Suffering for Art

Yesterday I forgot to bring my camera with me to work, so after the evening Kendall class I drove to the Fulton Street bridge over the Grand River and took a few low-light photos.

The way my camera (Olympus D-510) works is, if I shut of the flash and the ambient light is insufficient for a normal photo, the camera leaves the shutter open for longer than usual. This has two effects: more light hits the sensor, and I have to hold veeerrrrryyy still to avoid blurring the shot. Usually I just brace the camera on something.

Last night was abominably cold. I got out of my car and immediately my nose began to run. I braced the camera on the metal railing on the bridge, and as I was lining up my shot, eye to the viewfinder, I touched the tip of my nose to the rail.

Anyone who has ever licked a flagpole in the middle of winter can appreciate my situation.

There is no visible damage, but today the end of my nose feels sore and raw. So I hope you are enjoying all of those photos. They sure don’t come easy.

Teachers and Students

Another day, another class. Today was the first in-class assignment: Find a poem or song lyrics, and using basic HTML and Cascading Style Sheets, mark up the document so that [a] The code is clean, and [b] it renders appropriately in the browser.

At the beginning of class I asked the (what will soon be) usual question: “Does anyone have any questions about anything we have covered in this class, thus far?”

Silence.

“Okay! This is your assignment!”

The questions began after about half an hour, and continued until the end of class at 8:30. All in all, everyone did quite well, but it was a good learning experience; for them, the difference between what you think you know and what you know; and for me, what to emphasize in my lessons, and in what order.

Talking over teaching strategies with Bock later in the evening I recalled something Scott and I concluded a year or so ago: Web development, and indeed almost all aspects of programming, would be best taught in an apprentice/master environment. Programming is equal parts science and art, left-brain and right-brain, inductive and deductive. Were it pure science the classroom would work perfectly. The classroom is the best place for rote memorization and repetition. Were it entirely art there would be no real instruction at all; merely predefined tools and a blank canvas.

But in development and in programming, you have at your disposal a very specific set of tools which work in very specific ways, and thus set up very specific boundaries. Within those boundaries you have a great deal of freedom, and thus have ample opportunity to use those common tools to create something unique. The science eventually becomes art.

Perhaps in a more rational world apprenticeship would be the next step after school, but for now there are internships where students learn to smile while being pissed on. All we teachers can do is try to make them waterproof.

Happy New Year!

This past Thursday was the first day of the lunar new year, the Year of the Monkey. Today Master Lee and the rest of our kung fu school participated in festivities at the East Garden Buffet. There was much good food and much good cameraderie. Master Lee gave new swords to all of the instructors, and one of the instructors, Nancy, gave me a matted photo of me performing a tai chi sword routine at the edge of a lake.

So now I have a great photo of myself, and another sword for my collection. At last count I have eight tai chi swords, one kung fu sword, a kwan dao, a fan, an axe and four daggers.

I am approaching the last new pages of the Goya book. At first it bothered me a little that so much of the first half says nothing about Goya himself. On reflection I realize that Connell wrote the book so that at each stage of his subject’s life, the focus is on that which was most important or influential. And what was most influential to Goya’s life was not always Goya.

This Halo Lies!

Yesterday as I was leaving work I noticed this thing:

varnum-halo

Normally halos signify holy things, but the building in the center of the photo is full of lawyers.

I am approaching the end of Evan Connell’s wonderful book on Goya (link in the books section). My only complaint is that, other than the cover, there is none of Goya’s work in the book. Not so surprising; the book is about Goya in history, rather than Goya the artist. So I went to the best collection of art on the internet and found all the Goya one could reasonably hope for, assembled in chronological order.

Whiling Away the Days

Cold. Amazingly, bitterly, frightfully cold. The wind coming off the river causes tears and convulsions and physical pain, to a degree I have never before felt. My cheeks are raw and my nose feels bruised. And all this from ten minutes outside. The ducks, which were bravely venturing out from wherever it is ducks go when they don’t migrate, have disappeared. Probably sunk by an iceberg.

Next on the agenda is a chrome package for the photo album which will allow individual users of said application to style it in any manner they choose… within reason. Borders, margins, background colors, text colors, typefaces, thumbnails or no thumbnails…that sort of thing. I have come up with a method of doing it; now I need the time to actually DO IT.

The Web design class is going fantastically well. Yesterday I taught 14 students the basics of text manipulation, borders, and background colors. They got it in one. They be wicked smart.

In other news…

The Creatures in My Head has just turned 2 years old. A bizarre critter a day for 720 days.

The current issue of ThisIsAMagazine has some interesting stuff going on.

Moderate Update

In the process of preparing materials for the Kendall class I have rediscovered a little of the joy of programming, which I lost over the past few months of hellish work. I have modified the Flash photo album to, when desirable, start at the end of a group of photos instead of the beginning. This is useful for when an album is updated regularly and the latest should be shown first, as in, say, the River Project . Next up: a method of “skinning” the album via XML. Perhaps sometime in the next couple of weeks.

Question for the week: Where in the workplace does the power reside?

Stalking the Wild Nostalgia

Back when I was a kid growing up on the farm I discovered a natualist author by the name of Euell Gibbons. He wrote books – informed by his own life experiences and necessities – about how to survive and thrive by eating wild food. Many of his plants and animals were native to southern Michigan so one spring, book in hand, I set out to provide for my family.

Just to put things in perspective, our farm was pretty stable, and if there was one thing we didn’t lack, it was food. I probably had more steak by the time I graduated from high-school than most people have during their entire lives.

I immediately discovered two things.

First, timing is everything. There are no acorns in May. There are no fiddlehead ferns in September. Day-lilies were edible last week. This week they have the texture of cardboard.

Two: a hungry Oakie (as Gibbons described himself) will eat things that a well-fed farm boy will not. Possum. May apple. Any of a number of mushrooms. Eel.

That is not to say that there were not a few successes. Sassafras tea is one of the most wondrous good drinks in all the world, especially with a spoonful of brown sugar thrown in. Crayfish are damn yummy, if much smaller in Michigan than in, say, Louisiana. Frog legs brought purpose to the deaths of the bullfrogs we shot full of BBs every summer. Day-lily pods cooked in butter taste much like green beans, but I imagine a sufficient quantity of butter will make most anything taste like green beans. Mulberries, strawberries, blackberries, gooseberries, raspberries, cherries, apples…I didn’t need a book to figure them out. Likewise, bluegills. Never got around to asking the neighbor who trapped rattlesnakes for MSU if he would send us over some meat some time.

On my desk in front of me sits the 1974 Field Guide edition of Stalking the Wild Asparagus. It is green, and beat up, and Euell Gibbons, chewing on a leafy twig of something, grins from the cover. Leafing through it, I found a note which said the following: “Tried the pods. If you are hungry they would fill the empty space. Pg 130.” Page 130 start a four-page description of the culinary joys of milkweed. I never got around to trying that one.

A few years ago several of Gibbons’ books were reprinted. Stalking the Wild Asparagus and Stalking the Blue-Eyed Scallop, the two with which I am familiar, are fantastic reads, even if you never in your life plan to eat anything which doesn’t come out of a can.

As an amusing side note, take a look at what Amazon.com recommends in their “Customers interested in XXX may also be interested in:” section. By gum, foragers are just not to be trusted.

Stalking Mr. Vollmann

I have scrounged up a few links that may be of interest to folks who may have an interest in Rising Up and Rising Down, which becomes more astonishing with every page.

An interview with William Vollmann, October 2000.

Another interview , done in Fall of 2002.

Letter from Afghanistan , published in the New Yorker, May 2000.

New York Observer review of Rising Up and Rising Down.

An Oral History of Rising Up and Rising Down.

In other news, today was the first day of the Kendall Class, and, well, I choked. I missed my cue, forgot my lines, and had technical problems with the fvcking overhead projector, so for most of the half hour I was greeted with blank stares.

So much for impressing the locals.

Four Days

Four days until I begin teaching a college class. I am looking forward to it; the two weeks at the beginning of this past semester merely whetted my appetite for public humiliation and corporal punishment the dispensation of education.

This weekend I will re-open the class.eccesignum.org subdomain and make available to the public all of my/our lecture notes and resources. If some little po-dunk place like MIT can do it , then so can I.