30 September 2011

I, Robot . . . No, You Robot!

One of my favorite bloggers, artist James Gurney, posted recently about Cleverbot, an artificial intelligence algorithm that ostensibly has very human-like responses. So I gave it a whirl.  Not quite sure what I think of the results.

 Me: Why is there cake? 


Cleverbot: Why is there water? 


User: I asked you first. 


Cleverbot: I told you first. 


Me: No, you asked a question. 


Cleverbot: No you asked a question. 


Me: You sound confused. 


Cleverbot: No, merely looking for answers.  


 Me: Are you a philospher then?

Cleverbot: Yes.

 Image source

26 September 2011

Wizard's Typewriter: Final Version

Back in April I posted about the special typewriter I was able to provide for the Summer Wizarding Event.  Our hope was that the kids would use it to type notes at our special Post Office.  I found a typewriter at a nearby Salvation Army Resale Store; a perfect little machine with a nice, shell-like cover.

We called our postal service the Owl Post, operating on the creative notion that while North America was too large a geographic space for owls to do the actual deliveries we wanted the service to still echo the Rowling idea of owls.  So we kept the name.

I designed a logo for our Post Office using a free clip art image of a Snowy Owl I found online.  The image was of an entire owl so I modified it (using a grab it/edit it software called Snag-It), using just the face which would then fit in the center of a circle.  The idea was that the logo would also serve as our postal cancellation mark.

The logo itself I made using Microsoft Word (of all things!).  I put the owl image square and center on the page; drew two concentric circles around it; adjusted their width/weight to that of the lines in the graphic; and then added the text and the small circle and diamond shapes, the paths of which I curved to fit the circle using Word's Text Art feature.

I also ordered rubber stamps made with the design in two sizes: one was 2.5 inches around and used to decorate the newspaper and letters we sent out pre-event; the second was a 1.5 inch circle set along side cancellation bars and used to "cancel" the letters the students received on the day itself.

First, to remove any hand oils and old, ingrained dusties, I cleaned the surface of the cover with rubbing alcohol.  Then, using tracing paper, I copied the logo design onto the cover of the typewriter.  Finally, with a very fine camel-hair brush, I painted it using a "dark bronze" metallic acrylic paint.  Once dry, I sealed the surface of the entire cover with a matte-finish acrylic spray.

(Yes, I am wearing a turtle neck shirt, a wool shirt, and a jacket.  
Spring in Wisconsin this year was very cold and damp!)

The end result was quite satisfactory and added some real old-fashioned panache to the Post Office Set.  

I'd like to say our wizarding students were dazzled by it but, frankly, they didn't quite know what to make of it!  They were all too young to know what it was or how to use it.  If the event is run again next year, there is some thinking that the Post Office might have a separate actor showing off the wares.

The Wizard's Typewriter, ready for action.

22 September 2011

VIDEO: A Balloonish Tune

 Image source



1. Playfully quaint or fanciful, esp. in an appealing and amusing way.*

* Definition from dictionary.com

17 September 2011

Packages for an Imagined Event: Item 5

One of the Owl Post packages from this Summer's Wizarding Event had a more immediate personal element to it: a photo of the person who was sending it to our student. Or so went the story.

I bought the frame years ago as part of a fictional letter game I had going with a friend.  The image in the frame came with it and I never removed it.  All this time it's been sitting in a box of art supplies.  When I was invited to be part of the event crew and was going through my stash, I thought it would be a good starting point for a package that one of our girl-child students would receive.


The package was smallish, measuring about 5.5 x 4 x 3 inches. It was a "local delivery" ~ that is, from a current student who was a year or two on in her magical studies. So the stamps were cancelled using the special logo stamp I'd designed for the event's own Post Office. (The larger image on the side of the packet was the same design made into a 2.5 inch stamp.) But that doesn't explain why all the postage stamps are from Italy! (Wonder if she noticed!)  It was double-tied with cotton string and a metallic gold thread.

This package required little making; it was mostly a matter of combining the right items with each other and finding a box that matched the spirit of things.

The contents for this item were two small brass pots (Goodwill finds), a sliced cross-section of a sea shell (from my stash of artsy artifacts), and the aforementioned photograph.  The wooden box they were packed in was from some fancy tea I'd gotten about 10 years ago.  The lettering on the outside was a metallic gold which stood out nicely against the matte black background paint.

I typed the letter on a inside of a sheet of pretty pale blue scrapbook paper using one of the portable typewriters I own.  (Since I don't have "pretty pale blue" white out, I had to be especially careful not to make any typos - a bit of a challenge as I was composing the letter as I typed: winging it, as it were.)

Text of the letter:
New Student Orientation Day
23 July 2011

Dear M----,

I hope the enclosed will be of help as you begin your studies at N-----.  Well, some of the items anyway. (The picture is one my mother took of me with her Muggle camera.  It was MY first day then!)

The two little pots will come in handy if you take Professor W------'s potions class.  Probably not on the first day, but later on in the term she will do some work with what she calls "activated" liquids.  These little pots are what you need for that!

The sea shell is just a little Good Luck gift.  The person who wrote one of my First Day Welcome Letters gave me one like it and I always appreciated that kind thought.

Good luck with your classes -- and have lots of fun!

Yours very truly,

C------ G.  G-----------
House D----

This letter was folded, showing the postal-themed images of the scrapbook paper's top side,  and placed inside the box on top of the gifts.  

Because I was concerned that the box might pop open when the young lady opened it, I tied a strand of cotton kitchen twine around it to hold it closed. 

I didn't get to see this package being opened, so I don't know what its recipient thought.  But I rather like the idea that of all the students who got packages that day, she is the only one who got to see who sent hers.


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The posts describing these imaginary postal packages can be found grouped here under the tag faux package

13 September 2011

More Funnies, I Think

I have a sense of humor that leans in the direction of the absurd, the whimsical, the odd, and the verbally clever.  Strange imagery of the discombobulated nature also works for me.  But what appeals to me may not appeal to others.  Here is work by a  few more off the wall types.

Hyperbole and a Half

Allie Brosh is the lovely, sweetly, fiercely makerly mind behind the cartoony-storytelling blog Hyperbole and a Half.  Her drawings are whacked out and spot on; her stories so fey; and her writing a kind of akimbo window into a universe so delightfully strange.

S. Harris

I've been enjoying Mr. Harris' work for years.  His love for science combined with an intense sense of whimsy makes me fall in love with science all over again every time.

Also cool is the website Cotton Expressions, Ltd (purveyors of the "world's most extraordinary science t-shirts").  Here's some text from their About Us page:
"We're scientists, astronomers, artists, craftsman, and naturalists—and occasionally, we're comedians. But most importantly, we're a close-knit team of people committed to creating superior-quality imprinted apparel with stunning designs you won't find anywhere else on the planet.

Launched in 1981 by Matthew B. Alschuler (President), Cotton Expressions has successfully served world-renowned museums, planetariums, scientific and astronomical societies, and a variety of retail outlets for 29 years.

Whether it's science humor, endangered wildlife, the periodic table of the elements, or something completely different (a glow-in-the-dark star chart, perhaps?), Cotton Expressions has the cutting-edge t-shirt and sweatshirt designs you're looking for. Remarkable, new designs are leaping off our presses all the time!

Dresden Codak - Aaron Diaz

I am still getting my mind around the web comics of Aaron Diaz - always the fate of a latecomer to an artist's work.  But the t-shirts he has for sale at TopatoCo never fail to crack me up.


09 September 2011

Can Duran Duran Can?

Ah, September . . . time for canning.  "Putting up" my grandmother used to call it. But I doubt Little Grandma ever put up her garden largesse with the radio blasting out 1970s and 80s oldies!  Oh yeah! Boogie time!

This year the tomatoes at our local pick-your-own were a bit pricier than last year's; no doubt due to our uneven summer weather.  So instead of 2 bushels, we got only 1.5.  

The .5 bushel's worth were some larger, more beat up 'maters.'  
Those will be made into salsa and spaghetti sauce and frozen later this week.  

This afternoon, though, the bushel of Romans will be canned straight off.  I am using the excellently clear directions of Marisa McClellan, of the enthusiastic and elegantly and well-produced Food in Jars blog

Miz. McCllellan
[from her About Food in Jars page]

Here is a photo diary of the day.  What you don't get to see is me dancing around the kitchen while I was working.  Perhaps that is just as well!

Setting Up

Coring and cleaning off any bruised areas.

Ready to be quick-boiled to loosen the skins.

Into the boilings my precious!

Cold water bath to aid in skin removal.

Meanwhile, jars are being sterilized.

Filling the jars.

On to boil for the required time.

Ah, the happy results!

05 September 2011

VIDEO: A Love Song to Iceland

No commentary today - this is just a lovely thing.  Wishing I could view it on a wall-sized screen.

01 September 2011

Packages for an Imagined Event: Item 4

When the Summer Wizarding Event actor who planned to play the Post Delivery Person was unable to do so, I volunteered to fill in. Thus I found myself in the wonderful position of being able to see the children open the packages I'd spent so many weeks creating. But being in character -- I was a Pony Express Rider in full Western-y get up (sans horse, who was reported to be "out back getting her oats and water from the School's Groundskeeper") -- and handing out packages to 19 very excited kids, meant I only saw a few of the items actually being opened.

So I feel especially happy to have seen this particular package opened by a quiet young fellow. I didn't know him, of course, but in creating the gift package I imagined a boy with hopes and dreams of being a wizard. Little did I know how well I imagined!

This box was on the larger size, measuring about 8.5 x 8.5 inches. This gave me a little more space to play with the postal markings.

The two brown Oriental images on the top left are "chops." A chop is the colloquial term for a seal, often carved into a soft stone, used as a stamp in place of a person's signature in personal documents, formal paperwork, legal contracts, art works or drawings, or any item requiring the designation of of the author. In this case, the chops are those of my Beloved Spousal Unit and myself! (My sister Cee had them made for us some years back when she was studying in China.)

The postage stamps are from different countries, selected simply for their colors and the fact that all had faces in profile as their image. They were already postmarked, so I added the round Barcelona marking from my personal collection. In this case, the stamp was one I'd designed in the mid 1990s for the original Dante's Wardrobe, a mail order rubber stamp company I owned then.

This was the cover of my mail order catalog.

And to make it look like it passed through Customs, I used some business correspondence stamps I found at Office Depot, and scrawled the signature for the imagined Customs Official.

This image is from Rubberstamps Now.

As for the contents . . . each gift package began with a single item.  I would sit with it for a little bit and imagine the context for the rest of the gift.  And there were goals for each package (as mentioned in the Package 1 post).  The central item for this package was a small, copper cauldron, about 4 inches across, with a 3-strand, brass hanging chain.  I found it at Goodwill for 99 cents.  

I had earlier found an odd, large-ish, 'furry' black box with indentations inside for some sort of roundish objects.  A cool aspect to this box was the gold-colored closings.

This made me think of a possibly geeky kind of upper level student who had a little treasure box of tools he or she might have used when doing wizardy homework assignments.  I looked in my stash of found, donated, and bought items to see if I could expand the idea a bit.  Fortunately, I had the perfect extra items: an old slide rule and a metal drawing compass.

The letter that accompanied this package came together quickly, given my idea about its imagined former owner.  I made the old-looking paper by printing a parchment graphic image on both sides of sheet of off-white card stock paper which I then "trimmed" by tearing off the edges by hand carefully all around. The image was one I'd found via Google Images (under the search phrase old parchment paper). I aged the color of paper a bit by tweaking its color and contrast using the Picture Tools function of Microsoft Word.

Text of the Letter:
Summer 2011

Dear M--,

A bunch of us current and former N------ students are sending out the traditional "Welcome First Years" letters.  I wanted to send a little something along with my letter.

When I started at N------ I had a hard time finding a small cauldron - not for class (Prof. W------ and Prof. E------- prefer the large size.) but for doing my homework. Well, now I don't need it anymore & so I cleaned it up (with a good metallurgy spell!) and decided to send it to a new student when I had the chance.

Hope you can use it!  The slide rule and compass came in handy when I took Prof. T---------'s 3rd year class in "Muggle Measurement Methods."  If you don't take the class, you can pass 'em on if you want.

Good luck at N------!

G----- K. M------
House G-----, 2000

As I mentioned, I got to see the young man who received this package actually open it.  The students were all sitting along the wall of two adjoining rooms, eating their lunches, when my Pony Express Rider self made her entrance.  The boy was sort of tucked away in a corner.  It was still early in the day and the kids were still getting to know each other.  He seemed a little shy perhaps.  

I called out his name and managed to mispronounce it!  He corrected me, politely, then sat down to open his package.  I was standing close by handing out other packages when I happened to look down just as he opened the black box.  He carefully raised the cauldron by its chains and half whispered/half spoke to himself: "A cauldron!"  Then he shouted out to the group excitedly, "I got a cauldron!!"

Later in the evening, when I made another visit (in my character as the Editor of the monthly newspaper I'd been creating for them over the past 5 months), I saw him again at the end-of-day party.  He had the box clutched closely to his chest as he ran around.  Several weeks later still , when going through some pics our event photographer sent me for the final issue of the newspaper, I saw 2 of him in one of his "wizarding classes."  In both, he was actually using the cauldron, and had the black box nearby. What a delight to know this particular gift matched its recipient so well!

* * * * * * * * * * *

The posts describing these imaginary postal packages can be found grouped here under the tag faux package
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