so I rejected it. Printmakers would call this a “state proof,”  it’s a proof print of one layer I applied to a different print. But it’s pretty interesting by itself.

This type of fine art photographic printing as an artform is becoming commercially unviable. It can’t compete with the low cost of modern inkjet printing, which dominates the photo print market. Gum prints are extremely labor intensive, every print is custom made and unique. The process is very unstable and difficult to use, many prints fail, ruining hours of work. The larger the print, the more difficult and more expensive it is to produce. That’s why the Gum Bichromate process was abandoned and became a lost art.

But the Gum Bichromate process can do things that no other process can achieve. I have spent decades refining the process, finding ways to reduce the cost of producing the negatives. Recently I made some technical breakthroughs and found a way to reduce the cost of the most expensive materials: the negative. It’s a contact printing process, so if you want an 11×17 print, you need 11×17 negatives, usually several of them. I used to pay $35 for those negatives, now I think I can make them for about $2.

So now I’m about to do another edition of prints. Perhaps these will be inexpensive enough to be affordable, so I can put them in an art gallery where people can actually see them firsthand.

1994: Oil Studies

I recently wrote an essay The Copyist about a project I did way back in art school around 1994, when I made studies from an oil painting by Raoul Dufy, I’ll show the Dufy original on the left and my final study on the right.

DufyAndCopy

Today I found three oil studies on 14×18″ panels from that same project. I completely forgot these studies existed, I haven’t seen them for years. The studies are sloppy and unfinished, mostly they are experiments in composition, color schemes, and most particularly, how Dufy made those fluid black lines.

I think I picked Dufy to study because that is exactly not how I paint. I was taught that you never laid down big black lines, that’s drawing with paint, it’s not really painting. Oils can lay down smooth gradation of colors, but Dufy used bold black lines and flat colors, it’s like a coloring book with black lines and only a few bright colors of crayons. That is not how you’re supposed to paint. And yet he does it so well. I always like trying something different, so I started by playing around with his forms. Here’s the first study. I am obviously making no real attempt to make this painting look like the original, I’m just trying to paint like Dufy.

Study1

You can see I’m trying to copy Dufy’s black lines, painted wet over wet. That technique is called Alla Prima and it the way Dufy does it is terribly difficult. To make the black lines, I bought a pinstriping brush with hairs about 3 inches long, it can load a lot of pigment and flow it out in long lines. It didn’t work so well on a wet canvas but it was the best I could do. I figured Dufy used a similar brush, he just used it constantly as one of his primary tools so he was expert with it. And you can tell I’m no expert, like for example in the lower left middle it kind of got away from me and ended up a big black smear. Oops.

The painting turned out weirdly cubist, since I made several attempts at the black lines. I’ll show you a closeup.

detail1

When you paint alla prima, the brush tends to drag up the wet paint and this is a perfect example. On the left, the strokes mostly had dark edges with a blue center. On the right side, the strokes are blacker because the paint underneath was already dry. Some colors like Cadmium Red and Yellow are notorious for slow drying and almost impossible to paint wet over wet. But Dufy did it, so I had to figure out how. Here’s another closeup.

Detail3

That’s extremely close up. You can see I’m trying to lay down black lines over the red and yellow stripes, but I’m still dragging up paint. But still it’s a pleasing effect if you can control it.

The study also experiments with Dufy’s flat imagery like the cabinet with a mirror that reflects the outdoor scene, but the perspective is deliberately odd. And he also made some strange color choices, like pale orange-browns that I had a hard time duplicating. Oh well, let’s move on to the next study.

Study2

Yeah, I was getting bored with this subject. The cabinet is mutating and the composition is all askew. I’m still experimenting with those black lines, they’re getting better. I don’t know where that zig zag down the middle came from, or those off-white tones. It’s time to move on and do something else.

I produced one more oil study in this series, but it only barely referred to the original Dufy work. I focused on the oval shape at the top of the cabinet and enlarged it greatly. Here I can experiment more directly with Dufy’s method of painting black lines and laying flat colors around them. This is probably the only oil sketch here that can stand on its own as a painting.

Study3

Here I am deliberately messing around with wet over wet, except I’m deliberately pushing blue into the black, or white into the blue. It’s easier to test the technique when you’re working with only one color, it doesn’t change the hue, only the value changes when you add black or white. The upper left side was particularly good, here’s a closeup.

detail4

This was the point where I finally started to figure out how to paint. Notice the white brushstrokes that pushed into the blue paint underneath. The blue paint was dragged up without mixing into a completely flat, mushy color. The brushes pushed pure white at some parts of the stroke, mixed blue in others, and left the blue mostly untouched at other parts. Above that is a section where I dragged some black into the blue areas. Now that’s alla prima.

Since these are my early student works, I really didn’t quite know what I was doing. But it’s sometimes interesting to look back and see where I started to work it out.

 

The Red and The White

ikadori

Every year, I try to watch the NHK Kouhaku, the big New Year’s Eve music show. It’s a tradition in Japan, this is the 65th show so it is officially labeled 第65回NHK紅白歌合戦, literally it means “the 65th Annual NHK Red vs. White Music Battle.”

It’s hard to locate the Kouhaku on the internet, and it can take days before it even appears. I am just watching it now, long after the holidays. Most of the show is J-Pop, but I skip that and go straight to the old timey Enka singers, that’s always a huge spectacle. Where else on the internet can I see a guy in a squid costume, leading a line of men doing the “ika odori,” the squid dance? Yes, this is actually a thing. Enka music makes a lot of nostalgic references to remote village traditions, like the Hakodate Squid Festival. They have a parade and everyone does the ika odori. Even I did the ika odori.

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