Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Over the next 5 posts (with maybe some others between?) I'm going to share portraits commissioned by a friend as Christmas gifts for his wife: charcoal portraits of each of their 5 boys. Each is 9"x12". To see them at larger scale, click on the image. I'm posting them here for three reasons. Firstly, because I'm hoping some of you like them so much that you would like the same of your kids, your nieces and nephews, grandkids, parents, crazy uncle Sal, friends, etc. and therefore would like to commission one or more of your own; secondly because I would really like constructive feedback so that I can get better. Please feel free to give your honest opinion in the comments section about which ones you like/dislike and why or what aspects you think I should work on; and thirdly because, well, no matter how badly I draw, I still I draw better than I write, so now I'll shut up.

Links to the other boys in this series of portraits here: DAVID, MARK, SEAN, DOMINIC

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

These Waves Are Just Swell

At first I thought I was getting a raw deal because nothing was being cooked, but then was obsessed with naming the tune. I'm not sure, but it rings a bell...maybe I'm confused by the 'Happy Christmas'.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

My Spanish Dancer

I love this time of year. Shopping at stores you don't really like to be at when nobody's there, let alone packed to the gills; decorating trees with lights that don't work and not finding that out until after they're up, because you're too impatient to get it over with that you don't check 'em beforehand; overusing the 'if you don't settle down and mind your manners or Saint Nicholas is going to leave stones in your stocking', all to no avail; and driving back and forth to Ventura 83 times a week for Nutcracker rehearsals.

At least the last part is over. Saturday and Sunday marked Emma's Nutcracker performance, and while I am really, REALLY glad the 3pm Sunday and 5pm Saturday and 6pm weekday rehearsals and practices are over, I can say it was all worth it just to snap this one fantastic, albeit now highly photoshopped, picture of my growing-up-way-too-fast little girl.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Flight into Egypt

Here is installment number 2 of 'Art I made for Maria'. In this sketch, Maria was the (unwitting) model for a version of the 'Flight into Egypt'. Well, I used her face and head, which is an age old tradition anyway. I apologize for the poor quality of the image, but I had to take a picture of it since I don't have a scanner big enough to import it in one pass.

Ordinarily, I'm not very fond of over-explaining my drawings and paintings, because they ought to stand alone, but I've promised a couple friends to describe my process of going about doing a piece, so here we go:

Generally, I'm more of a fan of an active fleeing when it comes to versions of the Flight into Egypt, in contrast to the more familiar 'Rest on the Flight into Egypt' such as that by GERARD DAVID (which I nevertheless have a version of hanging in my living room, because it's so symbolically rich and quite beautiful).

Nevertheless, I prefer the active versions of the flight because they portray the urgency with which the Holy Family had to act- both urgency and motion being a sign of the human realm, rather than the leisurely calm found in the 'rest' versions-lack of motion itself being a symbol of the divine. (Middle term: I prefer to think of the Holy Family in terms of their very regular, human life. Just a personal preference.)

However, in this version, I tried to impart the idea of both Human and Divine characteristics using these aformentioned action symbols of Mary and the Christ-child. Clearly Mary is on the move, her robes and hair being caught in the draft of her kinetic rush from left to right (read left=sinister, right=virtue, so that she moves away from sin: sin being an opponent that will forever try to ensnare her but will never catch this immaculate one) -you can almost sense that Herod's men are upon her as she hurries away.

Yet, her face is serene, full of the confident certainty that can only come with the knowledge that God would care for his Son, who is Himself so calm so as to suck his thumb in peace; for no ill will come of the situation. Moreover, His grace is full within her, and will keep her safe from the opponent sin which chases after her.

There is a baroque tension here between those two simultaneous actions: resting and moving. And as I am wont to say in the practice of architecture: if it's not Baroque, fix it.

My version is based very loosely on, and intended as an homage to, John Singleton Copley's work "THE DEATH OF MAJOR PEIRSON". The woman on the bottom right of the painting, as you can doubtless tell, was the figural model for my sketch in composition and massing, and interestingly enough, it was Copley's own wife and children who were the models for his own work.

I can't leave without drawing attention to the proportional tickmarks...left there just to prove to those few of you who doubt it, that my wife has absolutely perfect proportions.

Friday, December 19, 2008

I Love My Wife

Today is our 10th anniversary. And her 30-something birthday. So you might guess that with Birthday, Anniversary and Christmas all within a week, there's a lot of gift pressure. This is the year of art (Read: I'm a cheapskate and yet need to come up with cool gifts to reflect how much I love her), so here is installment number 1 of 'Art I made for Maria' (Click on it to get the full effect):

I love you, babe!

Oh, and it's not red because she prefers peach roses to red.

Oh, and Brian...the centroid of the rose cuts the composition of the whole into mean and extreme ratio.

The Law of Non-Catradiction

After yesterday's rant against the unfortunate disappearance of the argument ad absurdum from the arsenal of true logic and prerequisite denial of the law of non contradiction, I remembered Schrodinger's cat (Click HERE for a description).

Please remember that Schrodinger intended for his poor little cat's impending doom to be a shocking if not mechanically quantified example of the crazy things that happen when physics leaps from reality to imagination. That is, when physics stops dealing with the practically visible world such as planets and oranges and monkeys, and starts dealing with the invisible and theoretically imagined world of quarks, higgs bosons and dark matter.

In order to illustrate the problem with Einstein's 'matter both is and is not in all possible states at the same time' claim, Shrodinger did what Charles DeKoninck--and any other natural philosopher worth his weight in negative matter would have done-- move from the more known to the less known. What it means for quantum particles to be in all states at the same time is not very knowable, mainly because it's so impractically visible. But, when the same argument is transferred to the more known, i.e. the kind of thing that we humans can relate to on the natural level such as when a cat is both alive and dead at the same time, it becomes immediately apparent that the line of reasoning that got us there is, well, faulty.

The sad thing is that is that many people now use the Shrodinger's cat example in quite the opposite way: rather than saying "Oh, poo. My conclusion is obviously false, therefore my argument must be faulty somewhere along the line, quite possibly at the beginning with poor assumed principles. I shall start over with better principles and more rigorous syllogisms", they actually say: "Huh, would you look at that. The conclusion might seem false but I just can't admit it, therefore it must be true. Therefore your system of logic that says it's false must instead be faulty. Let me devise a new system of logic that allows for the violation of the law of non-contradiction so that I do not need to re-evaluate my world view at greater cost to my belief system that I happen to call science".

Schrodinger is and is not rolling over in his grave.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Dark Sophistry

I love reading about modern physics. It gives so much fodder to rip into. HERE'S a prime example of how far off the deep end some physicists will go in trying to justify their assumption that the modern phlogiston, dark matter, exists:
"Even nothing...weighs something"
he continues:
"and because in our universe we've got a lot of nothing, it has a major effect on our evolution and causes space itself to accelerate".
Really? How could someone say this with a straight face? In two lines we hear of nothing as the cause of something, nothing having being, nothing as a substance, and nothing having accidental qualities. What does NOTHING REALLY MEAN? Clearly, this is another example of 'Scientists' getting so enraptured with their theories that blatant violations of the law of non-contradiction no longer catch their attention.

Apparently, the reductio ad absurdum is no longer a viable recourse as a counter argument, and that's quite sad, because there is no longer a last resort to which we have recourse in logic--with the possible exception of yo' mama jokes.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Flow Charts

More wisdom from XKCD:

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Lawrence Livermore Laboratories has discovered the heaviest element yet known to science.

The new element, Governmentium (Gv), has one neutron, 25 assistant neutrons, 88 deputy neutrons, and 198 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312.

These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons.

Since Governmentium has no electrons, it is inert; however, it can be detected, because it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact. A tiny amount of Governmentium can cause a reaction - one that would normally take less than a second - to in fact take from 4 weeks to 4 years to complete.

Governmentium has a normal half-life of 2- 6 years. It does not decay, but instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places.

In fact, Governmentium' s mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganization will cause more morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes. This, according to some, actually proves the existence of PHLOGISTON. Others say this theory still carries no weight even after 4000 years of experiential data.

This characteristic of moron promotion leads some scientists to believe that Governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a critical concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as critical morass.

When catalysed with money, Governmentium becomes Administratium, an element that radiates just as much energy as Governmentium since it has half as many peons but twice as many morons.

Sorry to disappoint you, Tim-- I did not write this. But, I did edit it and added a few of my own remarks. Can you find them?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Classic Blunder

OK, first, think this:
Ha ha! You fool! You fell victim to one of the classic blunders! The most famous is never get involved in a land war in Asia, but only slightly less well-known is this: never go in against a German when language is on the line! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha ha...
Then, read THIS

I think the only not funny thing is that stupid kids might just go back to getting tasmanian devil tattoos out of fear of getting something other than intended written on their neck. And I was so happy when the looney toons tattoo fad ended.

H/T Meg & Fr. Barry

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Physics of Santa Claus

As the father of a curious 7 year old, as well as a 9 year old still in denial, I've been having a hard time overcoming these plain facts when confronted with the question of whether Santa really exists:

  1. No known species of reindeer can fly. BUT there are an estimated 300,000 species of living organisms yet to be classified, and while most of these are insects and germs, this does not COMPLETELY rule out flying reindeer which only Santa has ever seen.
  2. There are 2 billion children (persons under 18) in the world. BUT since Santa doesn't (appear) to directly handle the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Buddhist children, that reduces the workload to 15% of the total : 378 million according to Population Reference Bureau. At an average (census)rate of 3.5 children per household, that's 91.8 million homes. One presumes there's at least one good child in each.
  3. Santa has 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth, assuming he travels east to west(which seems logical). This works out to 822.6 visits per second. This is to say that for each Christian household with good children, Santa has 1/1000th of a second to park, hop out of the sleigh, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left, get back up the chimney, get back into the sleigh and move on to the next house. Assuming that each of these 91.8 million stops are evenly distributed around the earth (which, of course, we know to be false but for the purposes of our calculations we will accept), we are now talking about .78 miles per household, a total trip of 75-1/2 million miles, not counting stops to do what most of us must do at least once every 31 hours, plus feeding and etc. This means that Santa's sleigh is moving at 650 miles per second, 3,000 times the speed of sound. For purposes of comparison, the fastest man-made vehicle on earth, the Ulysses space probe, moves at a poky 27.4 miles per second : a conventional reindeer can run, tops, 15 miles per hour.
  4. The payload on the sleigh adds another interesting element. Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium-sized lego set (2 pounds), the sleigh is carrying 321,300 tons, not counting Santa, who is invariably described as overweight. On land, conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds. Even granting that 'flying reindeer' (see point #1) could pull TEN TIMES the normal anoint, we cannot do the job with eight, or even nine. We need 214,200 reindeer. This increases the payload - not even counting the weight of the sleigh : to 353,430 tons. Again, for comparison : this is four times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth.
  5. 353,000 tons traveling at 650 miles per second creates enormous air resistance : this will heat the reindeer up in the same fashion as spacecrafts re-entering the earth's atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer will absorb 14.3 QUINTILLION joules of energy. Per second. Each. In short, they will burst into flame almost instantaneously, exposing the reindeer behind them, and create deafening sonic booms in their wake. The entire reindeer team will be vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a second. Santa, meanwhile, will be subjected to centrifugal forces 17,500.06 times greater than gravity. A 250-pound Santa (which seems ludicrously slim) would be pinned to the back of his sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds of force.
Of course, Saint Nicholas could pull it off. But Santa? Apparently not.
Time to reinforce the symbolic nature of Ol' Saint Nick-the bishop, not the Coca-Cola Salesman.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Thursday, December 4, 2008

St. Barbara's Tower of Dour

Today is the feast day of St. Barbara, Patroness of Architects. And she's also the patron of the city where I an architect. So, as you might guess, I have a devotion to the beautiful young martyr.

While she very likely didn't exist, being rather a figment of pious fiction, her story is completely believable and is, in any event, worth following as an example of sacrifice and devotion to the Truth.

Barbara was born in the late 3rd century in Asia Minor near Nicomedia. She was the daughter of a wealthy Roman named Dioscorus. By all accounts, she was incredibly beautiful and very intelligent, and her over-protective father kept her shut up in a tower in order to preserve her from being drawn to one beneath her (his perceived) dignity. She was offered release from the tower on the condition that she marry the man her father recommended, but she refused.

Before going on a long journey, her father commanded that Barbara be instructed in Philosophy and the Liberal Arts. Her instructors Origen and Valentinian-- who were, unbeknownst to Dioscorus, both Christian-- helped her see the truth of monotheism and the triune God. Barbara secretly converted, and with much zeal. During Dioscorus's absence Barbara had workmen increase the number of windows in her tower from two to three, a symbol used as a way to contemplate and worship the Holy Trinity. It is for this reason that she is the patroness of architects. When her father returned and noticed the change in the tower, he questioned her motives. Upon her acknowledgment that she had become a Christian, he first tried to beat it out of her for fear that her embrace of Christianity would reflect on his household, and that he would in turn lose his status with the prefect. The tact of corporal punishment having not succeeded, Dioscorus cowardly dragged her before the prefect of the province, Martinianus, who had her even more cruelly tortured and finally condemned her to death by beheading. Dioscorus himself carried out the death-sentence, in the hopes that this would prove to Martinianus that he did not embrace the faith his daughter did. While returning home, he was struck by lightning, or by other accounts, consumed by fire in a fit of spontaneous combustion.

Barbara is almost ubiquitously represented in art holding a tower with three windows, symbolizing her love for the Trinity. Sometimes there is a cannon in the background representing her patronage of artillery men (by extension of the tower, which is often used for military purposes), and there is often stormy skies in the background, with sunlight piercing through. She always holds a palm branch to symbolize her martyrdom. Barbara is one of the 14 HOLY HELPERS.

On December 3, 1602-- the eve of St. Barbara's feast day--Sebastian Vizcaino was sailing north from Baja California when his ships were caught in a violent storm. Praying to St. Barbara for safety (Because her father was killed by lightning, she became the patroness of safety from storms, and then sailors. See her many, many other patronages HERE), Vizcaino promised that if his ships survived the storm he would found a city in her honor. Finding a small natural harbor, he did survive the storm, and then 'founded' the city of Santa Barbara (which already had several thousand natives living there).

Above is a sketch painting I did of a tile mural found in the Four Seasons Biltmore in Santa Barbara. It represents an early map of the city, in 1798, just after the founding of the Mission. Click on it to see a larger version.