Automatic Llama

Sorry I don't work here, but I'm happy to help anyway.

Four Geometric Stars - April 17, 2021

These four designs are each built around one or two regular pentagons. They were made with a compass and a straight edge. No numerical measurements were used. The method used to constructed the base pentagons is that put forth by a Yosifusa Hirano in a 1989 book on Japanese temple geometry.

Ear Rat Three! - April 16, 2021

Ear Rat 3 - "Ripped Off"

Ear Rat 3 dropped this week! More cool art. More cool words. More cool reasons PDFs are still relevant in 2021. Check it out, if you're into that sort of thing.

Editor-in-chief Strange Crust and I are proud of this one. The theme is "Ripped Off," but that's not how you'll feel after you download it. It's free.

As always, I'm honored to get to slide around the words and images of our awesome contributors.

We'll put out next issue's call for submissions just as soon as we've had sufficient time to dress our wounds and re-hydrate.

April 11, 2021

Cover of an old pocket notebook I made from some copy paper a few years ago. Back during the days when I may have been called upon to attend an in-person work meeting, I'd carry these bad boys around in my back pocket. They were cheap, thin, and the staples that held them together at the spine could easily be covered with a strip of clear tape.

Thoughts that Help - April 7, 2021

As I lay awake last night, the urge struck to grab my phone and scroll through various apps until my eyes stung.

Then the thought occurred to me, "There's nothing on there." There wasn't. I scrolled anyway. I do not remember what I was looking at, but I remember my eyes stinging.

Next time, I won't start along the familiar cycle of self-doubt and disappointment when the urge to scroll strikes again. Instead, I'll just remind myself that there's nothing on there. There's never anything on there.

April Fools Day, Lost Package, the Ionosphere - April 6, 2021

Another April Fool's Day has come and gone. Either nobody got me, or the prank they got me with was so insidious that I have yet to realize it.

The keyboard tray I ordered got lost in the mail. Maybe that was it. It does make sense, some person in the shipping center in Baltimore, its last known location, reading the label and whispering "April Fools, punk." Good one.

It's okay though. They refunded my order. Maybe the refund won't go through, thereby adding to the prank. This prankster's treachery knows no bounds.


I remember reading somewhere just now that radio waves travel farther at night. According to the thing I vaguely remember reading just now, Earth's ionosphere is more reflective where it's not being bombarded by the sun's rays. This allows radio waves to "bounce" between the ground and the ionosphere to travel farther.

Ever since I read this two to five minutes ago, I've had the feeling that being outside during a sunny day left me feeling exposed, uncovered by a nice ionosphere to bounce off of should I suddenly turn into a radio wave.

Mar. 29, 2021

In an apparent effort to spend even more of my indoor hours in front of my computer, I finally ordered a proper under-the-desk keyboard tray. I detested them as a kid, but my devotion to nearly constant computing was not serious then. Today, better keyboard access is crucial. It should get here in a couple of days.

Proper seating will be my next aim. The only kind of seat I've ever been able to tolerate for hours at a time is a car seat. If it were feasible, I'd go to the junk yard, buy the cleanest bucket seat I could find, and rig up some kind of base that would allow me to set it on the floor. Of course, this is not feasible, but I've gone without a good office chair for so long that even a decent office chair may feel like a major improvement.

A Note on the Two Approaches to Beginning Drawing Instruction - Mar. 27, 2021

The beginning drafter should understand that there are two fundamental approaches to realistic drawing: constructive drawing and observational drawing. There are many books and courses that cover one or the other, and they tend to be presented as introductions to the world of drawing in its entirety. While it's reasonable for books and instructors to focus mainly on one or the other, a thorough introduction to drawing should include some coverage of both.

Observational drawing is the practice of looking at something and drawing what you see. Instructors who focus on observational drawing teach students to see two-dimensional shapes in our three-dimensional world so they can most accurately recreate those shapes on paper. Common exercises include imagining models as sillhouetes, focusing on the negative spaces within scenes, and building up forms with high-contrast blocks of tone.

Constructive drawing, on the other hand, focuses on methods of building up real and imagined forms in two dimensions using the universal principles of perspective. Exercises include mapping out grids in different perspectives (one-point, two-point, three-point), drawing primitives (cubes, cones, spheres, etc) on various perspective grids, drawing reflections and translations of shapes along various axes, and recreating two-dimensional representations such as technical drawings as three-dimensional renderings.

The best book I've read on observational drawing is Lessons in Classical Drawing: Essential Techniques from Inside the Atelier by Juliette Aristides. The best book I've read on constructive drawing is How To Draw: Drawing And Sketching Objects And Environments From Your Imagination by Scott Robertson. Notice that both of these books are titled as introductions to drawing in general. Indeed that's how they are written. While both books are excellent and should be read by everyone, an even better introduction to the world of drawing would include the principles of each.

An instructor may prefer one approach over the other depending on the beginning student's ultimate aim. A student who is interested in industrial design, for instance, may be better served by an emphasis on constructive drawing because it primes the artist to consider how yet-unseen forms may be built up in two dimensions. An aspiring graphic designer, on the other hand, may be better served by an emphasis on the aesthetic properties of forms without spending the time required to develop a rigorous understanding of how those forms may be fully recreated at any angle and in various perspectives.

But regardless of the student's ultimate aims in drawing, all students should be aware of both approaches early on, so they may be allowed to develop and refine their attention to each as their interests and needs change.

As a devoted amateur, I've benefited from a general understanding of both approaches in various situations, and the time spent developing my skills with respect to each approach has been worthwhile.

Notes from the Fall - Mar. 23, 2021

The national (US) news was on in the living room last night. The national news is never something you turn on. It just happens to be on or it doesn't. It occurred to me that I didn't have to have an opinion about anything they were talking about. This was a great relief.

Why did I feel pressure to have an opinion about anything in the first place? Where does this pressure come from?

How did my opinion ever get up there on that pedestal? What is this pedestal doing here anyway? We don't need this pedestal. We can make room for something else.

Thoughts that Help Me - Mar. 21, 2021

When trying to overcome the desire for snacks or junk food: I imagine my appetite as a little cat that is begging for food even though she already ate. I love her, but I must be a mindful caretaker. This thought doesn't always prevent me from snacking when I shouldn't, but it helps me sometimes. I'm alergic to cats. Imagining a dog instead would stir too much longing for the company of an actual dog. A cat is familiar enough - I've been around cats before - but I can't live with one because of my allergy so there is no such longing.

It's Been a Minute - Mar. 19, 2021

There's just so much to learn. So much to learn.

I'm still running. I would say that the bodily benefits are almost secondary to the mental and emotional benefits, but it's all connected. Regular exertion teaches you that, especially if it's outside. The cool air and the sunlight are good. Seeing animals is good.

Wandering - Jan. 28, 2021

How'd this get here? How did I get here? Photo of TV in woods by Tom Wheatley. Photo of llama by Paz Arando.

Low-resolution Experiments - Jan. 26 2021

Original image. Source photo by Raspopova Marina.
Commodore 64 resolution (320 × 200) and 16-color color table.
GameBoy (original) resolution (160 × 144) and four-color color table.

General Process

I used Adobe Photoshop, but the general process is the same in the open-source alternative GIMP:

  1. Choose the image and crop it so it suits the proportions of the reference display.

    For this project, I started with the above photo of, what else, a llama. I cropped it square so it would easily suit the proportions of any display.

  2. Change the image size, in pixels, so it matches the desired resolution.

    If you're trying to replicate how the image might look on a specific display, find its resolution and use that. The Commodore 64, for example, had a resolution of 320 × 200, so I resized this square image to be 200 × 200 so it would fit within the 320 × 200 display.

  3. Set the color mode to Indexed Color (the exact name might vary by tool but it should be something like this) and define the color table to match the color table used by the reference system. You can find the color tables used in most old computers on Wikipedia. That's where I found the color table for the C64 and the original Game Boy.

Still Winter - Jan. 20, 2021

The Sun's still far away. Being inside will have you looking inside. This isn't good or bad, nor is it interesting. How old was I when I realized that nobody wants to hear about anyone else's dreams? Too old.

A static shock when I touch the leg of my desk will wake my computer. This can't be good. I wonder what my computer dreams about? Probably files.

My friend bought an old electirc organ. Analog. It would let out a very faint hum, some combination of notes, when none of the keys were pressed. The soul of the machine.

Site Update - Jan. 19, 2021

Lest this homepage become too heavy, I've archived all of the 2020 "posts" on their own page, 2020 Archive. I added a link to this archive at the bottom of this homepage, which I suppose will continue to function as a kind of blog, now limited to the present year. Assuming this website continues for years to come, I'll add a new archive page and link for each year that passes.

I want to make my artwork more accessible. My output seems to fluctuate throughout the year, making art easy to miss during a "trough" period. When I browse other folks' sites and they have an "Art" link, I go right for it. Visitors to this site should be able to do the same, so I'll probably add my own Art page.

This has become a site about itself, but aren't all sites? "The medium is the message" and so on and what have you.

RAM Jam - Jan. 14, 2021

Every now and then I remind myself that I have a lot to learn about computers.

About two years after building my first PC, I decided it was time for more RAM. It was running just fine with two eight-gigabyte modules, but since I've been doing more with the Adobe creative suite, particularly InDesign, I figured 32 GB would be even better. So, I hopped on Newegg and got the same exact 2x8 set I've been running.

After installing the new modules, I powered on and was greeted by the dreaded blue screen of death. On my third attempt to restart the system, I managed to get to the Desktop, before it crashed again.

Troubleshooting mode engaged, I unplugged the system and removed the new modules. To my horror, it was still crashing on startup. It's one thing to get a bad new RAM module, but could I have somehow wrecked my old RAM installing the new ones? Even worse, could I have somehow wrecked the motherboard?

Now sweating, I restored Windows with only the original RAM modules installed. I crossed my fingers as I restarted the system yet again.

It worked and seemed to run just fine. Relief. I ran the Windows Memory Diagnostic test on the old modules. It found no errors, and the system's been running fine with the old modules since this all happened last night.

I haven't tried to install the new RAM again. I don't think I will until it's safe to run to Microcenter or Best Buy at a moment's notice.

My biggest concern now is that I may have done some tiny amount of damage that will cause some insidious instability problem days or weeks down the road when I'm in the middle of something important.

If you're going to work inside of machines, you have to stay calm and analytical about it. You have to take on every problem as a chance to learn more, even if you're forced to learn fast, in the middle of a once-in-a-century global pandemic.

So far, here's what I've learned in my post-installation-attempt Googling sessions:

I'll try again eventually. When I do, I'll make an effort to approach any issues as opportunities to learn more. Until then, I'll continue reciting my incantations over a cryptic medallion fashioned out of an old Pentium II chip hung on a thread made of old resistors to keep this rig running through the pandemic.

Jan. 6, 2021

I spent so much of last summer outsid—walking, riding bikes—that the dark and quiet of Fall and Winter seemed to come down with more weight. There's also this crushing global pandemic, making those trips to the bar that remind us why we usually appreciate staying in impossible. But this hasn't stopped me from enjoying other kinds of activity.

Shiitake and I put out the second issue of Ear Rat Magazine last week. I had a blast doing the art directing and working with all of the great entries. Submissions are open for the next issue. The theme is "ripped off." Seeing what awesome stuff people cook up should keep me warm through these cold months.

I've also been getting back into eating Eggos and drinking coffee. That's kept me pretty busy.

Jan. 4, 2021

I just finished reading Neuromancer by William Gibson. I can't explain the plot or accurately describe Gibson's vision of the future, and yet I feel I get it.

This book will obviously require another read, and I'm excited for it!

Jan. 3, 2021

I've been playing a lot of Banished, a rustic city builder for PC. It's fun and inspiring to plan a little city with little buildings that all serve the needs of the people.

There is no currency in Banished, only resources, projects, and citizens. It's fun and inspiring to imagine a city that makes sense, a city whose success is measured by the health and happiness of its citizens.

You choose the buildings and their placements, and the builders build them. If you need stone, you plan a quarry and assign stonecutters.

Some jobs are more dangerous than others. Stonecutters, for example, are often crushed by rocks. I have not made peace with this. One of the many mods should allow you to assign safety inspectors.

2020 Archive