Faking It – or Pretending to Be What You Are Not

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on February 11th, 2011 by MadDog
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I’ll do something a bit different today. This post is actually a magazine article which has not yet been published. I submitted it nearly a year ago, so I don’t think it will find ink. So that it doesn’t go to waste, I’ll use it to bore you today.

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Sea people are adventurers and poets. Sea people are those who paint their lives boldly and joyously stroke by stroke on the vast canvas of Earth’s oceans and fresh waters. Fishermen, sailors, divers and snorkelers, surfers, sailors, merchantmen and marine warriors are all of a breed. They are bound by their love of and respect for the sea. How much great literature and visual art has been born of the relationship between humans and the sea? How can those who share this love of the sea not be inspired to and desirous of expressing their sentiments by the creative work of their minds and hands?

This is all very well and good, providing that one possesses the tiniest quantity of artistic talent. Being able to write a complete sentence and snap a decent photograph are largely demonstrations of technical skills. True artistry, however, mystifies the untalented. One might be capable of drawing water, but little else. Therefore we, the great ungifted masses, have forever been awed by those who are competent to pick up a pencil or brush and create from their mind’s eye a unique vision of the world. It’s a gift which few of us possess.

Therefore, out of sheer jealousy, we are inclined to mimic it. Since the arrival of the digital age, wretches such as us can aspire to play monkey-see-monkey-do and create images which, though utterly bogus, are pretty in a chintzy sort of manner.

Most folk today are familiar with basic image manipulation software. Nearly everybody can download pictures from their camera and play with them. Some of the software which comes with cameras even allows a bit of expression in the way of filters which apply special effects to the images. These are worth playing with to get one’s feet wet.

However, if one is serious about faking it, one must be prepared to step out a bit and trudge up a slight learning curve. I use Photoshop CS4 for all of my work. This is primarily because I work for someone else who wields enough financial clout to purchase it. It is absurdly expensive. One might liken it to the Rolls Royce of photo software. Adobe, the producer of Photoshop clearly states, “If you have to ask how much it costs, then you can’t afford it.” I’m absolutely certain that there must be ten pirate copies of Photoshop running on computers around the world for every copy which has been purchased.

Fortunately, there is an alternative. The GNU Image Manipulation Program, cutely nicknamed GIMP, is very capable and free software which strives to provide much the same power as Photoshop.

No matter which program one is using, the process details will be similar. We won’t go into details here, because our purpose is to show what one can learn to do in a couple of evenings. There are thousands of excellent tutorials available on the World Wide Web without payment which provides step by step instructions for the use of the tools in the software. Much of is learned feels very intuitive and quickly becomes habitual so that one can concentrate on the creative experience instead of the technical details.

Aside from the familiar controls with which most of us are familiar when working with our snapshots; brightness, contrast, colour saturation, hue, there are very many filters available to create effects which provide an almost endless range of possibilities for artistic interpretation of an image. A filter is a bit of software which examines the pixels of an image and then applies a complex mathematical formula to it to modify its appearance. Fortunately, one needs to know absolutely nothing concerning what is going on inside the complexity. There are simple slider controls which provide a way to adjust the actions of each filter. Simple filters can deal with elementary things such as noise (unwanted “static” in the image making it appear as if it were a miss-tuned TV), sharpening edges to make an image appear more focused, and corrections of distortions, such as correcting camera tilt by making the horizon level or correcting the apparent tilt or leaning of buildings.

The real beauty begins to glow when one begins to apply the artistic filters. There are dozens of them with names such as watercolour, poster edges, dry brush, fresco, paint daubs and palette knife. One can even apply filters upon filters to achieve genuinely wild effects. The trick is to learn when the fiddling has gone too far. Both programs mentioned above allow one get in the time machine and go back to an earlier stage of the process if sudden nausea occurs while examining the resulting image.

Though we concentrate on the sea and especially on creatures under the sea, there is no limit to the type of image with which one might begin. It can be anything. A carrot, if it seems particularly handsome.

One might ask of what use are these creations? Are they really art? My response is that neither question is pertinent. Unless one is obliged to make a living from artistic endeavours, then the exercise need only be purely for enjoyment.

Personally, I find such pursuits a pleasant alternative to sitting in front of the TV absorbing what currently passes for entertainment. This seems to me to be entirely passive. If you seek to create instead of consume, try your hand at Faking It. You might be amazed by what you can do.

You’ll find a variety of images here, some of them fishy and some not.

Scratch the last sentence. All of them are fishy.

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Goodbye Vagabond Harley

Posted in Mixed Nuts on January 5th, 2011 by MadDog
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Sometimes I write more for myself than for my readers. This is one of those times. If you would like to traipse down memory lane with me for a few minutes, then read on. It’s not a story of great importance. It is, instead, a modest metaphor of the changes of seasons which affect all of our lives. Like most of life’s changes it is neither all bad nor all good. It is simply change. I’ll tell the little story in more or less chronological order beginning in April of 2008.

Eunie and I bought the Harley several years earlier because we got a good deal on it and it fulfilled a long standing fantasy. In our first years of marriage I made a very modest living as a motorcycle mechanic and later as a motorcycle repair shop manager. We both had motorcycles and rode nearly daily. Though I worked on a variety of makes, I had never owned a Harley. It was a desire which I kept quiet and locked away. When I expressed it to Eunie a few years ago, she, in her usual practical way said, “Why not. We can’t lose money on a Harley.”

As usual, Eunie’s wisdom turned out to be greater than even I imagined. More about that later. So, in 1998 we bought a nearly new Sportster 883, the largest model which I could pick up if it was on its side. And, it has been on its side a few times.

In 2008, we decided that, since Madang was to be our home for life, we needed to pack up everything which we valued and ship it all home by sea freight. Having these treasured personal items in her home turned out to be a blessing for Eunie for the short time which she had left. They are now somewhat less of a blessing for me, since, with the exception of the Harley, I now have to contend with several hundred kilograms of personal belongings which will someday have to remain in Madang. I have no home to send them to and they mean nothing to anyone but me. That’s the bitter sweet part of the story. The rest is happy by comparison. There’ll be no tears here.

Here I am in all my glory in an ancient silk shirt a few days before we left the house in Brownsburg, Indiana for the last time, headed for Springfield Illinois to pack the crates:

The trip to Springfield was the most miserable motorcycle ride of my life. You can read about it in the link in the previous sentence. I’ll simply say that I cannot remember being so cold in my life. Here I am arriving in Springfield looking as if I’d suddenly gained fifty kilos:

The packing was a tedious chore which would have been far more difficult without the help of Eunie’s Sister, Mary Sexton and her husband, Jim. Here are Eunie at the left and her sister Mary amidst the clutter:

And, here I am with Jim and the partially packed Harley:

This is my beloved wife beaming with satisfaction that all of the material things which she cherished were safely on their way home:

After a rather nervous wait of a few months, the crates arrived in Madang. Here is the crated Harley on it’s way from the harbour to our workshop:

On several occasions I expressed to Eunie that I thought that it might be wiser to sell the Harley in the USA. She was never of a mind to do that for a couple of reasons. First, she believed it was something which would make me happy to have in Madang. She was right, of course. She also told me that selling it in the USA would be a bother and it would probably be worth at least as much here in PNG, if we ever needed to sell it. To her it was like money in the bank, except that you could spend it and still have it. I was always happy to be married to a woman who was smarter than me.

So, we ended up owning the only Harley in Madang:

That is the locally famous Coastwatcher’s Monument.

In the two years or so after its arrival I seldom rode the Harley. The roads here are horrible and steadily getting worse. There are very few places which are safe to ride. Riding alone never interested me, but we have always been blessed by having adventuresome friends, many of whom took an interest in a ride on the rare machine. Here’s Ush Antia 108 kilometres up the North Coast Road at the Tapira Surf Club:

Sadly, it’s not even safe to travel up there any more. The criminal activity in that area makes it too risky for my blood.

Another memorable ride was with Jo Noble to the Balek Wildlife Reserve:

Though I have mixed emotions at present concerning parting with the Harley, I must admit that I have not ridden it once since Eunie’s passing. The lustre has departed from many things in my life.  I debated in my mind whether or not to sell it. While it is true that it was “money in the bank”, it wasn’t money which was in any way contributing to my quality of life. I couldn’t imagine a time while I remain in Madang during which I would get much enjoyment from it.

I dreaded advertising it. I did not want to deal with the minor trauma of parting with it any longer than absolutely necessary. As it turned out, it took only two days. I called an old friend, Ron McKenna, who owns a car dealership and repair garage here in Madang. He is well known for his interest in exotic vehicles. He has restored several 1960’s era vintage Ford Mustangs, a task made considerably more complex, because they must be converted from left hand drive to right hand drive. I called Ron with the offer yesterday. Today he came to the office and bought it on sight.

Here I sit for my last portrait on a machine which gave me great pleasure. Minutes after this image was taken I had my helmet on and was taking my last ride. I blasted down Modilon Road at a terrifying pace. As always, she delivered a thrill. What a sound! There’s nothing else like it:

I know perfectly well that Ron did me a great favour by purchasing the Harley. He certainly doesn’t need it. Ron has had far more than his share of grief in the last few years. He is a sympathetic friend, a commodity with which I am well supplied. Once again, a friend has come to my aid. I will use the money from the sale to help to pay off the last of my debts. It will get me very close to my goal of being debt-free. This means far more to me at this season of life than any occasional pleasure which the Harley could deliver.

Finally, once again I am compelled to acknowledge the wisdom of my dear wife. She told me that we would never lose money on the Harley. In a way it was a gift that we gave to ourselves without cost. This made it somehow priceless. I’m sure that Ron will smile if he reads this. The price in Kina, converted to US Dollars, is nearly the same as we paid for the machine in 1998.

Eunie was right again.

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