Polygonal Me
July 24, 2014 8:26 PM | Posted in: ,

So, I ran across this cool tutorial (via Twitter) explaining how to create a polygon portrait poster design in three easy steps. I have no idea what a "polygon portrait poster" is, but the result was interesting and it seemed to be a process that meshed well with my artistic aptitude (read: stupid simple), so I decided to fire up Photoshop and try it out.

You can jump on the link to see the entire tutorial, but what struck me as a stroke of brilliance was the suggestion of using the Eyedropper tool to select a color that was dominant on the portion of the source photo within the bounds of each polygon. This was a revelation to a mostly-colorblind non-artiste like me, because it basically removed any responsibility for having to make decisions regarding color.

I think this technique might be more suitable for a photo that is dark and brooding (again, see the actual tutorial), but I don't think I'm capable of dark and brooding. The closest I can come is snark and looming. I do think the result would be better using a photo with side lighting, so that the shadows are bit more dramatic. 

Anyway, here's the result of my efforts...or it will be if you'll grab the yellow line and drag it across the photo of that doofus who agreed to pose for this experiment. (Note: If you're using an iOS device, dragging via the touch screen won't move the line, but tapping anywhere on the photo will.)

I can pass along one tip if you want to try this. The key is to not worry about being too precise with the polygons. Don't worry if you have some gaps. In the tutorial, all the polygons were perfectly aligned, edge-to-edge, but that might be overkill. In fact, here's what my first pass looked like:



This is a screenshot from Photoshop; the checkerboard background shows where there is no color, and it clearly shows where I was rather cavalier in my approach to drawing the polygons. I addressed this issue simply by creating a background layer and filling it with color to fill in the "cracks." I think this approach adds a bit of character to the image, although I could just be delusional.
Oh, hello. I didn't notice you standing there, in the shadows. You're quite patient, considering how long it's been since I've come around. Perhaps you should take up a hobby.

Anyway, as long as you're here, please allow me to share a cautionary tale. It's a simple story about what happens when you reach a certain age and find that your own cleverness begins to backfire on you. Here's an example:

Photo - hitch lock cut in two
Exhibit A...or is it B? I forget.

In case you don't recognize it, this is a trailer hitch lock, used to secure a ball mount in a receiver. This particular model has a keyed lock on one end, and therein lies the problem.

As you can tell, the lock has been violated in a most destructive way. In other words, it's been sawn in two. And I did it my own self, as a solution to a vexing problem.

That problem arose not when I put the lock through the mount of our hitch-mounted luggage rack to dissuade thieves while the rack was being stored outside the garage, nor when I put the key away for safekeeping until I needed the rack.

No, the problem arose when I wanted to use the rack last weekend...and couldn't remember where I put the key.

I have approximately 800 loose keys stored in various drawers, cabinets, cubbyholes, nooks, niches, crannies, recesses, and alcoves, and I tried every one of them - twice - and never found the right one. I gave up on the luggage carrier; fortunately, we didn't really need it after all.

But when we returned, I decided that I'd spent enough time looking for a solution, and not enough time creating one. Out came the angle grinder (did you know Target sells them?) equipped with a silicon carbide wheel, on went the gloves, safety glasses, and hearing protector...and the sparks flew. In a few minutes, one problem was solved.

The bigger problem remains, the one without an elegant solution. It's the problem of how to deal with the accumulation of years that results in the inability to remember simple things like where did I put that [fill in the blank]? 

Every person will eventually have to deal with that issue in whatever way seems most appropriate for them. For me, I plan to apply a healthy dose of denial (I'm pretty sure someone stole the "hidden" key, and it's not my fault). In addition, I might just buy a 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, and let the dulcet tones of its 707 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque make the journey into forgetfulness much more adventuresome.



Heck, I may even put a trailer hitch on it.
As if there's not enough biting going on at the World Cup, we now learn that the Shark Attack Capital of Brazil is Recife, where the US team lost/won yesterday. Apparently, the sharks in that area are feisty enough that the beach lifeguards do their training in a swimming pool, a practice that no doubt engenders all sorts of confidence in Brazilian beach goers.

Brazil is pretty far from Texas...but that doesn't mean we're safe, and now we can see just how unsafe we are thanks to the OCEARCH Global Shark Tracker, which shows real time updates of the movement of sharks that have been tagged for satellite tracking. Granted, it's a very cool use of technology, even if it serves to reinforce the feeling that in some things, ignorance is indeed bliss. 

This is particularly true in the case of Katharine and Betsy, sweet feminine names for cold-blooded eating machines otherwise known as Great White Sharks. These ladies have made their way 5,000 and 3,500 miles, respectively, from Cape Cod into the Gulf of Mexico, with movement roughly in the direction of Texas and Louisiana. Thanks to the OCEARCH website, you can assess whether it truly is safe to go back in the water.

Sort of. Because two questions come to my mind. First, shark tracking works only when the beasts surface long enough (at least 90 seconds) for the satellite to get a geoposition. Since sharks are fish and don't have to surface other than to snack on a tasty surfer, the truth is that we don't really know where these sharks are or are heading. And, more importantly, only a relative handful of sharks have been tagged, meaning that potentially billions more are right this minute heading for your shoreline...or riverbed...or lake house...

Fortunately for us, bicycling has been shown over the years to be a relatively shark-free endeavor. Still...

Shark attacking bicyclists

Return of the Quail
June 15, 2014 3:06 PM | Posted in: ,

As an alert and perceptive Gazette reader, you no doubt recall this time last year when I undertook to stalk the wily blue quail residing in our landscape. I was able to see but not photograph the two baby birds that the adults were protecting. And shortly afterward, the entire family moved out, apparently tired of nosy neighbors.

Well, I'm happy to report that either (1) they don't hold a grudge, or (b) the alternatives were even less hospitable, because the quail family is back...with a vengeance.

Adult blue quail and babies
Adult blue quail and babies

After seeing signs of their dirt-scratching in our flowerbeds, we finally spotted the whole clan - two adults and nine (NINE!) babies foraging in the lawn yesterday. Occasionally, one of the adults (the male, I'm guessing), took a break from scratching for lookout duty.

Adult blue quail on wall

That keen-eyed stare is designed to deter the most aggressive of predators, although he could possibly just be pondering the meaning of life.

Anyway, I also managed to take the following 2 1/2 minute video of the industrious family. It's not the best footage - it was taken through some windows, between the slats of shutters, but I think the terminal cuteness of the babies comes through nonetheless.


Since time immemorial, it's been the duty of uncles to harass nephews at every turn, particularly  during family reunions. This is a manly way of displaying affection without, you know, being affectionate. Both sides know their roles, generally speaking, and the tradition is passed down through the generations.
 
I have only one nephew, and that by marriage, but I've taken my harassment responsibilities quite seriously, especially this year due to his absence last year while vacationing at the Army's expense in the beautiful and luxurious surroundings of Afghanistanistania. 
 
Thus, at the culmination of last weekend's reunion in Fredericksburg, Texas, I was at the hotel's front desk, waiting to check out, and several of our group was saying their goodbyes behind me, The Nephew included. He was dressed in khaki cargo shorts, black t-shirt and black ball cap (these details are important, so pay attention). There was a bit of a delay while the clerk struggled with the computer, and so I turned around and spotted The Nephew looking down at his phone and took the opportunity to rap the bill of his cap several times in a fairly aggressive manner. Even as I did so, I thought, why in the Sam Hill is he wearing that cap; has he lost his mind, wearing a black Texas Longhorn hat?
 
I then looked down at the black Longhorn t-shirt the khaki cargo-shorted stranger behind me was wearing, just as he looked up with a shocked expression, wondering who was accosting him. He was almost exactly the same height and build as you-know-who, but with much less manly affection in his eyes.
 
I briefly considered whether I could successfully feign blindness ("Adam...Adam...is that you, my boy?") but figured that without a white cane, it would be hard to pull off. So I stifled, somewhat successfully, my laughter and apologized profusely, pointing out that he could have been a clone* of the guy who previously was standing behind me but who was now off to the side NOT successfully stifling his laughter. The stranger did not share my amusement. Go figure.
 
I'm sure there's a moral to this story, but for me the takeaway is gratitude that The Nephew isn't a bodybuilding linebacker defense attorney type.

*I thought of an awesome pun involving the word "clone," but by the time I got to my computer, I forgot it. If you can remember it, let me know. K'thx.

Note: I put this post into the "Fashion" category because (1) I didn't have another one that seemed to fit, and (B) you know, the clothes.
Since time immemorial, it's been the duty of uncles to harass nephews at every turn, particularly  during family reunions. This is a manly way of displaying affection without, you know, being affectionate. Both sides know their roles, generally speaking, and the tradition is passed down through the generations.
 
I have only one nephew, and that by marriage, but I've taken my harassment responsibilities quite seriously, especially this year due to his absence last year while vacationing at the Army's expense in the beautiful and luxurious surroundings of Afghanistanistania. 
 
Thus, at the culmination of last weekend's reunion in Fredericksburg, Texas, I was at the hotel's front desk, waiting to check out, and several of our group was saying their goodbyes behind me, The Nephew included. He was dressed in khaki cargo shorts, black t-shirt and black ball cap (these details are important, so pay attention). There was a bit of a delay while the clerk struggled with the computer, and so I turned around and spotted The Nephew looking down at his phone and took the opportunity to rap the bill of his cap several times in a fairly aggressive manner. Even as I did so, I thought, why in the Sam Hill is he wearing that cap; has he lost his mind, wearing a black Texas Longhorn hat?
 
I then looked down at the black Longhorn t-shirt the khaki cargo-shorted stranger behind me was wearing, just as he looked up with a shocked expression, wondering who was accosting him. He was almost exactly the same height and build as you-know-who, but with much less manly affection in his eyes.
 
I briefly considered whether I could successfully feign blindness ("Adam...Adam...is that you, my boy?") but figured that without a white cane, it would be hard to pull off. So I stifled, somewhat successfully, my laughter and apologized profusely, pointing out that he could have been a clone* of the guy who previously was standing behind me but who was now off to the side NOT successfully stifling his laughter. The stranger did not share my amusement. Go figure.
 
I'm sure there's a moral to this story, but for me the takeaway is gratitude that The Nephew isn't a bodybuilding linebacker defense attorney type.

*I thought of an awesome pun involving the word "clone," but by the time I got to my computer, I forgot it. If you can remember it, let me know. K'thx.

Note: I put this post into the "Fashion" category because (1) I didn't have another one that seemed to fit, and (B) you know, the clothes.

Random Thursday: The Tuesday Edition
June 3, 2014 9:03 PM | Posted in:

I saw one of these today on the streets of Midlandtown:

Tesla Model S

It's a Tesla Model S (I think the "S" stands for "Sparky"), a $70,000 all-electric sedan that features seating for "5+2", which, although it technically means that seven people can sit inside it, two of them have to be kids and they have to sit in the trunk.

When it pulled alongside me at the stoplight, I rolled down my window to try to hear what a luxury electric car sounds like when it speeds away, but I couldn't hear anything over the screaming of the two kids locked in the trunk.



According to this report, your next Keurig coffeemaker could come equipped with a camera and a QR-code (or something similar) reader, which will work in tandem to ensure that you're not drinking pirated coffee. Apparently, unlicensed K-cups are a big problem in Keurig's world, and this is the caffeinated equivalent of DRM.

It's already hard enough to know what coffee I should be drinking, what with fair trade, non-child-labor, free-range bean, and ethical treatment of easily traumatized plants issues to consider. I'm not sure it's worth worrying about whether my next cup was properly licensed or not. In fact, I sort of like the swashbuckling image of drinking illicit coffee.

Pirated K-Cup



Remember that time I implied that there really was no way to improve on the design of the axe? I'm not too proud to admit that I was, possibly, wrong.

The Klax: an axe for all occasions

Meet the Klax (motto: "It's MORE than an axe!" and from the "K" we can infer that it's 1,000 times more, I suppose). OK, I'm making fun of it but it's actually pretty cool. It's a Kickstarter crowdfunding project, meaning that it doesn't yet exist in purchasable form, but the inventors have already raised more than their goal to bring it to market. You can still get in on the ground floor. But, I assure you, this is absolutely the LAST possible improvement that mankind can ever bring to bear on the design of the axe. You have my word on that.



On a more serious note, The Sick Rose is a recently-published book by Richard Barnett about the history of medical illustration, especially as it relates to the documentation of disease in humans. I haven't read it, and I don't plan to because I have a weak constitution and no desire to be featured in a sequel, but I found this analysis by the author of his own writing and motivations to be absolutely fascinating. It's not long and I recommend reading the whole thing, in order to understand the context of his final paragraph:
...I am drawn to wonder whether, in a culture built on the primacy of the visual, and in which aspects of our identity are dispersed in a digital sandstorm of images and text, these images are also in some sense human remains. And that makes me want to be very, very careful about what I do with them.


The iStick

Let's finish up with yet another Kickstarter project, this one of a distinctly practical tech nature. The iStick is one of those slap-your-forehead-and-wonder-why-you-didn't-think-of-it devices; it's basically a USB flash drive with an iPhone/iPad Lightning connector that pops out on one end, and a USB 2.0 connector that pops out on the other end. It's primary use is for transferring photos from an iDevice to a computer or other storage/display medium that handles USB input. It's the most elegant design I've seen for overcoming Apple's unwillingness to use anything but proprietary connectors on its otherwise awesome devices.

Other people seem to share my enthusiasm, considering that the inventors have raised eight times their original funding goal.

The shoe must go on
June 1, 2014 6:02 PM | Posted in: ,

Here's a photo of what arguably is the most compelling conversation piece in the history of pieces of conversation:

My new shoe

No, not the sock - although shark socks definitely haven't yet jumped the you-know-what. It's the shoe, seen here in fashionable out-of-focus fashion (hey, you try taking a surreptitious photo with your phone in Sunday School while pretending to pay attention to the lesson*).

I bought this shoe (and another one remarkably similar that goes on my other foot) last weekend in Denton, at the DSW shoe store. I've worn it - along with its partner because otherwise, that would be weird - three times since then, and on all three occasions they've elicited public comments in great disproportion to the significance that should normally accrue to new footwear. 

I probably have only myself to blame. Apart from athletic models and Manly Footwear, I tend to buy shoes roughly every 30 years, whether I need them or not. Seriously, I haven't bought a pair of dress shoes since around 1980.

I do tend to buy good quality shoes on those rare occasions that I reluctantly acquire them. My last few pair were solid, if decidedly non-flashy** Johnston & Murphy wingtips, which cost around $120, if I recall correctly. Now, in inflation-adjusted dollars, that's about $345 today, and in my opinion, anyone that pays $345 for dress shoes has more dollars than sense, if you know what I mean. [Note: Boots are a totally different matter, and are not to be judged on the same basis.] Rest assured that these shoes did not cost $345.

Given the hubbub over these new shoes, I'm very cautious about revealing that during that jaunt to DSW, I actually bought a second pair. I'm just not sure the universe is ready.

*Not really, Mike. I was paying attention. We were in Ezekiel. Or Habakkuk. It was definitely the OT, well before the invention of wingtips.

**Unless you're a practitioner of the actuarial sciences or a funeral director, then you'll think they totally rock. 
The barn swallow nest on our front porch that provided some video footage last summer is once again occupied. However, I haven't noticed the presence of baby birds, and my curiosity got the better of me this afternoon. I mounted my GoPro on an extendable monopod, connected it via wifi to my iPad so I could monitor the footage, and did some detective work. Here's what I found:



I've never seen this before. Is it unusual for baby birds to share a nest with unhatched - but viable - eggs? I hate to be pessimistic, but I'm afraid two two eggs are not going to hatch...seems like they should have by now. I'll let you know if and when anything changes.

While I was out, I noticed an interesting insect crawling on the lone black-eyed susan bloom, so I swapped the GoPro for my macro-lensed DSLR.

Unknown insect on black-eyed susan bloom
Unknown insect on black-eyed susan bloom
Unknown insect on black-eyed susan bloom

I couldn't i.d. the insect. It flew away, and the presence of wings under the carapace seems to indicate that it's a beetle of some kind (we've touched on the bug-vs-beetle distinction in these pages), but I couldn't find anything close to a matching photo despite extensive research (which, for me, means 3 1/2 minutes looking at Googled images). If you have an idea, feel free to share it. Anyway, from a distance it wasn't too impressive, but up close, the sparkling carapace and delicate hairs glistening in the sunlight were a revelation.
Most of Texas was blessed last week with some of the best rainfall we've had in months, and lake levels across the state reflected the results of that bounteous precipitation. However, one lake that didn't get much benefit was Lake Travis, outside of Austin, as you can tell in the photo below.

Water in West Texas ditch

Sad, isn't it? OK, just kidding*.That's actually what's left of the standing water in a ditch (of unknown origin and purpose) just south of our neighborhood. On those rare occasions when we get enough rain, this ditch becomes a magnet for pickup trucks driven by teenagers (or full grown men who wish they were teenagers) to go mudding.

I took the photo this afternoon during a run through the pastures surrounding our neighborhood. We normally have a dance class on Thursday nights, but our teacher canceled on us - I think she can take only so much of our ineptitude - and so I had an unexpected opportunity for a workout. It was the first time I'd been out on the trails, and I figured I should give it a try before it got too hot (today's temps were in the upper 80s).

Running on trails is more entertaining than running in the street. I have to focus more on the terrain and foot placement (as well as being attuned to the possibility of rattlesnakes), and thus I don't dwell quite as much on how miserably out of running shape I am. It did occur to me, however, that trail running is sort of like riding a conventional road bike in that you spend most of your time staring at what's immediately in front of you instead of taking in all the surrounding scenery (as we can do on our recumbent bike).

Anyway, I also think that running on dirt is easier on my aging (aged?) legs and feet, and navigating the varying terrain is also good for my balance. All of these benefits are somewhat offset by the continuous feeling that I'm going to keel over and die at any moment due to the effects of unfamiliar exertion, but, hey...life is a risk, right?

Seriously, no matter how many cycling miles you get, no matter how many hours you spend on the elliptical, no matter how much iron you pump...the only way you get into running shape is to either go back in time forty years, or, you know, run. The former approach is desirable but unfortunately just out of reach, and the latter takes time and energy.

Nevertheless, it was a good run, if depressingly slow. But I'm at the point where it really doesn't bother me to record 9:30 miles, especially if I can rationalize them by pointing out that trail running is inherently slower than street running. Plus, as I said before, this was like a free workout so it's all good. Now, we'll see if I'm singing that tune in the morning when I fall out of bed.

I didn't spot a lot of wildlife - a few Texas spotted whiptails, a couple of cottontails and one jackrabbit, several pairs of quail, and zero rattlers. Barn swallows were swooping over the ditch water shown above, and I heard a few mockingbirds making fun of my running style. I also thought I caught a whiff of skunk at one point, but it was later in the run so it was probably just me.

By the way, for the benefit of any local runners who might come across this, here's a map of the route around Woodland Park; it's a little less than four miles.

Route map

Those zig-zags are simply mileage extenders...some dirt roads going in and out of the undeveloped part of the neighborhood.

If you think you'd like to try off-road running, I recommend getting some use-specific shoes. I really like my New Balance 910s - dumb name but great shoe. They're stable, work well with my orthotics, and I never have to worry about trapping gravel in the treads that could scratch our hardwood floor. They look like a kid threw up eight flavors of cotton candy on them, but I can live with that.

*Well, actually, that photo isn't all that far from reality for Lake Travis.