Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Do I know you?

Do I know them?
Most of the time I could tell you their names.
Most of the time.

I should know this place.
I've been here before.
It looks the same.
It feels different.

Do I know them?
I think I remember them as friends.
I think I remember.

I should know these smiles.
I've seen them before.
They look the same.
It feels different.

Do I know them?
There were threads connecting us.
There were threads.

I should know this love.
I've felt it before.
It looks the same.
It doesn't feel at all.

Do I know you?
Didn't you bring me here?
Didn't you?

I should know.
I should know.

Popped a breaker again, and am feeling weirdly disconnected from the world. I know people, and have memories of fond feelings for them, but the feelings themselves are gone. It's not the apathy of depression (I know that well). It's more like what I've heard of prosopagnosia, except that I do recognise the people to whom I no longer feel connected. This crap is getting too weird, and the world too scary to cope with.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Anybody need a good used developer?

Well, the last little while has been as confusing a roller-coaster ride as the previous four years or so have been, but for entirely different reasons. Or, rather, for exactly the opposite reasons. For a long time now, I've been telling all and sundry who need to hear it that the process of going sane is every bit as troubling and perplexing for someone in recovery as the process of going insane might be to someone who is headed in the other direction. Now I find that the idea of being somewhat healthy and capable is as foreign a thing to me as finding myself incapacitated in various ways once was.

That's not to say that I am quite up to full operating specs yet, but I have found that I'm nowhere near as useless as I once was. That applies particularly to coding activities. I'm not quite as sharp as I once was, but I'm pretty sure that's mostly because I'm very much out of practice. I seem to have pretty much regained my chops in the Lotus Notes (or, rather, Lotus Domino) world (I still have a lot more fun writing applications meant for the web than I have writing for the Notes client, mostly because of the options for data display). I've begun to experiment with Python on the Google AppEngine framework and, while I'm still not quite one with Python, I've actually managed to impress myself so far (look for something coming up on the appspot.com domain—Yellow-bleeders will find it a familiar flavour, and the Lotus-less masses just might find something a little more useful than what they're used to). And I've been able to do a thing or two on the LAMP stack along the way.

I think I'm ready to give this thing a go again, but there's this great gaping hole in my resumé, see. Anybody need a good, cheap Domino developer for a throwaway project I can use as a step out of oblivion? There's this scratch & dent sale I know about…

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

About pastels

In the last post I raved about a piece of software I found to help me with my little doodles, and I believe I mentioned that the final image was to be a pastel painting. About that...

There was a time when I was serious enough about the art thing to make a reasonable income from it. I'd like to get back to that now, since it's one of those things a fellow can do without having to be reliable, meet deadlines, or even be capable of speech and locomotion every day. Anyway, on of the media I most enjoyed working in was soft pastels. And one of the media I least enjoyed working in was soft pastels. I'm fussy. I like sharp relief and a lot of detail. Pastels are fragile, crumbly, dusty, messy and hate sharp relief or even so much as a hint of the idea of detail. That being said, the colours are and remain what you originally put down on paper or board. They are essentially pure pigment with just enough binder to keep them from being nothing but dust (thus their fragility and abhorrence of detail).

In this image, for instance (and I apologize for the quality of the photo, the paper texture takes over in a way it doesn't when you see the work in person), you can see that there's really only the slightest suggestion of detail. The picture is far from finished at this point—the edges of what has been drawn so far are not what they will be after the background is laid in, the ears are just blobs, and so forth—but there are some areas that are pretty much as they will be when the work is complete. There is apparent detail in the mouth, for instance, that isn't actually there, and the facial contours are as close as I'm going to be able to get. It was a genuine battle getting to this point, though, and that's because I'd completely forgotten how to work with pastels.

There is a trick to it, and that's what had slipped my mind during the ten years I'd spent time with pixels instead of pastels. Painting with pastels (as opposed to drawing with them) is largely a process of creating large piles of multicoloured sticky dust, then cleaning up the dust so you can make another mess to clean up (repeat as necessary). A picture comes together gradually, layering colours, scrubbing them together, worrying areas of tone together until they agree upon an edge. That's particularly true when one works with the small number of sticks I have at my disposal (there are only nine colours in use here; back in the day I would have had closer to fifty to cover the same range of tones). Once I let go of the picture and started to concentrate on the dust cycle, there was a lot less swearing involved.

Another thing I forgot was that little pictures are a waste of time. If you think about the picture as a computer graphic, you'd have to keep in mind that a "pixel" is a lot closer to an eighth of an inch than to an eightieth. This picture will matte at 18 by 24 inches when done, but if I were to start again it would be a lot more like 27 by 36, or perhaps larger. As it is, I'll have to remember to keep my expectations in check, but I think I can achieve what I'd set out to do—put someone who is very important to someone who, in turn, has been important to me, into a Rockwellian Saturday Evening Post cover illustration.

That leaves only one hard part to go (apart from finishing the painting, I mean): I had completely forgotten what a pain in the butt it is to transport a pastel work. That'll take some package engineering for sure, and I hope I'm up to that task.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I Heart OnOne Genuine Fractals

Whenever I've had really, really good hand control lately, I've spent my time drawing. If you're one of the select company who are among my Facebook friends, you may have seen a horribly lit and noisy webcam photo of a pencil drawing I did of the daughter of a friend of mine. Now, I'm a bit of a sentimental old poop—I always tended that way—but lately I've wanted nothing more than to capture and immortalize the things in life that make me go "awww".

One of the most awww-some things I've seen lately is a snap of our Jess's little Zoë looking like the perfect cross between a Norman Rockwell Post cover and an 80s vintage Oshkosh B'Gosh ad. It's an image that needs to be much more than a snap (you couldn't have posed it that perfectly) and I decided I would rectify the situation. The only problem was that the picture I was trying to work from was a mere 451 by 604 pixels, and cropping out the background left me a little less than 200 by 400 pixels. Keeping in mind that that covers Zoë head to stocking feet, you can imagine how little detail there would be to work with.

Well, I tried, but my initial pencil drawing (the finished work will be a pastel painting) looked like a very cute generic little girl, but not a whole lot like Zoë. I spent hours moving the shadows around, and it continued to be a really good picture if I didn't get too hung up on the identity of the subject. That, folks, is damned frustrating.

It was clear that the source material was too small to be of any real use. I tried enlarging the image in a variety of image editors (Photoshop CS3 & 7, Paint Shop Pro, and the GIMP, each of which has a slightly different bicubic smoothing filter) with no joy. Oh, the picture got bigger all right, but there was no more information to work with—in fact, as a drawing source the picture just plain got worse. Then I remembered having read something some years ago about some kind of image scaler based on fractals and wavelets and all of that mathy stuff I used to live in. I wasn't into computer graphics then, but the math was fascinating. It took a while to find the product name, and a while longer to find an installed copy I could use. I was at the point of giving up, so what the hell, eh?

I set the plugin to 400 percent and used the defaults otherwise and… HO-O-O-OLY CRAP!!! The phrase that actually came not only to mind but accidentally to tongue (did I say that out loud?) was a little less socially acceptable and likely to permanently corrupt small children within earshot. I've only had software leave me in giggly fits of delight once before, and that was the original Video Toaster on an Amiga 2000 way back when 286s roamed the planet running 1-2-3 and Wordperfect. It found detail that wasn't there (I swear), but it wasn't just made-up stuff either. It found stitching in the clothing! It found freakin' eyelashes!!!

Having found a good source for my drawing, I saved the enlargement and quickly forgot about it. I spent the rest of the afternoon blowing every picture on the USB key up to billboard size, giggling all the while. I put together a 300 pixel per inch raster business card (600 by 1050 pixels) with a geometric Aero-style graphic and a lot of rasterized type, then blew that up to print at 20 by 35 inches (that's a thousand percent of the original size) and I swear I couldn't tell that it hadn't been created at that size in the first place. It's even better at “hard” graphics than it is at photos, probably because there's less to guess at.

In any case, I'm now stuck with a deep and abiding love for a program that is neither free as in speech nor free as in beer. I'm not a stickler for open source, but this busines of being ethically compelled to pay for something because it's worth more than the price on the box has got to go. I want my moral ambivolence back!

Friday, February 05, 2010

Making life bigger

Over the last couple of years, my life has sort of closed in on me. If anyone ever had excuses for that sort of thing, well, I think I qualify. It's kinda hard to carry on a conversation when you have trouble talking; it's hard to get out and about when your legs don't work today. Most of all, though, I've been saying a lot more goodbyes than hellos, in anticipation of the day when the big goodbye arrives. I don't know whether that goodbye will be The Big One or a final slip into uncommunicativeness and unawareness, but I do know that there's something of the sort coming down the pipe.

The thing is, see, that I should be there already, and I'm not. I'm no intellectual giant these days, but I haven't collapsed into a state of simplicity either. I may have trouble fishing for words, but I can carry on a conversation most days—provided that my partner has a little patience to spare. I'm not good with eye contact, but folks seem to make allowances for that, and generally seem less annoyed than I am with that little quirk. And I still have a little bit of experience, strength and hope to share with the world.

Tonight I had the pleasure of attending a little celebratory gathering. I knew exactly one person, the young woman whose achievement we were celebrating, before I got there, and I'd been out of contact with her for, wow, just a little too long. I'd almost forgotten how much I enjoyed her company, and I'm starting to believe that there was method behind that particular madness. It's hard to watch the people around you when you've told them what to expect from the progression of an illness, and the closer people are the harder it hits them. Letting people just sort of drift away with time is the easy way out, but it sure leaves holes in a life.

I was rather surprised to be invited to this little gathering, but I'm more than happy that I went. I found an old friendship still intact, and found that the reason we two, oddly matched as we are, were friends is strong today as it ever has been. She's weird in the right way, and I suppose she sees me in much the same light. She also has a number of, well, quirky friends who are every bit as weird in ways that suit them perfectly, and I've found, I think, the basis for a few new friendships.

I have been telling people for a long time now that the secret to happiness is to take the biggest bite you can out of life's fat arse. Somehow, in the rush to die, I'd managed to forget that. I should listen to me more often—I am a very wise man.