Saturday, October 31, 2009

Phantom Footsteps (sorta)

You might think my place is haunted. Day and night you often hear the thump-thump-thump of people going up the steps. But no one's there!
Oh yeah, and there's no stairway at my place either.
There are lots of stairs on the building next door. We're separated by a fence and yard, but I can hear (and feel) my neighbors' footsteps clearly.
That being said, if my building did have steps, and if I believed in ghosts (I don't), it would be easy to think something spooky was going on. "I hear people going up and down the stairs all the time," I'd say. "but when I look, nobody is there."

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Third Blogaversary

October 26th marked the third anniversary of Tail o' the Rat.
Over the past year I chased mice, was reunited with the Crack Monster (whom I hadn't seen in three decades), made a Flash cartoon, started another, and drew a bunch of pictures.
According to my stat counter, the blog has been visited 68,575 times by 52,826 unique visitors since it debuted ...
...okay, some of these visits were triggered by bots and search engine misfires.
I never said I was picky.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Secrets of the Green Fairy

Some call absinthe "la fée verte" or "The Green Fairy." Popular culture has personified the fairy as an enchanted muse who unlocks creativity:

Or ensures a mind bending good time*:

The magic ingredient is wormwood. More specifically, a chemical in wormwood called thujone. For years it was considered a hallucinogen. However, recent studies show:
1. Whoops, it's not a hallucinogen, and
2. Whoops, the old time versions of the drink didn't have that much thujone in the first place.

So what's with this Green Fairy stuff?
It's likely other additives- toxic green dyes, for example, caused hallucinations.
So is the drink's legendary magic reduced to bad artificial coloring? Perhaps the the psychedelic part is. But what about the creativity enhancement?
Traditionally, absinthe isn't something you drink like tequila shots or pour over ice. There's a near ceremony you're supposed to follow. Special glass. A special slotted spatula that fits on top of the glass that holds a sugar cube. You pour water over the cube, so sugar water trickles into the absinthe below. Or swap the water for fire. That's right. Spike the cube with some extra absinthe, light it on fire, and drop it into the drink (since the stuff can be up to 75% alcohol, well, good luck with that*...)
Does all this fancy prep prime your brain to think this stuff must be special! Do people experience creativity because they expect to experience it? It wouldn't surprise me. The Green Fairy could be the Placebo Fairy.

*Is it just me, or did they rip off this famous Robert Abel & Associates 7up commercial?

**in the unlikely even someone reads this, burns down the house and tries to sue me, I might add that setting flammable things on fire, is, in fact, dangerous. While I'm at it, stay off subway tracks, and don't tease anything with teeth.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Big Beak

When a strange, long beaked bird showed up at my window feeder, I thought a new species had touched town. Sparrows and House Finches were my regular customers. What bird was this?
I had a better look. He was a House finch with an overgrown lower beak. The top was tiny and misshapen. The bottom three inches long and stuck out like a sword.
I named him Big Beak. I suspect he'd damaged his upper bill long ago, so it wasn't big enough to provide the pressure to keep his lower beak trimmed. You'd think this would make it tough for him to eat. It didn't.
Anyone who maintains a feeder knows that the birds squabble over who gets to eat and who has to wait. Not Big Beak. All he'd do was brandish his pointy bill. Bullies backed off! He was free to eat all he wanted. He'd use his super-sized beak like a scoop to shovel up the cracked sunflower kernels.
I'm sure Big Beak didn't realize anything was wrong with him. He probably figured he was Alpha bird and that was that. If he thought like a human, he might obsess about how "stupid" his beak looked. How "everyone judged him" because of his beak. How his life was ruined because of his beak...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Painter Pattern Pen Basics.

Some of you were curious about Corel Painter's Pattern Pens, and how I used them.
Here's the scoop.
The pen takes a pattern:

And spreads lit along your brush stroke as if you were unrolling wallpaper:

But this wallpaper can do curves.
It can grow and shrink depending on how hard you press:

Painter comes with default patterns.
Here's some from Painter 8:

And here are some custom ones I made:

They're pretty easy to make.
Launch Corel Painter. Open an existing image or create a new one.
Then select the part you want to be your pattern.
In the example below (click for larger image), I selected the "hello", then I opened the pattern window (control F9), clicked the little triangle in the upper right corner, and picked "capture pattern".
A new menu appears, asking you to name the pattern. Type a name. You're done.

From the brush selection menu, pick Pattern Pens > Pattern Pen.
Then select your new pattern in the pattern menu.
Play around with the pen. You'll notice left to right strokes reproduce it right side up.
(Right to left strokes put it upside down!)

This works great on a white background, but if you put it in front of a darker background, you'll see the white background is part of the pattern too.

There's several ways to save your pattern without the background.
The easiest way is to select the white area (be sure contiguous isn't selected,) then invert the selection (Shift+Control I). Then go back to the Patterns menu and select "Capture Pattern."
Then, in the brush selection area, switch from Pattern Pen to Pattern Pen Masked.
The "background" is gone!

If you look closely, you'll notice this pattern has white edges. Some of the background is leaking in!

If it bothers you, here's the workaround:

Go back to the original "hello" image and select the white area (as you did before), and invert the selection. Now select none (Control+D) and fill your entire image with the same color as your pattern*
The image should look like a red rectangle, but if you reselect (Ctrl+Shift+D), your outline will reappear. Capture it as a pattern. You're in business!

The latter technique only works with Pattern Pen Masked. The regular pattern pen will draw it as a red ribbon.

*Also note that the deselect-fill-reselect-capture trick works best when your pattern is either one color or composed of similar colors. There's ways to get rid of the white edge for more colorful masked patterns. I'll tell you if you're curious.

Dumb Dream at 5003 Feet.

Terrifying dreams are called nightmares.
Annoying dreams should be called night jackasses.
Those happen all the time. They're stale, inconsistent, confusing, rambling. They tumble on like a bad joke with no punchline. The car won't steer. The phone won't dial. Teeth crumble. Details change. Things seem off. Yet you rarely think, Gee, this makes no sense. I bet it's a dream!
For example:
A little boy was stuck in a runaway hot air balloon. How would they get him down? Would he freeze? Crash? Then it wasn't a hot air balloon but a flying mushroom. But now it was crooked and scraping the ground. How could a kid fit in there? Except he wasn't in there. He'd vanished. Then he hadn't vanished!
He was everywhere!
Each time I turned the T.V. or radio, there was the kid who was supposed to be in the balloon but wasn't, and his creepy family. Except now they were the family from a television show. Huh?
Inexplicably, the they wouldn't go away! Television, radio and the internet were infested. Mumbling and puking sounds were prominent. Dad mentioned lizard people. What nonsense was this!?
I think I understand why I don't notice that I'm dreaming.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Louis Wain Tribute II

I drew another tribute to Louis Wain, who specialized in drawing cats. He's best remembered for artsy ones he designed with wallpaper patterns. For decades it was speculated that he had schizophrenia, but I always thought the intense detail in his "wallpaper" drawings suggested some type of autistic disorder.
Sure enough, Many now believe he had Asperger's syndrome.
See? SEE?
"...Louis Wain did not have schizophrenia but Asperger’s syndrome. It is very easy to confuse somebody with odd beliefs with schizophrenia and to think that these odd beliefs are formal thought disorder...
...There is little doubt that he was a very eccentric if brilliant artist. He was also interested in mathematics, insects, bird skins, perceptual motion, science, and mechanical objects...
...He was bullied in school as many people with Asperger’s syndrome are. He spoke with an unusual tone of voice. He had preservation of sameness. He was interested in music and was very obsessional. He was very naïve. He did go through a paranoid psychotic period just like Isaac Newton but the fundamental diagnosis was Asperger’s syndrome. "

-from the above link (scroll down to second article to see it).

Saturday, October 03, 2009

"I Bite"

Macheath wasn't for sale. He was the meanest, most misanthropic creature in the pet shop. Even the love bird who'd been half blinded by a mean customer (who sprayed cleaning fluid in his face) was more trusting.
I met Macheath the summer I worked there. Both his cage and his play perch were marked with "I bite!" signs. He "only" a Severe Macaw- about half the size of the more common ones. That didn't stop him from attacking anyone foolish enough get too close. Even the owner of the shop couldn't handle him.
Macheath was cute. And curious. His favorate game was watching me sweep around his pearch. As soon as I put down the broom he'd swing his beak through his dish and scatter more food for me to sweep. Was he trying to be funny? Trying to help? Was he trying to make sure I'd stick around?
I talked to him each day and he gradually let me get closer. I knew better than to put my finger near his head. Years earlier another macaw showed me why this was a bad idea. Then one day he rolled his head forward and puffed out his feathers. That's bird language for "You're my friend. Scratch my head please." I couldn't believe it. The mean bird who hated everyone was letting me pet him!