upgrade to handmade artifact
Saturday, September 14 2013
It being the morning of Yom Kippur, Gretchen brought a notebook with her into the woods when she walked the dogs and spent some time writing introspectively, one of her few remaining (though completely self-created) Jewish traditions. I'd forgotten that she was going to do this and so, after a couple hours, I began to worry about her, particularly after Eleanor returned by herself. Had Gretchen fallen into a cave? Had she broken a leg? It was an unusually windy morning; perhaps a tree had fallen on her. Maybe Ramona had been incapacitated by a bear and Gretchen was slowly carrying her home. But eventually Gretchen returned, and the sight of her notebook reminded me of that Yom Kippur tradition. Gretchen had spent most of her time at the artificial pond we'd discovered over a year ago. As Gretchen did her writing, Ramona reportedly dragged root balls from various aquatic plants onto the shore and chewed on them.
This afternoon I tried to resurrect one of my semi-bricked Pogoplugs using a new integrated circuit that had come in the mail from China. The IC was a Max3232, which is designed to convert serial RS-232 signals to the 3.3 volt logic of the Pogoplug. A semi-bricked Pogoplug can usually be reached via its onboard serial port, but I'd been unable to use that without a Max3232. Oddly, though, the only data I saw in the serial monitor from the Pogoplug was garbled, and it remained so at every baud rate (as well as every other tweak I could make to the serial settings, including bits per character). This sent me over to my normally-reliable homemade Arduino prototyper to test the Max3232 with a known good source of serial data. But it didn't seem to be working either, and at some point I discovered that a Max232 IC on the prototyper was scorchingly hot. I replaced it with another, but still it produced no serial data. This led me to wonder if perhaps the PCIe serial card in Woodchuck was blown. We'd had that terrible electrical storm the other day and anything seemed possible. I actually powered down Woodchuck and removed the card (which had no visible injuries), but still the Arduino prototyper refused to communicate (by now I was trying my various USB-based serial adapters, which tend to be much less reliable).
Eventually I put the PCIe serial card back in and demonstrated that it worked by using a different Atmega328 in the prototyper. After much screwing around, I discovered that the whole problem was an Atmega328 with a corrupted bootloader and my having forgotten I had to throw a switch on the prototyper to switch it from being an Arduino to being a Pony-style programmer (the mode it has to be in for Arduino to successfully flash it with a good bootloader). [Later I would also find evidence of a bad power switch on the prototyper, so perhaps some of the times I'd been trying to make it do stuff it had actually been off.]
For the past few days I've been working on a painting intended to be the cover art for Gretchen's next collection of poems (Doris' Red Spaces). Over a year ago, Gretchen had shown me some examples of the sort of art she wanted, and it tended to be somewhat primitive and highly-stylized depictions of fruit in a depth-free space. That's not my style, but after she'd had trouble securing the rights for the specific art she really wanted, I'd volunteered to take a stab at painting her something in that general vein. Of course Gretchen is something of a perfectionist when it comes to things of such significance and, anxious about how to proceed, I'd let the project languish for about a year. Recently she began nagging me about it, something she'd been worried at the outset that she'd have to resort to. So about a week ago I resumed where I'd last left off, arranging clip art of fruits in various ways using Adobe Photoshop. After a bit more input from Gretchen and some further rearranging, we'd arrived on a final design, and the other day I began giving the design an upgrade from digital file to handmade artifact. The media I used were my usual acrylic paints, though this time I painted not on a canvas but on a sanded piece of scrap OSB (particleboard). As an artist, I couldn't bring myself to paint with the kind of simple stylization used in the examples that Gretchen had shown me. But I did mute the colors significantly, always mixing them with greys on a palette and never painting with the full-strength hues straight from the tube (which is what I usually do, at least in large part). Though the painting was a bit too simple for my tastes, I was delighted with the subtle interplay of colors and the absence of jarring color combinations in close proximity. The value of painting this way, I was surprised to discover, extended beyond the gorgeous harmony of the colors; it actually made it possible to quickly produce details and textures using a larger brush. Perhaps, I mused, I'd finally learned how to paint!
Tonight while Gretchen was off giving a reading in Hudson, I got to the point where I considered the painting finished and so I celebrated by drinking booze, smoking some pot, watching some crappy teevee, and taking a bath (pretty much the ideal way to spend the evening). I'd post a copy of the painting here, but I think Gretchen probably wants the final cover design to be a complete surprise to the world.
On an episode of Doomsday Preppers that I watched, there was a profile of a prepper who was mostly obsessed with gun training and defensive tactics and who paid less attention to other preparations like water and food storage. He also dismissed the idea of spending any time in an underground bunker with, "That's no way to live." All this made me wonder if perhaps his idea of prepping was to train himself (and his kids) to be the marauders who will steal from the weak after society collapses. We all know that such people will exist, and it would make sense for them to be training for their future role right along with all the other preppers. I hope Doomsday Preppers eventually gets around to profiling someone a bit more open about his or her marauding plans.
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