Sunday, February 28, 2010

Attention all Nerds, America needs you!

We have relied on and trusted in the fruits of our institutionalized way of life. Our leadership in the arts and sciences has dwindled not because of lack of talent, but because we preemptively channel our talented into prescribed narrow views. Then we play up the canned culture as the holy grail of development and civilization.

Meanwhile, off the grid, in the bedrooms, basement workshops, garages and on kitchen tables, folks who diddle and dabble and tinker and toy are having great unacknowledged dreams. They see what's going on and say "I would have done it differently and done it better." Yes, this is the reason there are nerds and geeks.

Over seas folks have been using decommissioned shipping containers as building components for several years. When they started to be converted into homes here, you'd think innovative thinking would be the rule. Basically what I've seen so far is boxes, pretty and pretty ugly boxes. We have called this ultra-modern. I have also seen container homes indistinguishable from the homes that can be seen on any street. Can you folks be more boring? I'm both broke and not an architect but in the open source spirit I'm going to inject some life into this party.

Add some Quonset hut slices to your shipping containers for variety of clear span space, architectural interest, yet concise form. Here are a couple of ideas you can kick around:
 See how the quonsets and the containers compliment each other. The cool thing is that quonsets are wide open space with lots of design possibilities. Steel farm building components should be a no-brainer for us in Ohio, we just don't associate steel buildings with homes, except steel studs and garages. These are designed with a 50 x 150 city lot in mind.

Ah yes, the geodesic is quite respectable on top of a container square, a livable attic with no wasted space. Quick, get your pencil while your mind is racing. All your schooling didn't prepare you for this moment, you had to get it from a guy who knows less than you. You think your rocking now, wait till ideas wake you up in the middle of the night!! And you can thank me later!

Many, many good ideas come to people not able to actuate them, because of lack of education, money, credentials, etc. We are so twisted that we "only" respect the properly trained and grant them honor and privilege and status, even if the only original thought they have is taking a breath.

So, among the vast urban wilderness there are scattered uncultured and uncivilized multi-talented and highly intelligent yet mis-educated people. Who because they have no credentials are deemed less. Hail to the ones who master a single avenue and darned be the jack of all trades who is obviously the master of none. We moved from a milk nation to a beer nation. The cream of milk is worthy, the froth of beer is just bubbles.

And by the way, no Microsoft products were used in making the above artwork.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Nerding, the art and science of it.

The need to nerd comes a couple of ways, an epiphany that requires immediate attention, something dawns on you and weighs on your mind, or you doodle and dabble and it becomes apparent you have a knack for this thing you always gravitate to. Artist usually start like this and if you or others notice they might push you to acquire the science (skills and techniques) in order to apply it all. We call this channeled to get a job. It is good to get paid but the initial calling to art is more transparent than practical. I know because once you get the skills to apply it in specific ways, you strive to bring your unique signature to the forefront.

Consider the Japanese way of training under a master, coping stroke for stroke. Over time you are so related to the spirit of the master, but the twist is that a new flavor emerges, an extension, a going farther. John Coltrane was my jazz hero, his son Ravi can continue on and/or go off in other directions. I hear his father, the father and the son and the son by himself. I listen to other jazz musicians play Coltrane songs, I hear Coltrane's phrasing and I hear the unique expressions of those other jazz musicians also.

Nerding is the process, the obsession, to make the skills and techniques second nature so that they follow you, not you follow them. Maybe you can apply this in other things but artist have been nerding long before the computer. And a lot of us try to have a certain personna to perpetuate and extend the nerding experience. We dress a bit odd or out of step or lack some social graces or drop out of sight for a time. When we emerge we are ahead of our time or behind the time or have no concept of time. I am annoyed at the physical world and people with blank stares and thrilled when folks say, "now that's cool!" I can say, "I nerded and this is the result."

Most of the time we get to do repetitive processes at a job because it serves clients and customers. We don't often do the whole show, just our part. The artist applies nerding to converge all the training, skills, techniques and resources into the project. With every part able to go in any direction, it can be hard to narrow the view down. I say this because I didn't have a master to channel me till I was established. I was exposed to many artist and kinds of art so that I had to feel my way through to discover what I liked and was destined to do. My prejudices are always before me and I am always finding the thing I felt strange about is the thing that describes me. It gets me because I would have done it differently in that same genre. That is the madness that drives the artist. It is like emulating a singer to sound like them and every time you sing it it sounds more like you, yet the original voice is in your head. I can't tell you how many times I was scatting a tune, embellishing it way beyond the original, in the shower, at my computer.

We keep nerding to build machines to play the sounds we hear and paint in the colors we see in our head. In the old days artist would find rich patrons to support them so that they could nerdle unhindered. Most of the time I can nerdle an hour here and there. Once in a while I get so into the nerd realm I have withdrawl symptoms when I surface to do family stuff. "Arno, where you been?" "Please don't ask me to explain, I couldn't tell you in a short sentence."

What do you do in that computer room, you don't play games and your not working a job? I try to get the ideas in my head onto the screen, then realize them in print or sculpture or a building or a..........want ta see?

mr. rno, put down the spatchla, come out the kitchen

Every once in a while I get to cook, like when the wife is dysfunctional or out. Of course I cook what I know and risk only when I have explicit instructions (from the misses).

This brings me to my two pet software peeves, graphics software reviews and wait and see users. 99% of the graphics software reviews are probably read right off the box. I can't tell you how much the lack of real experience keeps you asking the "which is the best graphics app to use?" question rolling in your head. It is frustrating to see site after site quoting the same line. Cut and Paste reviews should be banned!! I think many savvy reporters refuse to type the disclaimer "I am not getting paid for endorsing this product". Wait, what endorsement? This is not about reporting turned into paid advertisement, it's about trying out the stuff and honestly saying cool or not cool or maybe cool. Or maybe reviewers are just slinging names around because if they actually took time to try it, they wouldn't have time to report on it.

Peeve number too, wait and see users, waiting to see what cut and paste reviewers are saying, looking for any new information. I guess the shear volume of cut and pasted reviews means this stuff is popular enough to check out. I'm having a flashback of the cartoon AristoCats, where the mouse has to rally some cats to rescue other cats from the cat napping butler. The mouse was lunch until he said "O'Malley!" 

Us users all know name drop reporting is lacking in substance. We want to tap the keyboard, squeeze the mouse and see what it look like. Then we want the how-to and the play by play, the replay, the man in the computer room.

Wait, the room is quite, he picks up the digital pen and makes his move, the click is barely heard above the PC's hum. On the screen it forms with ease and in his mind the theme from the Airwolf TV show is playing. It's just a box but the feeling of power at the click of the pen. Slide click, slide click, beads of sweat form around the pen, he adjusts his grip, tries to relax, but can't his vision is appearing right before his eyes. The lights blink, it's the washing machine downstairs overloaded but thinks his software's power is responsible. He is immersed, totally and rapturously nerdified. He'll blog later, right now all he can say is "wow man, you should have been there!"   

Friday, February 26, 2010

mr. rno, a little fries wid that ketchup!

You walk into the Linuxville guide office, the aroma of french fries wafts past your nose. It's a new manly sports party scent by Glade, ha ha! Also comes in pizza, chicken wing and nacho scents too.

I am caught up in the Linux graphics applications, mainly because they are free open source programs, but also because they are pretty darn good. GIMP is a wonderful app and the worst thing I heard about it is the multiple windows for tools and the drawing area. Here is how I get around the complaint:

You see the tool windows covering the drawing window. I have it so that if you double click the window heading bars, they roll up like a shade and out of the way, yet still accessible. It looks like this:

The Linux desktop, Gnome in this case, is very flexible. So I want all you die-hard pixel-heads to de-res a little, let the desktop work for you. I hear a single windowed GIMP is in the works, I hope it is better. Some like a static never changing interface. I like options I can set and save. The config file has long been a Linux standard. I am surprised that the GIMP config is not an applet like what Tux Paint has. It would be cool to have several custom configs to change GIMP from a photo mangler to a draw and paint slinger or to match Photoshop or not, at will.

As you can guess, I try to avoid using the mainstream graphics applications that run only on Microsoft, but there are times when a little Wine gets you through the night. I do have a lite version of Photoshop which runs well in Wine. I tell myself that learning the Photoshop interface is a good thing. When and if I turn pro, that is, work at a job that requires Photoshop, I will at least be familiar and may not have to purchase it myself. I don't have to hold my breath though, there is Pixel. Pixel will probably be the Photoshop alternative that runs on Linux. It is not free and it does not require a personal loan to purchase. I have a trial version, it is so cool:

Do the Google search and check it out. I have not used it much yet so I can't speak for it. I think it is OK for Linux to have some applications which you pay for. Many high-end graphics applications that run in Linux are like this, like Maya. Pixel is reasonably priced and compared to Photoshop is cheap.

The real problem is that I can't use them all, get good at them all, hands-on time is required. I divide my time between job hunting, family and nerding. If you can do the time, you'll be fine. I am finding the limitations of using open source software is mostly about others using other things (so-called pro-ware). A lot of vocal folks do not actually spend the time to really use open source. Their bags are packed, why unpack to put it in new bags? The new bag, paper, plastic, rich Corinthian leather, whatever it is worth, you need to go where few dudes or dudettes have gone before, to Linuxville.

Friday, February 19, 2010

mr. rno, you want fries with that?

I've just devised a temporary fix to the XP dilemma, I installed it on a 8gig drive and I also have  a 1.2 gig drive in there. I got XP running but I can't load it up with apps, there's no room. I did put Google's Sketchup 7 on it. I am telling you if you want to model some sculpture, a building, whatever and get a good idea of space relationships, proportion, composition, etc; then Sketchup is "da bomb!" You can stack boxes or detail the heck out of a model. Of course there is a pro version of Sketchup that will let you get all photo-realistic and all. But Sketchup is another one of those apps that runs on Mac and MS but not Linux. It makes me mad! This is why you need two computers, a MS and a Linux , then you can do the Samba to share files and folders on your network and play with platform specific applications and this is why I never get good at anything. Too much fun looking around.

I did look at a Linux app that is similar to Solid Edge, a parametric 3D modelling program. Parametric is another way of saying it is vector in 3 dimensions. So you can draw tiny and scale it up large and not change the proportions. The program is called "FreeCad" and it is still in the early stage of development, yet is workable enough to play with. From the looks of it so far you can make shapes similar to how you can in Sketchup but because it is a drafting app, you have more control to model your part. It has promise because it is based on an engineering platform called Open Cascade. Open Cascade is a fancy high-end engineering drawing engine and library, probably has roots in Unix. In any case, the potential is great, it only needs a sea of users to play with it and give a flood of feedback to the developers. So all you users who wish for Linux engineering software need to step up, be interested in the development cycle.

Another wonderful app is Sweet Home3D, it is open source and Java, so it runs on Mac, MS and Linux. So Sketchup needs to catchup in this respect. This could be the thing to get descent design software on the Linux platform, Java. Gee Google, if you had written Sketchup in Java, then you wouldn't need a Mac version and a MS version or resist my urging for a Linux version. The cool thing about Sweet Home 3D is that it says interior design but it is more that that. I do not think the present documentation says all what you can do here. Parts can be modeled in other softwares and imported in to use in Sweet Home 3D.

Here's my home work assignment to you. The intent is to clear the fog in your 3D adventures. First spreadsheet the names of all the apps you use or are bound to use and then all the formats they can import from and export too. Then notice the symbiont relationships. If it is easier to make stuff in one app and export/import to/from another, this is very cool. If there are conversion apps that convert from one format to another, that also is a plus. Sweet Home 3D has the potential to do a little more than just interior design.

One thing is true, if you want to get good enough to be impressive using graphic software, you have to sacrifice. Somebody goes "hey dude, check out this and check out that", you have got to curve your killer app appetite, dedicate time to getting your chops down on what's before you. There are far too many applications to know them all. It's human nature, once you learn, say Blender, you'll tell everyone the learning curve is not so steep. You spent the time to learn the ways of the force. This is why I get so irked when folks tell me, "you can do that in Blender real easy". Yeah, if you know Blender!! Anyway, Sweet Home 3D will export to Blender if you want photo-real rendering and also to Art of Illusion, another Java app, which has rendering capability. I know, I know, Blender, Art of Illusion, I gotta learn them too!? Yes, you have to, but at your discretion, you may find something more useful for yourself.

This is why there are nerds and geeks. They are a class of people who are not instant know-it-alls with photographic memories and total recall. They manage to cut themselves off from everyday life to immerse themselves into every knook and granny of their chosen fixation. Some find jobs at this stuff, some are so deep they will won't be happy till Ella sings (is it real or Memorex?). Me there is the teleporter and the holodeck and the flux Y capacitor.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

whoa mr. rno, you need help with that.

The furnace is fixed, bad motor bearings, burnt armature, weak capacitor. Good to have friends in the HVAC business, comforting and reasonable. I am experiencing heat with a whisper instead of clank, grind and rumble. One down, the hard drives will have to wait for now.

I was looking at shipping container homes, they are amazing. The shipping container is.......imagine a solid truss (8 ft to 9.6 ft high I beam), it has a top and bottom rail and the corrugated panel between them, then use 4 of them to form a box and seal the ends. This is all Corten steel made to withstand harsh sea travel. If you cut holes for windows and doors or remove a side for a clear span opening you have to add steel to reinforce the rails to return the strength. Welders will be back in vogue, we in Lorain had ship building at one time. They use a plasma torch, ooh! that sounds so high tech. The altered box can be finished in high tech or conventional materials. So you can get the industrial look or the California/Florida look or the homespun Ohio look if you want. What you build doesn't have to be square or cubic and with a little finesse, you can leverage a quite interesting living space even on a 50 x 150 foot city lot. Since the major part of the structure is pre-built, you can spend the rest of the cash on finishing. I would not look for cheaper over all cost but for the same cost a higher quality and more aesthetically appealing space. You could put $200,000 design in a $100,000 house.

Most of the so-called modern home designs I've seen on the net are boxes and flat planes jetting out all over the place. Having a city lot with restricted space and views I am going with the traditional box with a twist. I am opting for a flat roof on which I can perch a quonset or a geodesic. The building codes won't allow a dome home but might stretch for a dome roof. Man! that's what I call an attic!

It is so simple, we have a cargo container square which we can alter any number of ways and the clear span of the dome sitting on the flat roof which can also be altered any number of ways. It looks simple and is basically a hybrid design. Just add a widow's walk railing and a deck on the side which doubles as a carport and hmmmmmm.......The garage would have a similar treatment only a quonset on the roof for a studio. I know the city architectural review board will try to "Colonial-ize" or "Greek temple-ize" this design.

Getting back to designing in Linux, I was looking for 3d models of shipping containers. There are a few if you look hard, but mostly they are for sale. The price is smaller if you are serious about modeling with these structures, freebies are rare, after all it's just a reinforced box. I thought modelers were a strange lot, some model every bolt and weld seam. That's too much detail or too many vectors to crunch moving around a 3d scene or rendering. I am looking for somewhere between photo-realistic and a cartoon. My needs are simple.

The thing is you don't need pro-ware to visualize a concept and nail it down to where an architect can "get it". I'm am using my trusty Gimp and Inkscape for now and am starting to explore Cycas Cad 3D. I am imagining what kind of art can I put in a space like this.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

well mr. rno, there's bad news and good news!

Ah yes, the Linuxville Guide office was caught off guard today. I've been trying to install XP on my second machine. XP can run several graphics programs I want to use for interior design modeling that Linux doesn't have. I kept getting a master boot record error. I tried every tool I had MS and Linux, finally I gave up on XP and proceeded to re-install Linux. The hard drive died along with the fan on the furnace. The two are not related but it made the lost more intense. Oh well, the furnace comes first, I guess. That's the bad news.

The good news is I did discover a gem of a Linux in the process. The Linux I was installing was DreamLinux 3.5. Let me tell you something about Linux distributions, with every new revision usually comes new features and better operation and snappier looks. When I first saw DreamLinux it was cool but clunky compared to what's available now. It uses XFCE desktop just like Xubuntu and it is Debian (Lenny) but not Ubuntu based. Many of the necessary add-ons are included already and the installation methods are tweaked to perfection. DreamLinux will also allow you to re-master a version of itself of your design to a fresh CD or jump drive.

So, the plan is to replace the furnace motor, and get two hard drives for my second PC. One that XP and DreamLinux will share and one for my "home" partition. Did I tell you, DreamLinux asked me during installation if I wanted to designate one drive as my "home" folder, that alone is awesome. This is cool if your operating system or hard drive gets hosed, your personal data is still intact and accessible.

If you are a dreamer like me you have to be careful reality doesn't take you by surprise, you could turn into a DIY person over night. Once you get a project in your head, sleep is hard, eating and dressing is meaningless. Every meal is lunch and a jumpsuit, slippers and bathrobe is business attire. Work on the "project" becomes a seamless reality and when interrupted by practical chores "Mr. Grumpy" emerges. Mr. Grumpy can't discern between a temporary stoppage and a cease and desist order. Mr. Grumpy unless your defusing a bomb, relax.

The tizzy that got me is cargo container homes. As I am a victim of a faulty education system I'm not an architect or a engineer but being who I am, I know great design logic when I see it. Modular construction of Corten steel modules into anything from a bus shelter to a highrise apartment building is really incredible. I am not nuts, I saw videos of Bob Vila explaining the conversion.  What you want to know is what has that got to do with Linux. If you got an idea and you want to nail it down or model it in 3d, you have to have the software to do it. Linux does not have many efficient, easy to learn 3d software packages. Blender is more geared for animation graphics and learning it is a job in itself. You can model in Blender, you just have to be good with Blender. I was looking at architectural cad. Why? Because when a software is targeted for a particular process, the intended audience wants features and work flows that make their job easier. I found two, Octree and Cycas Cad. I think Cycas Cad is more what I want.

Please don't tell me to try MS stuff in Wine, most of the plentiful MS platform software for this type of 3d work is poorly written. They have poor quality graphics, are resource pigs, run way too slow as a virtual machine and are not free. Cycas Cad has a Public version which is free, a Student version and a Professional version, the cost are very reasonable.

But in the wild, AutoCad is the standard and this one and that one that all runs on MS. Most Linux engineering software is top shelf and pricey for an individual. The problem with open source and low cost applications in Linux is that people want to make money with them but don't want to develop them, time is money. If you want to have Linuxware in your budget bracket, you must help by using them. Via the user base is how things get done in Linuxville. GIMP would not be what it is if it didn't have a user base. The user base gives the developers feedback and adds useful stuff like tutorials, models, scripts, documentation, etc.
It is easier for folks to be fanatic about Blender, man if I could do Avatar movie like graphics! The professional architectural and engineering folks usually don't have time to play. Hey, we value our play time highly and digital entertainments overshadows more serious pursuits and for many is a lucrative market.

For any generation who threatens to change the world by viewing it differently, you have to contend with pre-existing conditions. In the built environment I always say what we call a house has to change. Not a problem if you live outside the city, the further out, the freer. In the city, it's block after block of the same box with a pitched roof. People who think differently move out, people who give in move in. Changing the physical world of our practical living takes guts, cash  and often a change in the building codes and zoning laws. Then how many architects are willing to take on a single city-home makeover?

It's all about tools, and digital tools you have access to. And it's about ideas that paid professionals don't get. Chew on this, one time we all lived in the one room shack, cabin, tent. We did everything in the one space or outside. Today we have designated rooms for eating, lounging and personal space. The family lives in a cluster of personal spaces with common spaces. We want to each fight for our personal space vs the common space. The common spaces are filled with family distracting entertainments and the personal spaces are self isolation chambers.
If a family were to buy a tenement building with shared kitchen and bath, it would be the same as any typical home. I guess it is the values we have that drive the physical changes in our environment. So what could you design in a home to enhance the family quality and preserve personal development. Now project these values to the house structure, yard, block, community, city, county, etc; etc.

We, especially in Ohio don't live so well with new design. We like our antiques and retro-styles and are subject to fashion and trend buying than good solid timeless design. Our lives are so hurried, we buy what meets the need at the time. I drive past so many homes where the garages are filled with stuff, we are a messy lot, aren't we? Design and Linux, still a work in progress, we'll just have to keep plugging away at it.