Old Photos


I found another nice photo I took a long time ago. There is nothing particularly remarkable about this vacation photo except for one thing, I developed the color negative film and printed the color RC print in my own darkroom when I was about 13 years old. I was experimenting with photographing different light conditions with the Zone System, which is pretty hard to do with color negative film, it has very little latitude. But I thought it was a pretty good job. I tried to improve on the color and curves in Photoshop and couldn’t really do any better. I wasted a lot of time on trying to color correct the highlights on the railing, then I realized the tiles really were aqua blue.


Traction Avenue

I found an old Polaroid photo of my art studio on Traction Avenue, in the center of the downtown LA artist’s district. Notice the tall ceilings with huge beams, this place was gigantic, about 2000 square feet. I used to ride my skateboard around inside my studio, turning figure-eights around the support columns. This is just the one small corner of the studio I used for preparatory painting. I used to work on bigger paintings on the other wall and I could stand back 50 feet from my paintings and get a good look from a distance.


I liked to paint preparatory works on paper tacked to the wall, looks like I’ve started an underpainting. My pallette and brushes are on top of an old hospital-bed cart, which seems to be the preferred pallete table in art studios everywhere. Down in the lower right corner are some high powered track lights that I never finished installing once I discovered how hot they got.
This studio is legendary for many reasons, it was one of the most hotly contested studio spaces on Traction Avenue. I went back to visit a couple years ago, the whole area is now gentrified. My old studio is now a used CD store.

Product Placement Problems

Back when I worked at a top LA graphics service bureau around 1990 or so, I got a job from one of our regular customers, an independent designer. He produced product packaging with Adobe Illustrator and he did a lot of expensive large format Iris inkjet output. One day I load up his new Iris job, and what the hell is this? I’m looking at detailed flexography stencils for 7up, Dr. Pepper, Pepsi, and Coke bottles. Except the logos in this comp are not placed on pop bottles, they’re on baby bottles. Now hold it just a minute. I philosophically and morally object to putting a corporate logo 2 inches from a 1 day old infant’s eyes. I wouldn’t want a child’s first visual experience when their eyes begin to focus to be a huge Coke or 7Up logo with a nipple on it. AND, at this very time, there was a huge boycott of Nestle over baby formula problems in third world countries, and soda pop bottlers were accused of involvement in widespread infant malnutrition. Mothers who couldn’t find clean water to make infant formula were using 7Up and other soda instead of water. Infants were often fed straight sugary and caffeinated soda pop with the formula, and it had horrible health effects on the very young infants. And the more I thought about this job, the more reasons I could find to loathe it, I would not participate in producing anything related to this product. So I took this job-from-hell straight to the boss and showed it to him. I said I am NOT doing this job. He heard my objections, and he was pretty horrified when he stopped to think about it. So my boss called the designer and told him to get down to the shop, we wanted to talk to him. I ran his job up on my screen, brought him in to look at it (like we often did when customers watched Iris jobs run) and then I started yelling at him, what the hell is this? I told him that we had certain standards, we didn’t work on porn, and we didn’t do obscene jobs like this. I stated in no uncertain terms that this was the sickest thing anyone had ever submitted to our shop, and I told him why. He seemed astonished, the more I explained my objections to this product, the more horrified a look he got on his face. He took a moment, and then told me this was not for mass production, it was a one-off unique item, it was to be used as a prop in a movie scene, to poke fun at someone who would feed soda pop to infants. I told him I would hold his job and consider printing it if he was really telling me the truth, but still I thought he was lying. And besides, if he put this image in the mass media, it would probably influence people to want to purchase the real Coke and 7Up baby bottles. He said I should not worry about it, the film was crap and sure to flop, hardly anyone would see the bottle. I was not feeling any better about this job. I took it to the boss, who eventually made the decision to go ahead and print, but only after another long phone call with the client.
So about 6 months later, I am in the checkout line at some big department store, and standing right next to the counter, what do I see? A big display rack of 7Up, Coke, Dr. Pepper, and other assorted plastic baby bottles. Lying bastard designer! Fortunately about this time quit and I moved to San Francisco and went to work at a better prepress shop, with fewer scumbag clients like that, we typeset stuff like RE:Search books, Rainforest Action Network pamphlets, etc, I was a much happier graphics geek.

Brute Force

The Hacker’s Dictionary defines Brute Force:

"Describes a primitive programming style, one in which the programmer relies on the computer’s processing power instead of using his or her own intelligence to simplify the problem, often ignoring problems of scale and applying naive methods suited to small problems directly to large ones. The term can also be used in reference to programming style: brute-force programs are written in a heavyhanded, tedious way, full of repetition and devoid of any elegance or useful abstraction."

I first heard this term in basic Computer Science courses, the classic example is a "brute force search" of a database. Instead of using a clever index system, the brute force method examines every single record and checks for a match, one by one. The method relies on the brute force of manually processing every single record. It is time consuming, but sometimes necessary when the indexes contain errors.
I often use this term to refer to a brute force search of my paper files. Right now I’m hunting for some financial documents from 1995, I can’t find them anywhere so I’ve been doing a brute force search of every single paper in my files, and I’ve got about boxes and boxes full of papers. I took 5 banker’s boxes of records from the last 10 years, handled every single sheet of paper, tossed out all the chaff, and sorted the rest into file folders. I’ve sorted and sorted until my fingers are bloody from paper cuts. And of course, the records I’m looking for have not yet appeared. Now I will have to extend the search even further, and open more old boxes. Darn it, where did 1995 go to?

Update March 15, 2005: Quite by accident, I located the records I was seeking. So that means I searched for almost exactly 3 years for these stupid papers.

A Disorienting Experience

I recently had a very disorienting experience while watching TV commercials. A computer graphic effect showed the camera’s viewpoint zooming in from a position orbiting earth, down to a viewpoint of a few people on the ground, then zoomed back again to high orbit. It is a dramatic effect, and very popular because more than one commercial uses this effect. And that was the disorienting thing. I saw two different commercials using this same effect, back to back. The first commercial runs through its camera motion, ending with a view of a starry sky. And then the second commercial starts with a view of a starry sky, and zooms through almost the same motion again. I felt like I orbited earth twice in 60 seconds.
I first read about this CG design from Ted Nelson’s Computer Lib book, he called it a hypermap. He only envisioned a 1-dimensional zoom, but later innovators created schemes that would allow you to zoom in on any spot on earth at any level of resolution, add links to other datasets (i.e. rainfall) and map them over a globe generated from realtime satellite imagery. Much of this technology is adapted from military satellite photoreconnaisance technologies, not just mapping but all computer graphics technology generally. A group of artists and scientists trying to hypermap the globe, but the most powerful expression of this technology is still military.

New Features

I told someone that I felt like I had made some real accomplishments this week, I made two suggestions for new features in a couple of big products, and both were adopted as new features. She said, “oh, so did you get paid anything for this?” Well of course I didn’t.

Unpopular Opinions

One of the reasons I started with this blog is that a few of my unpopular opinions were being censored. A few months back, on a rather prominent message board (which is now deceased) I was banished from the board while defending an artist’s freedom of speech. My expulsion made the board’s self-appointed censors look ridiculous for censoring an artist who advocated free speech during a debate about free speech.

In a more annoying case, I was censored in a Usenet moderated newsgroup during some trivial chit-chat. Some people were complaining about how boring they thought the Winter Olympics were. I responded that the Olympics were boring because they were stacked with fake sports like snowboarding. I said that Halfpipe Snowboarding and Freestyle Skiing were pushed into the Olympics by the USA, and stacked with American competitors that were likely to win gold. I compared snowboarding to previous ridiculous “sports” that had been added and subsequently removed from the Olympics, like Tug-of-War and Indian Club Juggling. The message was stopped by the moderators, and returned to me with a note that it was “offensive and unamerican.”

I decided it wasn’t worth arguing. I could have explained my rationale, but wouldn’t make any sense to them. I mean, I was one of the first snowboarders, I owned a Snurfer back in 1965, and it was the toy that started the whole snowboarding craze.


I was a snowboarder and skateboarder from an early age, I knocked out my two front baby-teeth out while skating on an old skinny skateboard with hard clay wheels (like the old four-wheel roller skates). I still own a nice Sims ultra fat skateboard that I bought at Val Surf, back around 1985 when I lived in the San Fernando Valley and there was only ONE Val Surf, the one in my neighborhood, and everyone in my neighborhood skated (even the old farts like me). All my friends in LA were skaters or surfers. It’s not like I’m biased against the sport, I love these sports, but I recognize them for what they are, just plain fun and a big goof. And that is the point.

There isn’t any skateboarding or surfing in the Summer Olympics, because it just isn’t an Olympic sport and everyone knows it. Similarly, there shouldn’t be any snowboarding in the Winter Olympics. The motto of the Olympics is Citius, Altius, Fortius, and snowboarding events like the Halfpipe just have no possible chance to be swifter, stronger, or higher (well maybe higher, but I don’t think that’s what the slogan means). It’s all a matter of subjective judging about the aesthetic qualities of your triple-flip-oopsie-daysie, what possible chance does this event have for long-term Olympic sustainability, maybe in a few years people will achieve a quadruple-flip-oopsie-daysie, and eventually a pentuple? And in a hundred years? The sport will be long forgotten, like Olympic Tug-of-War.

I recently read with amusement that the Japanese efforts to include Sumo as an Olympic sport had failed. Other sports like Karate are in the Summer Games, and of course Japan would love to get a lock on another event. The sport was introduced at Nagano as a demonstration sport, they had 2 years to show the International Olympic Committee that the sport of Sumo had advanced around the world sufficiently to produce a world roster of competitors. And of course there wasn’t a single new Sumo wrestler outside of Japan in the two years.

So that’s what I was thinking when these weirdo censors dumped my message. It’s just as ridiculous to have Snowboard Halfpipe in the Olympics as it would be to have Sumo, skateboarding halfpipe, or for that matter, Tug-of-War. So I just had to rant against these idiot censors, it’s insanely ridiculous to denounce these sort of opinions as somehow antiamerican.

Camera Obscura

San Francisco’s Musee Mechanique is closing, and the campaign to save it surges across the net. It is ironic that these old mechanical toys are being retired just after the closing of the popular exhibit at the Getty Museum, Devices of Wonder. But I am more concerned with the Camera Obscura adjacent to the Musee.

San Francisco Camera Obscura

Back around 1990-92 when I lived in San Francisco, I often took visitors up to the Camera Obscura and the Musee Mechanique. It’s the sort of place that you never go to yourself when you live near it, but when out of town visitors come, that’s the sort of place to go. Back around ’92 when I left SF, they were threatening to close the Camera Obscura but the local photographers and galleries banded together and worked to save it. It looks like they were successful, the Camera is on the National Register of Historic Places. But without the Musee, there probably won’t be enough traffic to keep the Camera in operation. If the Musee goes, the Camera will probably be next. Unfortunately, the Camera is not something you can relocate to another location, it’s there because of the view from the Cliff House.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

I just learned that Slaughter and the Dogs are playing in my town tonight. I bought their first single Cranked Up Really High back in 1977, it was one of the first punk records I ever bought. I listened to their first album Do It Dog Style constantly and it’s still in my all-time Top 5.


Now I’m faced with a terrible decision. Do I want my keep my current mental image of these original Manchester punk rockers as I formed it in my youth, or do I want to go see them now that they (and I) have become a bunch of old farts?

A Picture of Me

By popular demand, here is something never before seen on the net: a picture of me. This picture was taken sometime around 1974, so I would have been around 14 or 15 years old. My old friend Will Neuhauser took this photo, and it’s the only photo of me that I like. I’m taking a picture with a 4×5 Graflex Speed Graphic camera with sheet film.


I remember this picture, our high-school newspaper had an article about palmistry and I had to make a graphic design for it. I used my own palmprint and made a shadowgram of my hand in the darkroom. But the image proportions were all wrong for the page, which is why I rephotographed it with the Graflex, I was going to shrink it down. But it just would not fit, so I had to redo it from scratch.

I examined the entire newspaper staff for someone with the smallest hand, it turned out to be Mary Hoenk, our Editor-in-Chief. I made a shadowgram of her hand, it fit perfectly. But when I inked up her hand, I could not get a clear impression of the center of her palm, no matter what I tried. I finally told Mary to relax and let her wrist go limp, I took her arm and started shaking it until her wrist flopped around under my control, and then suddenly without warning, I whacked it hard on the paper sitting on the table! Mary immediately jumped up and started howling in pain, jumping around with the paper still stuck to her hand. I yelled “Don’t move!” and carefully peeled the paper from her hand. The palmprint was perfect. She was hopping mad, until she saw the final result.