Automatic Llama

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

Oct. 9, 2021

Seahorse Knight (redux). Pencil on Bristol board. approx. 8" x 10"

Oct. 8, 2021

Illustration commission for the article Building a Secret Agent by Chevanne.

Here's another commission I did for the previous article in this series.

Sept. 30, 2021

Small watercolor drawing of a hand holding a playing dart.

Sept. 29, 2021

Small watercolor drawing of two people standing near some telephone poles on the side of a rural road.

Standers by the Road, 6" x 4", Ink and watercolor on illustration board, 2021

From the Sketchbook - Sept. 24, 2021

A pig computer.

Coming September: Ear Rat 4!

We have a great issue in the works at earratmag.com. Here's a sneak peek!

A little square showing a comically small preview of the upcoming issue of Ear Rat Magazine, coming this September.

For this and more great art, articles, and insights, be on the lookout this September!

July 10, 2021

A small pen and ink drawing of two men in a rowboat. The rower wears a hood and has a beard. The passenger sits in the bow, looking back at the shore the boat departed.

From the Sketchbook - June 24, 2021

Two small pen and ink drawings, one of an and (the insect) and another of an airplane, from a small notebook.
A two-page spread from a small notebook. The first page shows a small ink drawing of two boxers. The second page includes sketches of various drawing implements, an egg of silly putty, and the top half of a man's head peeking out at it all from the other side of the table.

Notes from the Fall - June 23, 2021

Most weekdays I go running along a roughly three-and-a-half-mile route through these suburban developments that were built along an old road through the woods near a highway. Most of the homes were manufactured in the early 2000s, all according to a handful of plans that were neatly summarized and collated in faux leather binders with gilded text that now flakes off on forgotten shelves in dying office parks.

After about a half hour I'm done running. I'm stumbling out of the last development on my circuit, back onto the sandy shoulder of this rural road. There's sidewalk along the parts that are flanked by the backsides of the suburban backyards.

Overgrowth spills out of some of them. A big thistle here. Some raspberries there. I duck under a big blackberry or mulberry bush that drops its bounty onto the stained sidewalk below, now mostly purple.

June 14, 2021

A black and white line drawing of a terracotta soldier resembling one of the thousands of similar statues found in the necropolis of China's first emperor.

Updates! - June 8, 2021

Four platonic solids in black and white strewn on a scratched and dented plane. Their shadows stretch long behind them, cast by a hard light source off to the left of the frame.

Some platonic solids

Ear Rat Mag: The submissions we've been getting for Ear Rat 4 are great. The deadline's June 15 if you work fast and dream of seeing your stuff in (free) (digital) "print"!

Recliner Repair: Didn't work. When I pushed the button to move the footrest, all that moved was the piece of the broken thing that I'd glued back on. Oh well. I guess we'll just have a recliner that'll require a disclaimer whenever guests come over for a while. In its current state the footrest just springs out when you lean back a bit. Maybe we'll just call it a feature. Maybe one of these days I'll learn how to "weld" plastic, which I just learned was possible, but the motor assembly part will cost much less than the damage I could cause with that experiment.

Video Games: Kingdom Come Deliverance is a buggy, lovable mess. It's a historical RPG that takes place in 1400s Bohemia. It can teach you a lot about life in the middle ages, like what kinds of technology they used, how politics and government worked, and how important it was to press L1 right when the target that hovers over your opponent's chest turns green. Also, they curse a lot, which is funny.

Books: Reread VALIS by Philip K. Dick. It's still weird. Perusing Practical Typography by Matthew Butterick. I now know I'm using the wrong quotes, apostrophes, font, and probably a bunch of other stuff, I know this is crucial, and might amend this some time in the future.

Repairs - May 21, 2021

Today's project is trying to fix my parents' broken power recliner.

It broke when a user, who could have been anybody really, tried to put the footrest down while its movement was obstructed by a big cylindrical pillow that had fallen under it. Snap!

The motor that drives it is connected to a big screw in a beam. Along this beam slides a block of plastic that attaches to the part of the chair that turns the big scissor mechanism that makes it recline. That plastic part is the part that broke. The motor would turn it, but it was now in pieces, the bigger part still on the beam and the smaller part still dangling from the pin that connected it to the rest of the chair.

Parts of the power recliner's actuator assembly strewn on a piece of wood, a makeshift work surface.

Deconstructed actuator assembly. The black cylinder is the motor housing. The plastic block to the right of it is the part that broke. The motor moves that plastic block along the metal rail, pushing on the mechanism that makes the chair recline. The epoxy I used to put it back together is setting. God help us all.

I tried to remove the broken part without taking out the whole motor assembly, but there seems to be a stopper at the end of the rail that prevents it from coming out all the way. It's hard to tell if the bit of plastic in there is meant to stop the block or just prevent the assembler from putting it on the wrong way. There's too much grease to see it well. Either way, even after I'd removed the end cap on the rail, the block wouldn't go past a certain point. So, I took out the whole assembly and removed all of the screws that were easy to get to. It's full of grease.

Since the block cracked along a pretty distinct line, I figured I'd try to mash the thing back together with some epoxy. As always, I made a mess of this step. Blobs of the foul-smelling stuff extend all around the crack on the outside. But I don't think I got any on the inside of the thing, where it would prevent it from going back on the rail.

After the epoxy has had at least an hour to harden, I'll try to get the block back onto the rail and reassemble the whole thing. I won't put it back in the chair tonight. I should wait at least until tomorrow for that. Now I'm just anxious to get this greasy mess back into as few parts as possible.

May 19, 2021

A black and white line drawing of a hooded figure whose head appears to be a single giant eyeball. He holds upright in one hand a wand that is topped with a hoop from which emanate bubbles that are carried away by the breeze. Each bubble has within it a smaller ellipse, giving it the appearance of an eyeball or an egg white and yolk. With the other hand, he points upward. The front of his hood forms a peak that melts upward into a series of lengthening blobs that, like the bubbles, are carried away by the breeze. He stands light on his feet.

A black and white line drawing of a hooded figure whose head appears to be a single giant eyeball. He holds upright in one hand a wand that is topped with a hoop from which emanate bubbles that are carried away by the breeze. Each bubble has within it a smaller ellipse, giving it the appearance of an eyeball or an egg white and yolk. With his other hand, he points upward. The front of his hood forms a peak that melts upward into a series of lengthening blobs that, like the bubbles, are carried away by the breeze. He stands light on his feet.

May 17, 2021

A donkey and a toad rendered in low-resolution monochrome with a dithering pattern that resembles scanlines. They stand before a blank background that is the color of a pale sky.

The human characters in the Philip K. Dick book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? follow a religion whose central figure, Wilbur Mercer, was as a child "able for a time to bring dead animals back as they had been." Though all creatures were important to him, he held especially dear the donkey and the toad.

Mercerism, the practice of which includes so-called empathy boxes that join followers in a shared sensory experience as Mercer, was first developed in the short story "The Little Black Box," published a few years earlier.

Donkey photo by TS Sergey. Toad photo by Li Lin.

The Shortwave Report - May 16, 2021

Kaito KA321 battery powered handheld AM/FM/Shortwave receiver

Kaito KA321 battery powered handheld AM/FM/Shortwave receiver.

Radio salesman: *slaps top of radio* "You can fit so much schhhh zzzzz ...JESUS!... crrrsshhhhh crrrhhh ...ROMANS 12... bzzzsshh in this bad boy."

All frequencies are extremely approximate and all interpretations subject to error. All I know about shortwave radio is that you can get a receiver on the internet for under $20 USD.

Winnowing - May 12, 2021

There's art in reducing an object or scene to an image. There's art in reducing an image to a simpler image. Computers can help us do this.

There's art in seeing how small you can make an image that successfully represents what it's supposed to represent. Finding the point where it successfully represents what it's supposed to represent, winnowing down to the parts that most represent what the whole represents, is the art.

A small wetland preserve in Southeastern Pennsylvania, where I realized that any day there is ground I may walk on for the first time.

In poetry, the constraint to rhyme enables new beauty to emerge. In digital image manipulation, the constraint to reduce the image to some small number of kilobytes, some small number of hexadecimal rows, can yield similar emergent beauty. Today we have the computing power to start with big images and to selectively reduce in many ways.

It's also satisfying to know that an image sips at a server's storage capacity and loads quickly on old hardware with slow internet connections. There's also beauty in the accessibility of it.

Dust and Yellow Plastic - May 10, 2021

Back home, digging through the old technology I left in suspended animation in the basement. The Q4OS Linux distribution runs well on the Dell desktop from 2004. I'd put Ubuntu on it years ago but decided something a little lighter would suit it better. Q4OS does. I have a couple of replacement CMOS batteries coming in the mail. Just for fun. They were cheap. It'll be nice to know the system won't be going through complete amnesia as I turn it off and on during these visits.

I had less luck with the Dell desktop (we were a Dell family) from '98. I couldn't get it to boot from the USB drive, on which I'd installed some version of Puppy Linux. I seem to remember doing this years ago, but I couldn't figure it out now. Maybe I'll try again. The situation's a bit more complicated with that antique. The hardware started breaking down twenty years ago. Just getting to the BIOS menu takes longer than it did when the computer left the factory. The sludge has been ground deep in that one for most of its existence.

The six years between each system's birth saw a lot of change in home computing. It wasn't just the explosion in memory and storage capacity. USB ports became universal and multiplied. Drive connectors got smaller. Simplified internet access became a given.

One of the great, if superficial, advantages the '04 has is its case, which has side panels of snow white metal. The plastic front parts are mostly a muted chrome and black. Neither seems susceptible to the bad yellowing that afflicts the '98 and every other piece of white plastic that exists long enough.

April 28, 2021

This post brought to you by Neocities' command line interface (hopefully).

Ear Rat 4! Call for Submissions - April 23, 2021

The theme is recursion, which is the theme, which is recursion, which is the theme, which is recursion, which is the theme, which is recursion, you get the idea.

Feeling loopy? Want to make cool pictures or words about it? Head on over to the Ear Rat submission page to learn how you can submit your work for consideration.

It's cool! It's fun! It's usually pretty good!

Another Little Dome from Classical Constructions - April 22, 2021

Another little geodesic dome with more "panels" than the last one. Made with one contiguous piece of copy paper.
The drawing that I folded into the dome. Made using a compass and straight edge with no numerical measurements.

April 21, 2021

A little geodesic dome made out of a single piece of paper.

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 construct the base pentagons is by a Yosifusa Hirano, documented 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.

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 - 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 outside—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