Sunday, July 19, 2009

Weekend Fun

Went to Mary's Peak on Saturday. My parents came along, too, and we had a picnic near the summit. There were lots and lots of butterflies of all sorts of shapes, sizes and colors (mostly red, orange, and yellow).

Went to Newport on Sunday. The wind blew the sand into a haze which obscured the beach when we looked from miles away. We had to hide in the lee of a basalt flow; watching the sand grains blow away from us as we hid was like seeing the Earth's magnetosphere in the solar wind.

We had a fun weekend. (I'm still getting all the sand out of my hair and clothes.) Probably the highlight was visiting the Undersea Gardens (despite the claustrophobic viewing area), because I got to sketch Wolf Eels and and Octopus.

More photos here

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

ǝpısdn Down

¿ƃoןq ǝɥʇ oʇ ʇxǝʇ uʍop ǝpısdn ʇsod ı uɐɔ 'sı uoıʇsǝnb ǝɥʇ os

And the answer would appear to be "yes." Or was that „sǝʎ„ ?

I'm trying to think of a compelling reason to make one's text appear upside down. I suppose that it could be amusing for about a second and then it would get irritating.

I thought maybe that upside down could be used for satirical purposes, but I think I'd need to be Ursula Le Guin before a publisher would even think about printing my story with upside-down bits. And in any case, the point of writing is to use the words, not the typesetting, to convey ideas.

Still. ǝpısdn down text is kind of cool.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Thunder, Lightning, and Geometry

Whoo! Quite a bit of thunder and lightning over Eugene today. Flashes visible by day. Loud rumbles lasting five seconds. Traffic control lights knocked out of commission flashing red in a steel sky. It was a tea and toast kind of day.

So I took out compass and paper and constructed Golden Rhombuses. (OK, I got the first two wrong... but the third one worked.) You can build a Rhombic Triacontahedron with Golden Rhombuses.

To build the rhombus ... get a compass, a ruler, and some paper.

  1. With the ruler, draw line AB.
  2. With the compass, draw a circle centered on line AB. The center of the circle will be point a.
  3. Draw an identical circle centered where the first circle intersects line AB. The center of the second circle (also where the first circle crosses line AB) will be point b.
  4. The two circles will cross each other twice; once above line AB, once below line AB. Use the ruler to draw a second straight line over these two places. The straight line will cross line AB at point c. Point c will be the mid-point between points a and b.
  5. Draw another identical circle centered on point c.
  6. Open the compass wide (I like to double it) and center it on point b. Draw an arc above and below line AB. Place the compass point on the other side of the first circle and draw another arc above and below line AB. This will create two points directly above and below point a on line AB. Draw a third straight line through the three points (the two sets of arcs and point a). Where the new third line meets the first circle is point d.
  7. Center the compass on point c and open it until the pencil touches point d. Draw a circle. The forth circle should cross line AB just to the left of the center of the first circle (which isn't labeled in these instructions). Call this point point e.
  8. Use the compass to measure the distance from point b to point e. Using this distance, center the compass on point c and draw a fifth circle. Where this circle crosses line AB, mark points f and g. (The whole point of drawing five circles and three lines is to get the distance ad and be, which can be used to create a Golden Rectangle)
  9. Where the vertical line crosses the third circle (running through point c), mark points h and i.
  10. Draw the rhombus through points f, h, g, and i.
Voila! Now you have the proper polygon to make a Rhombic Triacontahedron!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Oregon Country Fair 2009

We went to the Oregon Country Fair. The Fair started out as a renaissance faire, then turned into a hippy fair, and now it's a kind of annual Eugene (and local area) weird/alternative fest. On the fun side, the fair's in a woods, there's lots of geometric sculptures, creative entertainers, crafts, alternate power, parades, art and costumes. The creative, friendly, atmosphere can be exciting and restful at the same time.

On the not-quite-so-fun side is that the fair seems to be two miles long, the paths can get quite choked with people and dust, the art is prohibitively expensive, and some --er-- costumes are more about personal expression than imagination. Loin-clothes (or socks) and nipple-clamps. I think I have the definition of a "drommer boy" now. That's all I'm saying.

The weather was cooperative, starting out cool and not getting too hot in the afternoon. We walked around, but really didn't see anyone we knew right away. Mark liked a kinetic sculpture -- the "Hippypotumus," a six-person bicycle float with an articulated head and jaws (and blinking eyes). I kept seeing icosidodecahedrons everywhere, and found a Eugene artist who welds them out of stainless steel (sorry, honey, I got his card and someday when I can afford it, we'll have Platonic Solids in the garden).

Much later in the day, I ran into Damon Kaswell and Loreen Heneghan. Loreen makes lovely masks out of fabric, wire, spangles, and sequins. And hats. One hat (with ears) looked like a Beatrix Potter design. She had a whole troupe of Jellicle Cat masks.

The other friend I ran into was Steve, who makes really cool kaleidoscopes with oil and beads.

Oh yes. I wore The World's Most Fabulous Shirt -- it's a shirt covered with little squares of iridescent diffraction gratings. Usually, I hear about twenty disco-ball jokes in a hour, but I guess the purple iridescent scarf I wrapped around my hat made me look like I was on Gay Safari (I had many more attractive, shirtless guys complimenting me on my clothing than I can remember for quite some time). Anyway, I love the shirt, and about forty new best friends love the shirt, and I love that something as easy as wearing a shirt (OK, it was a little too warm in the afternoon) can make so many people smile.

And I think smiling is what the Oregon Country Fair is all about.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

John's Polyhedral Obsession

A couple of days ago, Mark Wyld introduced me to the sculpture of George Hart, a mathematician and sculptor. Many of Hart's sculptures are based on the icosidodecahedron (the same shape that is on a soccer ball).

After seeing a sculpture made out of old floppy diskettes, I thought, "I can do that." I looked at the geometry of how the cuts were made. Then I created a mitre-box for cutting perfect squares and slicing them at a 36 degree cut on a small craft paper cutter (using blue painter's tape). If you look at the square, you can see where to put the cuts and how far the cuts should go.

Three or four hours later... I slid the last blue square into place. Looking at the icosidodecahedron, I thought, "Wow. Cool." Then I knew I had to pose like Albrecht Dürer with it.

I think next time I'll use more tape to make better cutting guides (and cut the squares first using the guides instead of marking out squares with a pencil).

Looking down one axis, you can see how the opposite pentagons are flipped. Hart pointed out on his page that this is six cubes exploding. If I make another, I think I'll choose a different color so the finished project doesn't look like a Cubist representation of a hydrangea. Maybe (if I get some help) I can make some more for Special Wordos Awards.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The Missing Reunion.

There was a part of this dream that I forgot to post.... after the asylum part, the dream turned into a father/daughter reunion film.

A woman, a professor of Irish literature, schemed to bring a father and his (hitherto unknown) Irish daughter together. In the dream the back-story was not clear, but apparently the father had had a fling in Ireland and had a daughter he didn't know about.

The setting was a kind of multi-purpose indoor/outdoor shopping mall / apartment complex. The walkways and buildings were brick with glass skylights. The first floor was mostly cafes and retail stores; the second, third and forth floors were a mish-mash of apartments.

The part of the dream I remember best was that the professor had engineered a meeting between the father and daughter. The daughter was waiting on the (mostly red brick) front porch of the the professor's appartment. The father was following obscure clues to meet his daughter (I thinkn all he really knew was that he was meeting a younger woman; although he might have suspected their relationship). The professor was standing in an out-of-sight corner, watching the father and whispering to herself, "Come on, come on, all you have to do is press four on the elevator."

He did, and the scene closed on a reunion, with the father knowing that he's meeting his twenty-something Irish daughter for the first time, and the daughter not really knowing who this older (but oddly nice) guy is.

I guess my mind was working on story ideas or something as I slept.

2009-07-09 Dream: Wedding Performance Anxiety

I dreamed ... Mark and I were walking through an airport terminal. We thought maybe we had accidentaly gotten onto a plane to Russia, but it was the airport staff deicing the terminal.

There was a back-to-school scene and I was trying to get things together for an exam....

Then I had won a lottery and managed to meet Micheal Jackson (reports of his death had been wildly exaggerated). There was a mix up, but I managed to meet with Mr. Jackson. He was dresses as a pirate captain (he had his own giant, road-worthy, bus/pirate ship).

He started to teach me a dance, and after a short while I found myself having a short cameo in a music video. (Lots of black and purple cloak swirling, sashaying, and shoulder work.)

Then things got dark... (we'll skip the dark parts which involved biting and an insane asylum)

And I woke with the coolest music in my head... and I was going to see about playing it when I've just realized that it was a harmony line for "The Sore Feet" song.

So I'm pretty sure this is an anxiety dream about singing and teaching dance at a medieval style wedding.

Friday, July 03, 2009

When Magic Goes Wrong

At my last talk, someone asked, "So, what happens when a magic spell goes wrong in a fantasy story?"

My response was, "It depends."

My quick and dirty response should have been, "Imagine the characters are working with high voltage, explosives, biological contagions, and a really big fire hose turned on full blast. Now imagine what could go wrong, pretend it's magic, and write."

A magic spell or ritual typically has the following stages: 1) purification (participants and/or place), 2) a statement of intent, 3) a summoning of magical powers or allies, 4) the performance of a magical act, 5) the dismissal of powers, and 6) rest and repose.

Anything can go wrong during these stages, and when writing magical accidents it can be helpful to think in terms of these steps and also in terms of 1) Insulation, or what steps a magic user takes to keep magical energy from "shorting out" or to keep harmful magic at arm's length; 2) Focus, or how magic is directed at a target -- and how it can ricochet at the spell caster; 3) Contamination, frequently described in a story as a spell's residual scent, signature, or vibration; and 4) Dominion, or relationship between magical power and the spell caster -- usually thought of in terms of addiction, obsession/possession or absorption/assimilation.

Some examples:

  • A group of amateur magicians gets together to work a spell for healing. They take a few shortcuts and nothing happens -- no magical power is raised. This is the best kind of failure, although it does waste a character's time.

  • In Marion Zimmer Bradley's "Web of Light", magicians with an incomplete understanding of a spell start the spell, but do not have the proper training to direct the magical energy they raise. Eventually, the energy discharges like a lightning bolt which physically brands the characters with warning symbols. Insulation failure during magical focus.

  • Dion Fortune tells a tale of magic gone wrong (one of many). A group of magic users are holding hands in a circle. Magical energy outside the circle spooks one of them, they open the circle, and the energy "zaps" the room, sending the magicians to sickbed for a week. Oh, and, there's a terrible stench of drains and ectoplasmic slime appears on the walls. This is a failure of magical insulation during the performance of a magical act.

  • In "The Mists of Avalon," Marion Zimmer Bradley's Morgan needs to see the future and stays too long in the spirit world. As a result she overtaxes her reserves, is seriously ill for weeks and almost dies. In this case, Morgan has changed her magical intent and focus in mid-stream and drained her (magical and physical) batteries.

  • The Sorcerer's Apprentice magically animates a broom to fill his master's cistern. But he gets into deep water when he can't figure out how to make the broom stop. This is a failure of magical dismissal.

  • A magician summons a daemon, but neglects to draw the magic circle on the ground correctly, and the daemon gets loose. This is a failure of magical insulation during a summoning. Usually the daemon eats the magic user, possesses them, or goes on a rampage (angry, torch-bearing, pitchfork-wielding villagers usually result).

  • In the EarthSea stories, magicians who turn themselves into animals have to be careful that they do not stay in animal form too long, lest they lose themselves in the shape and lose the ability to change back into humans. In Disney's "Shaggy Dog," the Egyptian spell to turn someone into a dog must not be repeated too many times, or the spell caster risks turning themselves into a dog. Contamination in repose?

  • And for an example of contamination during use: Frodo the Hobbit is counseled not to use the One Ring too much or he will become a new Dark Lord. In the end, he claims the ring for his own. In fact, all six books of the Lord of the Rings is a meditation on why the magic ring cannot be safely used by anyone.

The other place magic can hurt you is in a fight. In most cases of magical attack, if the spell isn't producing lethal amounts of fire or electricity, or calling up a nasty fighting monster, the magical duel is about seeing who can last the longest simultaneously casting attack and defense spells before falling over because they've exhausted their physical and magical reserves. For some reason, fighting magic users never expect non-magical, physical weapons. The last startled look of a dying magician is typically focused on a tiny yet fatal glass dagger (or similar mundane weapon which didn't set off their magical alarms and shields).

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Science Fiction Musings for Spirit

Spirit, the Mars Rover that is stuck in some fine sand, has been in the back of my mind lately. She's stuck, but she's still conducting experiments -- the local geology is very interesting.

I, of course, am coming up with crazy ideas for unsticking her. They probably will get better ideas from the sandbox on Earth and the Faux-Spirit playing there. Still, I wondered if the RAT might be used to create an electro-static charge to make the sand clump together more (answer: nope, probably not, and anyway, Spirit's arm doesn't reach underneath so well).

Now, I wonder if the robot's wrist and equipment "hand" could be used as a seventh wheel (yes, I know that would probably ruin the RAT, the microscopic imager, and the two spectrometers on Spirit's hand -- and they'd have to re-program the tools' "curb detectors").

Other ideas that I've come up with and discarded... using the solar panels as a kind of sail to push Spirit out (I think the panels can't move once they're open -- and I'm not sure Spirit might not get knocked over by a really big gust)... using the RAT to dig for moisture to make the sand clump together (not sure the RAT is that big, can dig that far, or if there's enough moisture under the sand). Using Spirit's body somehow to condense liquid (or ice) to get enough to make the sand clump together (except that Mars is pretty arid and I'm not sure where on water's triple-point phase diagram the current Martian temperature and atmospheric pressure are)...

There are magnets on Spirit, but they can't move... and the high-gain antenna probably couldn't be used as a sail, either... And there's no line or cable for Spirit's hand to reel in... What would R2D2 do (and I'm talking pre-remake, old-style R2D2 from the 80's)?

Oh well. I guess they'll have to do what we used to do in Minnesota snow -- figure out the best way to rock Spirit back and forth to pack down enough of a track to back out of (while missing the rock poking up at Spirit's belly).