Archive for the ‘Art’ Category


Wednesday, 28 August, 2013

Australian brushturkeyFollowing up my urban bird post of the other day, I was astonished this morning to come across a pair of Australian brushturkeys while walking to the station to catch the train to work. I know these birds are around the city, but I’ve never seen some so close before, nor so close to my home.

They’re very territorial, so I’ll probably see them again in the future if they’ve moved into the area. At this time of year they’re probably either building compost mounds to incubate their eggs, or already looking after a clutch of eggs or chicks somewhere nearby.

Drumming vs Differential Equations

Saturday, 20 July, 2013

Apple recently announced the release of Logic Pro X, an updated version of their audio processing software. There’s a discussion thread on about it. It comes with a new feature called Drummer, which is essentially a drumming machine component, described as a “virtual session drummer”. Several of the comments mentioned this and wondered how good it would be compared to a real drummer.

Cue the inevitable drummer jokes. Some people, while having a good laugh, also expressed the opinion that drumming is actually quite demanding and how they genuinely respect drummers. Then there was this comment:

I agree, drumming is a really hard job, up there with solving complex differential equations, simulating weather, image processing, managing data for millions of users…

Clearly sarcastic, but I couldn’t help finding it hilarious. Since I do image processing and solving differential equations for my day job, and have been taking weekly drumming lessons for over a year now. And I can tell you, in no uncertain terms, that drumming is more difficult than solving differential equations and image processing. I can tell you how the vibrational modes of a drum head are governed by an orthogonal basis of Bessel functions, but I’m still having trouble not swinging my sixteenth note syncopated snares in a straight 4/4 rhythm, or doing consistent 32nd note double strikes with my left hand. :-)

ND400 filter

Sunday, 7 July, 2013

I recently got an ND400 neutral density filter for my lenses. This is an almost black filter that cuts the available light by a factor of 400. It looks black, and lets through only the barest amount of light, like welding goggles. With it, you can take really long exposures when there’s too much light to do so otherwise. This is useful for things like ocean scenes, when you want the waves to blur out into a misty ambience. It’s best around sunrise or sunset, but I went out today in the middle of the day to test it out. Here are a couple of the results.

188/365 Ocean meets land

Rock shelf mist

CiSRA Puzzle Competition 2013

Thursday, 4 July, 2013

In 2007 a group of my work friends and I organised the first CiSRA Puzzle Competition as a means of promoting our company to clever people who might want to come work for us. It was a success and we’ve repeated it every year. And now, we have just opened the 7th annual competition for team registration! The first puzzles are released on 22 July. If you enjoy puzzles and brain-benders, check it out.

Photo challenge

Sunday, 9 June, 2013

Photo challenge: out of the cameraYesterday when I went out to take photos of the sunrise, I arranged to meet my friend Andrew at the beach, since he’s keen on photography too. We shot various things with our cameras, wandering around and taking photos from different places. At one point Andrew suggested we set up our tripods right next to each other, on the rock shelf that we were currently standing on, and take photos of the same scene at the same time. Then we’d each process our photo and post the results so we could compare how we’d approached rendering the final photo.

The small shot on the right here is my version of the photo, as it emerged direct from the camera, converted from RAW format to JPEG using all the default settings. Below are the final photos after processing, making various artistic choices to achieve a final photo we were happy with.

Andrew’s version is on top – he went for a darker approach, elected to use black and white, and went for a shorter crop to give a wider aspect ratio. My version is on the bottom – I chose to emphasise the colours and the foreground. I notice we both enhanced the contrast, and by a similar amount.

Photo challenge

Photo challenge: final image

Grey morning

Saturday, 8 June, 2013

159/365 Tidal riverI planned to get up at 5:30 this morning and head out to the beach to take photos of the sunrise. Doing this is always a risk, because you can never tell what the weather will be like, and it’s difficult to tell when it’s still pitch black outside. I checked the rain radar and there were a few tiny specks around, but it was mostly clear. So I went out.

On the way to the beach (a 20 minute drive in the pre-dawn lack of traffic) it started raining. I parked at the beach and sat in the car for a few minutes. The rain eased off and stopped, so I ventured out. The sly was gloomy and the sun never showed its face through the hanging grey cloud. But I got some acceptable photos. There’s a stormy feel to them, which is fine, I guess. You can’t have a perfect sunrise every day!

Stuff I do

Thursday, 30 May, 2013

I tend to have quite a few projects going all the time. I thought I’d take a couple of minutes to list them all in a note-taking program. I was somewhat surprised with how long the list turned out to be. So I thought I’d share, so you have some idea of what sort of stuff I do in my “spare” time.

  • Webcomics
    • Irregular Webcomic! – I did this as a daily comic strip from 2002-2011. I’m no longer making daily comics, but am rerunning strips with additional writer commentary.
    • Darths & Droids – This strip started in 2007, and is ongoing, three times a week. I write it with a group of friends at work. We usually spend one lunchtime a week writing new strips and reviewing upcoming ones just before they are published.
    • mezzacotta – This is a combination webcomic and irregular blog of odd stuff. The comic actually needs no writing or maintenance, so it’s just the occasional blog post here.
    • Square Root of Minus Garfield – A Garfield parody webcomic, started in 2008, updating daily. Most of the strips are submitted by readers – my role is mostly selecting submissions to publish and adding them to the database.
    • Lightning Made of Owls – An original comic which readers contribute strips for. Started in 2008, updated three times a week for a long time but now subsisting on a trickle of submissions.
    • Comments on a Postcard – A “high concept” webcomic, again generated by reader submissions. Started in 2008, updated daily.
    • There are also two old webcomics which have petered out, so I’m not counting them as active projects.
  • Learning
    • Drumming – I’ve been taking weekly drumming lessons at Big Music since April last year.
    • Forming a band – With the friends from work who write Darths & Droids. We’ve only had a couple of practice sessions, but we plan more.
    • Italian – Learning on Duolingo.
  • Writing
    • Irregular Webcomic! essays – Since the daily new comics ended, I’ve been writing a weekly essay about some topic, often scientific, which appears on Sunday’s update instead of a rerun strip.
    • Travel diaries – Whenever I take a trip, I keep a daily travel diary. I stick them on my website when I get home.
    • Secret project – I have a secret writing project I’ve started and hope to finish some day.
  • Creative
    • Photography – I love taking photos. I take them on trips. I take walks and short drives around where I live to visit places just to take photos. I get up an hour before sunrise to go to the beach and photograph the sunrise. I post some of my photos on Flickr.
    • 365 Days Photography – This is a specific photography project. I’m aiming to take a photo every day during 2013. There’s a special set on Flickr for these.
    • Travel photo books – After an overseas trip, I like to assemble some of the best photos into a print-on-demand book, to give a copy to family members and keep a nice printed copy myself.
    • Puzzle solving – My work friends and I enter the annual MUMS and SUMS puzzle competitions. Our team is the CiSRA Puzzlers, and we have won a few prizes, including first place in MUMS in 2007.
    • Puzzle creating – My work friends and I run the annual CiSRA Puzzle Competition. We create our puzzles in our own time and test solve them during lunchtimes at work.
    • Sketching – I occasionally doodle and sketch things using Paper by 53 on my iPad.
  • Gaming
    • Roleplaying games – I haven’t actually run one for a while, but I always have roleplaying campaigns and adventures bubbling away in the back of my mind. I plan to run my friends through Tomb of Horrors (on the understanding that many characters will die and we shouldn’t treat it too seriously). I also plan to run a campaign based in the giant city of Ravnica, borrowed from Magic: The Gathering.
    • Magic: The Gathering booster drafts – My friends and I play semi-regular Magic booster draft tournaments, using the latest sets published by Wizards of the Coast. We also have a stash of old unopened booster packs going as far back as the original Ravnica block, which we occasionally mix and match to create weird hybrid draft formats. We do this sometimes during lunch breaks, and sometimes on Friday evenings.
    • Magic: The Gathering cube drafts – We create custom cubes for drafting Magic as well. So far, most of my playing group have created a cube which we have used. We’ve done powerful cubes full of high-powered cards, and quirky cubes, such as the off-colour cube (cards whose abilities violate the modern colour pie).
    • Magic: The Gathering invented sets – Not satisfied with what Wizards prints, we create our own entire sets and draft those. We’ve done a total of six different invented sets (from memory, it may be one or two more), and at least one of us is always working on another entire new set.
    • Board games – Sometimes we play board games at lunch. Favourites change over time, but have included Settlers of Catan, Formula De, Modern Art, Ra, Citadels, Poison, Tigris & Euphrates, Power Grid, Dominion, Blokus, Ingenious, Puerto Rico, Goa, Alhambra, Seven Wonders, Notre Dame. (I won’t link them all, look them up on BoardGameGeek.)
    • Invent board games – Not content with existing board games, we invent our own. Some are actually card games. Collectively we’ve invented something like a dozen games.
  • Physical activities
    • Walking project – I share this project with my wife. We have a map of North Sydney Council, in which we we live. We are in the process of walking the full length of every street and every walking track in the council area. We began two years ago, and might complete it this year. (The rule is: for a walk to count, we must do it together, and start and end the walk at our home – no car or public transport allowed.)
    • Stretching – Every weekday I do a short series of stretching exercises to strengthen my lower back muscles and keep my limbs flexible.
    • Swimming – From about October to April I swim. Usually 1200 metres, three times a week.
    • Tennis – I play tennis once a week. Well, up until a few months ago when my opponent had an injury. We should start again soon.

To close this post, I’d just like to say one thing. If your reaction to my list is to think, “Man, you have too much spare time,” then you are wrong. Please read this essay I wrote about creativity and spare time. I don’t think I can say it any better than that here. :-)

Picking a masterpiece

Sunday, 7 April, 2013

I’ve formed a band with some of my friends – none of us are particularly good at playing anything, but we’re keen and want to have fun. Discussing what songs we should learn to play, we discovered that there is very little overlap in our musical tastes (as mentioned before).

One guy is into progressive rock, and recommended an album to another guy who was interested. The second guy came back a few days later and said, “Wow, that album is great!” The first guy said, “Yes, I call it a masterpiece.” The second guy said, “Yes… I agree. It is a masterpiece.” Then there was some discussion over how does one recognise a “masterpiece”, and could someone who has no prior knowledge in the field recognise a work as a masterpiece? They came up with a hypothetical experiment: Give someone who knows nothing about progressive rock a copy of this album, and another prog rock album, and see if they can pick which one is the masterpiece.

And so a real experiment was born. I know virtually nothing about progressive rock, so I volunteered to be the lab rat. The guys discussed together and selected a second progressive rock album, which is generally acknowledged to be good, but not a masterpiece. They ripped the tracks off both albums, anonymised the files, and gave them to me. I was to listen to them, make notes, and declare which one I thought was the masterpiece.

Album 1, as it was called, had 12 tracks. Album 2 had 5 tracks. That was all I knew about them. I didn’t know the artists, the album names, or the track names. I played both albums through once, and then on a second listen I took notes. Here’s what I thought.


Mona Vale sunrise

Tuesday, 26 March, 2013

On Saturday I went out to a concert – the Sydney Symphony playing Carmina Burana – and so got home late. I wanted to get up early on Sunday to go photograph the sunrise (best time of year for it right now), but I was tired. So I decided not to set the alarm, but if I happened to wake up before 5:30, I’d get up and go out.

I slept solidly and when I woke up it was still dark. I turned to look at the clock… and it said 5:29.

So I got up and drove to Mona Vale, which is possibly my favourite beach and ocean baths for sunrises. It wasn’t a great sunrise, but I think it turned out to be worth it.

Muted fire

Monster of the Week

Thursday, 14 March, 2013

Oh my. How had I not heard of Monster of the Week before?!? A webcomic rendition of every episode of The X-Files? And it’s by Shaenon Garrity!! So you know (1) it’ll be good and (2) this isn’t a project that the writer will quit after a dozen strips.

Sign me up!