How To Make Your Pictures Look Like Comic Book / Graphic Novel Art With GIMP ver. 3

As I stated in a previous article, I have been all over the web trying to find a way in which a no-talent-hack, such as myself, could possibly create any semblance of what one could call ‘art.’   As a firm believer in Open Source Software, I wanted to find a way (preferably a good way), to create the comic book/graphic novel look I wanted with my photos.  I wanted to find a fast and easy method of reproducing the same overall end effect.  This is yet another simple formula I use. (see also ver. 1 and ver. 2)

  1. Download GIMP (Windows .exe, and source available on site.  Also available through your Linux package manager.)
  2. Install GIMP (via Windows .exe, per install instructions in the source archive, or via your Linux package manager.)
  3. Choose the photograph you are wanting to use.  It is best to use a high resolution photograph (at least 1024×768, at least 300dpi).  The photograph used in this example (of a Sikh pilgrim at the Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar, India) was 3,008 × 2,000, however it has been scaled down for display purposes.
  4. Auto adjusting the color levels will usually help the overall quality of the end result.  (Colors->Levels->Auto->OK)
    (See previous for illustration of this step)
  5. Duplicate the current layer. (Layer->Duplicate Layer)
    (See previous for illustration of this step)
  6. Apply ‘Edge’ filter to the ‘Background copy’ layer. (Filters->Edge Detect->Edge)
    Filters->Edge-Detect->Edge

    Filters->Edge-Detect->Edge

    You can keep the default settings, as is, in the ‘Edge’ settings dialog window.  You will get the following result.

    Edge Detection Settings

    Edge Detection Settings

    Edge-Detect Result

    Edge-Detect Result

  7. We want the outlines created by the previous process to be dark as opposed to its current light state.  To accomplish this we will invert the colors. (Colors->Invert)
    Colors->Invert

    Colors->Invert

    After the color inversion, you will get the following result.

    Colors->Invert Result

    Colors->Invert Result

  8. At this point in the process the bulk of the preparation is complete.   Although the resulting images are all quite similar, selecting each of the different Layer Modes will produce a varied outcome.  A few examples are shown below.
    Layers Mode = Normal

    Layers Mode = Normal

    Layers Mode = Multiply Result

    Layers Mode = Multiply Result

    Layers Mode = Overlay Result

    Layers Mode = Overlay Result

    Layers Mode = Burn Result

    Layers Mode = Burn Result

    Layers Mode = Soft Light Result

    Layers Mode = Soft Light Result

    Layers Mode = Grain Merge Result

    Layers Mode = Grain Merge Result

    Layers Mode = Darken Only Result

    Layers Mode = Darken Only Result

    Layers Mode = Value Result

    Layers Mode = Value Result

Please leave comments and suggestions for future topics!

Christianity

I ran into a quote that I’d like to share.

“Christianity began as a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
When it went to Athens, it became a philosophy.
When it went to Rome, it became an organization.
When it went to Europe, it became a culture.
When it went to America, it became a business.”

I find this very true indeed. As much as I strive for the ‘personal relationship’ model, I usually end up very close to the ‘philosophy’ model. As far as the organization, culture, and business goes, sour grapes all around. As much as I believe in the philosophy of Christianity, I struggle to functionally have a relationship with Jesus Christ. Our society is filled with sermons, songs, and corny wall plaques that remind us that we should love Jesus, God, and that our relationship should be that of a friend. It’s not so much about the conversation. I don’t struggle with using the King’s English when I pray. I pray with the same accent and slang that I’d use to order a bowl of chili. (As a side note, if you ever find yourself in Springfield, MO, you must eat at Casper’s Chili Parlor. You can thank me later.) I’ve heard people speak of falling in love with Jesus, and I’ve seen folks that I honestly believe had a closer relationship with God than their own parents, siblings, or spouse. I’m just not sure how they got there. Maybe it’s a matter of imagery. I can’t say that I’ve ever fallen in love with another guy. Maybe if all the imagery of Jesus was in the form of a 6’5” Hispanic woman who spoke with a Russian accent I’d have an easier time. In accordance with my trust issues, I have difficulty having a relationship with God in the same way I would find it difficult to carry on a relationship with someone who had died and was no longer tangibly present in my physical life. I wonder who actually had a harder task. The disciples had a physical, tangible man to talk to, hang out with, eat with, walk with. However the consequences of being a “Christian” were a bit more extreme then than they are now. I can’t remember the last time I witnessed a beheading, stoning, crucifixion, or the like. The social consequences of being a “Christian” are now usually little more than mild annoyance. I would surely enjoy having a physical, tangible man to direct all my questions to, preferably over a bowl of Casper’s chili. I guess my struggle is with trying to relate to someone like Superman in the same manner I’d banter with a simple farm boy like Clark Kent. This is an unlimited being that I have trouble comprehending, much less asking to help me with some work around the yard. Yet part of me wonders if I would believe it if this wish were granted. Usually folks who show up on our porch and claim to be God incarnate, here to help us with all the issues that life brings, are met with skepticism and a straitjacket. That said, I continue to work toward this goal, and when asked about my beliefs I choose to say that I’m trying to be a Christian.

I say ‘trying’ because I’m not sure that with all my human faults, I could ever attain or accomplish ‘Christianity.’ I struggle with it daily. Growing up, we used to sing a song, “Ain’t it grand to be a Christian.” Its folksy exemption from the rules of grammar aside, I have problems with its implications. On the surface it implies that by becoming a ‘Christian,’ your days of struggle are erased from existence and you get a ticket to Freeridesville, complete with rainbows, unicorns, and entire groups of people bursting into joyful song and dance through the streets. Perhaps my experience has been, yet again, of the anomalous variety, but in the words of my grandpappy, “Don’t pee down my leg and tell me that it’s raining.” My grandpappy gave me other nuggets of wisdom, usually in reference to what foods, if consumed to excess, would ‘plug your hole,’ but I digress. I’ve found that the harder I work to follow all the ‘rules’ of Christianity, both written and unwritten, the more struggle I get from life. The few times that I’ve strayed from the path have been surprisingly smoother rides. All of this seems to point to my current state of frustration with organized religion and its followers. It sets up its followers for failure, and then when they fail, teaches them to ‘bear false witness’ as to their true experience in life. We are trying to become better Christians, and it’s a rough go. What happened to this kind of simple honesty? Drop the ‘Holier than thou’ persona. Side note, per (through) + sona (sound) comes from the mask that was worn on stage in the early days, as the sound of their voice was amplified by the megaphone-like mouth hole in the mask. Second side note, the words parson and person also comes from this root, a mask. Funny, or is it?

Trying to be a Christian. Why? I’m sure everyone could give a different answer here, but in light of my rant on honesty, my answer isn’t a pretty one. I’ve been told all my life that I should love God. I want to love God. Why? Fear. Fear stemming from the fact that I do believe everything that the Bible has to say, not just the feel good quotes printed on our bookmarks and greeting cards. Fear that I may not be enlightened enough to understand the true interpretation of scripture. Fear of eternal punishment. Fear of not becoming that which I was born to become. That said, is this a ‘good enough’ reason? Not sure. It’s kind of like saying that I know I’m selfish and prideful. I know that I should not be selfish and prideful. I want to be less selfish and prideful. Why? Because I would, as a selfish and prideful person, feel more proud of, and love myself more if I were able to accomplish it. You see my point.

As one who has a hard time maintaining a personal relationship with God, I tend to lean toward learning about God. One becomes interesting by becoming interested, and such. Similar to the way one might check up on a girl before asking her out, I find myself studying religious texts and listening to teachers. As I am quite confident that I could never know enough, let alone too much about God, I don’t worry about knowing so much that I won’t have anything to talk about, should the opportunity present itself. This reminds me of time I spent with a Zen master. I asked if he could teach me about Zen, he declined and said there was nothing to teach or learn. He offered a cup of tea, I accepted but did not drink as it was still hot. While letting it cool, I asked again if he would be willing to share his perspective on life with me. He proceeded to take the tea pot and pour more tea into my cup. Slowly he poured and allowed the cup to overflow onto the saucer and then the table and then the floor. I was confused by what had just happened and looked at the guru for explanation. He said, like the cup, I was already full of my own ideas about what Zen was, and therefore any new ideas he would offer would simply overflow and go to waste. I would first have to empty my cup so as to prepare myself for the new perspective he would share. Sometimes I wonder if in my search to know about God, I sabotage my opportunity to know God.

Happy Birthday Summer!

Just a quick Happy Birthday wish to my baby sister Summer!

Hope you have a fun day!

Love Ya!

~matt

Sister Science

I’ve mentioned my sister, Summer, previously. My sister is an extremely driven, headstrong, stubborn, as well as beautiful, intelligent, and talented woman. That said, word puns and sarcasm aside, this episode will not demonstrate any of those qualities. This was not an isolated incident, mind you, but one of my most cherished memories of her failure to use common sense. Others include our childhood fascination with jumping off stuff, over some stuff, and landing on yet another form of stuff. Specifically for this story, off a tall chest of drawers, over a pile of toys, onto a steel framed trundle bed. Needless to say the “off” and “over” portions of this feat went as planned, however the “on” portion failed horribly. This was noted by my mistaking the sound of our neighborhood church clock tower telling me it is one o’clock, with the result of her failure to complete the “on” portion of the aforementioned feat. Noticing that it was much too dark to be one o’clock, and the subsequent screaming noise coming from the vicinity of the foot of the steel framed trundle bed as opposed to the normal giggling noise that came from the springy mattress area of said bed, together clued me in. I digress.

Back to the original story and the laws of motion that it so adequately demonstrates. In alignment with the previously mentioned episode, this one is also an “off, over, on” style episode. In this case it was off of the same tall chest of drawers, into a cartwheel formation, over and across a wooden framed bed, and finally placing the small space between the eyes on the corner of a cassette tape case. This feat completed all three phases with astounding precision, however this was not the feat intentioned. The basic idea was to use the tall chest of drawers to gain enough momentum to carry the cartwheel formation all the way across the wooden framed bed and then stop. That last part of the plan became slightly augmented into the final result, namely due to a lack of adequate calculation of momentum. This resulted in a rather large and quickly flowing quantity of blood to find its way out of a perfectly inverse pyramid shaped hole in her head. Which triggered a minor aneurysm in my brain as I began to imagine the reasons that this would be deemed my fault, and the subsequent punishment that would result, parallel to the thought that my baby sister was in all likelihood going to die in my floor. I immediately picked her up, blood pulsing out of her forehead, down her face, and onto us both. I ran screaming bloody murder, which I found astonishingly accurate, for our parents to come solve this problem.

Needless to say, they snatched her up and we all went, breaking local speed limits and possibly the current land speed record, to the hospital emergency room. Once there time seemed to stand still, I’m guessing due to the long wait to get someone with medical knowledge to actually look at her head. We finally got called into a little room where they cleaned off the blood exposing the rather small indention in between her eyes, small relative to the amount of blood that covered her face. The doctor proceeded to numb the affected area of her forehead by shoving a syringe needle the length of my arm into the gap and reaching presumably a quarter of a inch from exiting the back of her skull. Seeing this disappearing needle trick my father became very white, whiter than normal, approaching clear. I was also shocked by this and was quite literally looking at the back of her head expecting the needle to come poking through at any moment. It didn’t, but I took a seat, just in case. My mother was, as usual, the calm voice of comfort during the whole ordeal.

The hospital folk quickly and effectively stitched the gap in her forehead back together and secured it with a few of those little bandage strips. They gave us all some simple rules to follow during the healing process. Namely restrictions on activity, so as not to blow the stitches out, and instructions on how to keep the affected area sterile. All the paperwork was resolved and we headed down the hallway toward the exit. My sister, possibly in la-la land from the pain medication, proceeded to run joyfully down the hall, in blatant defiance of the ‘restricted activity’ instruction we had just received. This was met with staunch opposition witnessed by my father’s yelling “Stop running dufus!” She was already just inches from breaching an internal set of double doors in the hall. She decided to wait until she was on the other side of the doors before slowing to a walking pace. She was unaware, as were the rest of us, that one of the two doors was locked down, allowing passage through only the one door on the right. This became painfully obvious as both hands hit the pressure bars on their respective doors, while allowing only her right arm and right leg to pass the doorway. Her left arm and leg, along with the bulk of her torso and of course her recently stitched forehead, were not allowed passage and therefore proceeded to ricochet off the left door, finding a resting place on the floor a couple feet back from the doorway. This led to a gentle cartoon character style shake of her head, more yelling from my father, and my inability to stop laughing. Fortunately the stitches held, and she wasn’t hurt further by this encounter with the door or our father.

Let me run you through the basic scientific lessons we’ve learned, and we’ll stick to the second episode for clarity and consistency. Sir Isaac Newton compiled three physical laws that form the basis for what is known as classical mechanics. First, a body at rest remains at rest and a body in linear motion remains in motion with constant velocity until and unless an external force is applied on it. This was evidenced by the continuation of motion of my sister’s head past the bed and onto the corner of the cassette tape case, as mere gravitational pull, and wind resistance were no match for my sisters over enthusiasm and under calculation. Second, force applied on a body is directly proportional to the rate of change of momentum of the body. Had my sister known this, she would have more carefully calculated the force she left the tall chest of drawers with, and the subsequent momentum of her body bypassing its intended target. Lastly, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. That is whenever a first body, namely my sister’s, exerts a force ‘F’ on a second body, namely the stationary door, the second body (door) exerts a force ‘-F’ on the first body (sister). The amount of ‘F’ and ‘-F’ are equal in size and opposite in direction. This means that the door pushed back with equal force and thus equalized the forces for a net gain of 0, landing her on her butt, and me (and her forehead) in stitches, pardon the pun.

consistency

How To Make Your Pictures Look Like Comic Book / Graphic Novel Art With GIMP ver. 2

As I stated in a previous post, I have been all over the web trying to find a way in which a no-talent-hack, such as myself, could possibly create any semblance of what one could call ‘art.’   As a firm believer in Open Source Software, I wanted to find a way (preferably a good way), to create the comic book/graphic novel look I wanted with my photos.  I wanted to find a fast and easy method of reproducing the same overall end effect.  This is another simple formula I use. (see also ver. 1 and ver. 3)

  1. Download GIMP (Windows .exe, and source available on site.  Also available through your Linux package manager.)
  2. Install GIMP (via Windows .exe, per install instructions in the source archive, or via your Linux package manager.)
  3. Choose the photograph you are wanting to use.  It is best to use a high resolution photograph (at least 1024×768, at least 300dpi).  The photograph used in this example (of Carla Bruni-Sarkozy) was 2,592 × 3,888, however it has been scaled down for display purposes.
  4. Auto adjusting the color levels will usually help the overall quality of the end result.  (Colors->Levels->Auto->OK)
    (See previous for illustration of this step)
  5. Duplicate the current layer. (Layer->Duplicate Layer)
    Layer->Duplicate Layer

    Layer->Duplicate Layer

    Layers Pallate

    Layers Pallate

  6. Apply ‘Threshold’ to the ‘Background copy’ layer. (Colors->Threshold)
    Colors->Threshold

    Colors->Threshold

    Threshold->Auto->OK

    Threshold->Auto->OK

  7. At this point in the process the bulk of the preparation is complete.   Although the resulting images are all quite similar, selecting each of the different Layer Modes will produce a varied outcome.  A few examples are shown below.
    Layers Mode = Normal

    Layers Mode = Normal

    Layers Mode = Normal Result

    Layers Mode = Normal Result

    Layers Mode = Multiply Result

    Layers Mode = Multiply Result

    Layers Mode = Overlay Result

    Layers Mode = Overlay Result

    Layers Mode = Soft Light Result

    Layers Mode = Soft Light Result

    Layers Mode = Grain Merge Result

    Layers Mode = Grain Merge Result

    Layers Mode = Darken Only Result

    Layers Mode = Darken Only Result

    Layers Mode = Burn Result

    Layers Mode = Burn Result

    Layers Mode = Value Result

    Layers Mode = Value Result

Please leave comments and suggestions for future topics!

How To Make Your Pictures Look Like Comic Book / Graphic Novel Art With GIMP

I have been all over the web trying to find a way in which a no-talent-hack, such as myself, could possibly create any semblance of what one could call ‘art.’  I found this article, which gave me hope.  (I highly recommend you read it as it will show all kinds of different methods of achieving various forms of comic art.)  However, they all reference the popular (and rightly so) Adobe Photoshop tool.  As a firm believer in Open Source Software, I primarily use Ubuntu Linux as my OS.  Not Windows, Not Mac.  This creates a bit of a dilemma in trying to follow a step-by-step Photoshop tutorial, when you can’t natively run Photoshop.  Sure there are great options out there, like using PlayOnLinux to run Photoshop in the Wine environment, or even using GIMPshop.  But being the purist that I am, I wanted to find a way (preferably a good way), to create the comic book/graphic novel look I wanted with my photos.  I wanted to find a fast and easy method of reproducing the same overall end effect.  This is the first simple formula I used.  (see also ver. 2 and ver. 3)

  1. Download GIMP (Windows .exe, and source available on site.  Also available through your Linux package manager.)
  2. Install GIMP (via Windows .exe, per install instructions in the source archive, or via your Linux package manager.)
  3. Choose the photograph you are wanting to use.  It is best to use a high resolution photograph (at least 1024×768, at least 300dpi).  The photograph used in this example (of our two new puppies Sophia & Isabella) was 3648×2736, however it has been scaled down for display purposes.
  4. Auto adjusting the color levels will usually help the overall quality of the end result.  (Colors->Levels->Auto->OK)
    Colors->Levels

    Colors->Levels

    Levels->Auto->OK

    Levels->Auto->OK

  5. Apply the ‘Oilify’ filter to smear the colors of the image a bit.  (Filters->Artistic->Oilify)
    Filters->Artistic->Oilify

    Filters->Artistic->Oilify

    Start with the default settings (Mask size:8, Exponent:8, Use intensity algorithm:Y), and adjust the Mask size to fit your preference.  Typically the more intricate details there are in the photograph (like blades of grass, fur, hair,  etc.), the lower you will want the Mask size.  If you have a close up photograph of a human face, for example, you will want to push the Mask size upward toward 25 at most.

    Oilify Settings

    Oilify Settings

  6. Apply the ‘Cartoon’ filter to enhance the edges of the items in your photo. (Filters->Artistic->Cartoon)
    Filters->Artistic->Cartoon

    Filters->Artistic->Cartoon

    Depending on the detail you wish to highlight in your photograph, you can play with these settings.  For the example, settings of Mask radius:50.00 and Percent black:0.500 were used.

    Cartoon Settings

    Cartoon Settings

  7. That’s it! Done!

    Sophia & Bella Result

    Sophie & Bella Result

Please leave comments and suggestions for future topics!

Health Care

It amazes me how matters of belief can arise from such seemingly random discussions. This particular example began with a passing comment on my not subscribing to health insurance. I find the insurance industry just a legal form of gambling. Let me describe a scenario, and you tell me if this is an insurance company or a casino. You walk into a nicely furnished building, filled with very well dressed employees. One of these employees, names an item, any item, a house, a car, even a human being. For this example we’ll say a new car. The employee then asks you to wager with them on the probability that this item will remain in its current condition for a set amount of time. They write this wager down on a piece of paper that you both sign. Now in our example, let’s say this car comes into seemingly random or accidental contact with another item. For the sake of this example there are no limitations on whether this car or the other item are stationary or in motion, animate or inanimate, etc. If in this act of contact our car or the other item is damaged, the house loses and must pay for all damages, however the house gets to keep your original bet amount. If a month goes by with no random or accidental damages to the item, the house wins and gets to keep your original bet amount. The amazing thing is, people are making these wagers every day, sometimes placing their bets up to a year in advance!

Like they say, the house always wins, and the only way to beat the house is not to bet at all. This is why I don’t have health insurance. Other than my initial entry into this experience of life, and an incident involving a now obsolete type of curtain rod and a human eye, I haven’t been to a doctor for medical treatment in my 33 years of life. I have visited a clinic or two to get a physical exam required to play sports in school. However judged by my overall lack of anything resembling achievement in any athletic arena, as witnessed by friends and family, and confirmed by the shouted comments of my father during said athletic events, these could have been avoided with no real effect on the overall outcome. So far, my gamble has paid off. I have beat the house by not betting against it. This seems to frustrate some people for various reasons. In my specific case, my dad’s younger sister Cindy, and her daughter, Laura. Both of these women are very versed and entrenched in the medical field as nurse and doctor. I know that they are merely concerned for my physical wellbeing and from their perspective, not betting at all is the bigger gamble. I can understand this perspective, but I don’t share it. This goes back to my overall distrust of everything and everyone, coupled with my personal beliefs about what happens when this experience of life ends.

Folks say to never discuss politics or religion. Well, I’d like to do both. When I was growing up the shift of prejudice moved from the “Blacks” and “Negroes” of my father’s generation to the “Commies” and “Reds” of mine. We were taught that African Americans were to be treated as equals, just like we were to do with any other race, creed, color, etc. Unless they happened to be Communists, specifically of the Russian variety. Then we were to distrust and even be adversarial toward them. This was evidenced in the media and pop culture of the era. All the great action/drama shows and movies contained bad guys who were Russian Communists. I never understood this blatant and obviously flawed hypocrisy. As illogical as it was, piles of people jumped on the anti-Russian, anti-Communist bandwagon. Why? Because that’s what was fed to us throughout grade school, even in grade school classrooms themselves. So if growing up in my generation included a steady diet of pro-American Democracy/anti-Russian Communism propaganda, why wouldn’t growing up in a medical profession be any different? Of course the medical field, who is largely funded by the insurance and drug companies, would indoctrinate their own people to distrust and even be adversarial toward those who see things differently. I’m not saying this is true in my specific discussion with my aunt and cousin, but the logic tracks.

Don’t think for a minute that hypocrisy escapes the realm of religion. For a planet of people who largely believe in some form of positive afterlife experience, we sure don’t like the idea of dying. I can’t count how many hymns I heard growing up about how great heaven is, and how we can’t wait to get there. However I don’t see folks lining up for tickets on this flight into the great beyond. What does this have to do with health insurance? Bear with me. Speaking of flight, have you ever taken a gander at the seat back pocket safety card on a commercial airline? I have, and I questioned why, upon the event of a crash, presumably back down to earth, a person would want to take the position indicated on this card. After a little research, I found that any person seeking to avoid this earthly flight becoming the flight into the great beyond, would not want to take this position. Why? Because it will more effectively kill you than save you. Why would an airline want to promote such a thing? Surely not because it is cheaper for the airline to pay a one time lump sum for your death as opposed to a continually growing sum of money to treat any resulting medical conditions for the rest of your life. It all comes down to financial efficiency.

Call me morbid, but I see some sense in this, thus my lack of support for health insurance. Still lost? I’ll continue. I feel that betting against the health insurance “house” is a poor financial decision. I chose to bet on my ability to be relatively healthy for the next 33 years of life, if it lasts that long. I feel it much more financially sound to become the house myself. Remember my above illustration of the new car. I as the house name an item, namely my own health and ability to experience life. I wager on the probability this item, health, will remain in its current condition for a set amount of time. I write this wager down on a piece of paper that I sign. Now in this example, let’s say this item comes into seemingly random or accidental contact with another item. For the sake of this example there are no limitations on whether this item or the other item are stationary or in motion, animate or inanimate, etc. If in this act of contact my health is damaged, the house loses and must pay for all damages, however the house gets to keep the original bet amount of all the previous years of health and life experience. If a month goes by with no random or accidental damages to the item, the house wins and gets to keep your original bet amount. Let’s say the former happens, I become ill, or broken to an extent that I can’t reasonably afford to fix myself. Enter the airline logic. It would at this point become cheaper to pay a one time only lump sum for my death as opposed to a continually growing sum of money to treat any resulting medical conditions for the rest of my life. It all comes down to financial efficiency, namely for my remaining family members. Especially since this is a fee they will eventually have to pay anyway. As someone who is not afraid of dying based on my beliefs, what is wrong with this outcome? It’s simple and efficient. We get to use all the money that we would have bet against the house, on living better now, I’m no longer a financial burden on my family (other than the cost of burial/cremation, which ever is cheaper at the time), and I’ve enjoyed my time in this experience, and get to move on to the next. Where is the harm in this?

A couple side notes on religion and politics. For those who hold the Bible as their religious text, wasn’t Jesus always asking folks, most notably the disciples, to sell all they had and take the money and use it to benefit the group? Sounds just like American democracy…right? I find it humorous at best that people with a strictly monotheistic belief system hold so dearly to a democratic form of government. What Would Jesus Do? My bet is on a benevolent monarchy whose rule of law is communist at heart. I guess it’s good I’m not a politician.

Female Role Models

Everyone deals with some form of internal struggle. Apart from the universal good vs. evil, I tend to struggle with chaos vs. cosmos. There is of course the theory that even chaos has cosmos, that there is order in disorder. I believe this true. I believe it goes back to a concept of perspective. At one level there are cells in my body constantly battling others in an almost chaotic fashion. But one level up, my overall well being or health or cosmos or order is directly dependent on this lower level battle. Likewise I believe that the battles we all face in life whether they be medical, moral, legal, or emotional, are all necessary for the overall well being or health or cosmos or order of the world around us and perhaps the world above us. My mind constantly strains to make order of disorder, to quantify and qualify all that I experience. Learning how certain components are combined to form this object with that function has fascinated me since childhood. Recognizing a mysterious pattern, and understanding said pattern are two entirely separate processes. I feel that this would be an opportune moment to introduce the topic of women into this discussion.

As I mentioned before, my entrance into this experience called life was not easy on those who were part of it. I can think of no one person more a part of that process than my mother, Brenda. Aside from the obvious physical contribution, my mother was a very large influence on me. She took on the standard role and duties of a mother with seeming ease. What little faith I have in humanity comes from her. She was a living example of faith in God and man. I have yet to achieve that level of faith. She is the ever youthful living embodiments of the Donna Reed generation. Always seeing the good in others, and being the good that others can see in return. My first encounter with artistry was at her hand. She is our family renaissance. Creativity has fallen out of her through vocal cords, guitars, pianos, pencils, paint brushes onto ears, canvas, wood, paper, cake, and the like. All of this while being an inspiration and encouragement to all that come to know her. Her vision for such things I envy.

I have never met anyone more generous than my grandmother, Elnora. She gave me a mother, without which would lead to a very short story for me. Much of what I love about my mother, I see in her. My mother was undoubtedly influenced by her unrivaled faith in God. She gives credit to God for everything she does, everything. Humility is an understatement for her. I learned how to do a lot with a little from her. This is ingrained in her being. No need to buy what you can make or grow yourself. She makes beautiful things with her hands. Whether it was pajamas and quilts or mashed potatoes and gravy, it was hand made to perfection. Following a pattern or recipe is one thing, making it up as you go, and producing quality is another. Apart from this practical creativity, musical creativity is also in her hands. She plays piano and on rare occasions, an accordion. Her humility typically shadows how truly brilliant she is. I am continually inspired to strive for her high set bar.

My father’s mother, Betty, was also an amazing woman. If there were talents of hers that I wish I possessed, and there are, they would be her eye for marketability and her ear for music. For all of my childhood she ran one of the largest and nicest antique shops in town. Anyone can fill a warehouse with a bunch of worthless crap a decade old and call it an antique shop, but it takes a genius to spot and attain only the items today that will be worth something tomorrow. She could sort these diamonds from the rough, attain them for pennies and sell them for hundreds. She acquired a few pianos and organs over time, and played them for me. I enjoyed the byproducts of her talents before I ever gained an appreciation for the talents themselves. I loved seeing all the new stuff in the store, and hearing a new song or two when I’d visit as a child. Only later did I understand that no one else’s grandmother could work this magic. She was a very strong woman who controlled her environment and never let her environment control her. Her fingers made easy work of the jazz piano techniques that she taught me to love. Her mistakes were the diamonds to the rough of my best musical accomplishment.

I couldn’t talk about my female role models without mentioning my little sister, Summer. My sister is a teacher, she works with the other end of the educational spectrum than the one I belong to. She works with gifted children. She is all kinds of craziness wrapped in a tortilla served with a side of salsa. It takes a special breed of person to be an inspiration to the inspiring. It’s amazing how your opinion of a person can change over time. She used to be the most annoying and bossy girl in my life. She sure is a lot less annoying now. As much as the 6 year old in me cringes, I’d have to admit she is one of the most fascinating women I know. Beautiful, intelligent, talented, the whole package. Whereas it is a “miracle” that I lived beyond birth and am able to spell my name, she is the best of both our parents dumped into one bucket. She pushes the limits all day, every day. She accomplishes more in a year than I wish to attempt in the remainder of my lifetime.

Hey Stella!

As a former theater performance major, and child of the 80’s, this little emulation software caught my eye.  I stumbled onto it while digging through some linux repositories one night.  As I read it, I heard Marlon Brando’s voice screaming “Hey Stella!”  For those of you who haven’t seen Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire you’re missing out on one of his best performances.  For those of you who’ve only seen his performance in The Island of Dr. Moreau, rough go.

Stella is my favorite Atari 2600 video game console emulator.  From Stella’s home on the web:

“Stella is a multi-platform Atari 2600 VCS emulator released under the GNU General Public License (GPL). Stella was originally developed for Linux by Bradford W. Mott, however, since its original release several people have joined the development team to port Stella to other operating systems such as AcornOS, AmigaOS, DOS, FreeBSD, IRIX, Linux, OS/2, MacOS, Unix, and Windows.”

There are instructions on how to download, install and use Stella at http://stella.sourceforge.net.  If you’re running a Linux OS, as opposed to Mac OSX or Windows, you’ll find Stella in your distribution’s repositories via your package manager.

Now you have Stella installed…and…Where are all the games?  Never fear, EmuAsylum is here!  This is a great place to download all your favorite Atari 2600 game ROMs (as well as many other arcade, console, computer, etc ROMs), and best of all, this is all FREE!

If you’re like me, you’ll enjoy this little time machine back to your childhood.  I remember the Christmas morning when I awoke to find an Atari 2600 under our family tree.  My dad and I stayed up late several nights in a row playing Pac-Man and Combat, the two games that came with the system.  I managed to amass a quite impressive gallery of games and went through many a joystick over the following few years.  No matter how old these games get, and no matter how incredibly simple the sound and graphics are, they still provide for a challenging gaming experience.  To put this in perspective, all of the mainstream Atari 2600 games made during it’s hay day from the late 1970’s through the late 1980’s will fit on one 3.5″ floppy diskette.  That’s approximately 1kb each.  It’s hard to find one fairly modern game now that doesn’t require at least 1 DVD (4.7GB) worth of space to play.

So let’s run through a few quick steps to get you gaming old school.  (These instructions pertain to the Stella 2.6.1 Linux version, however the Mac OSX and Windows versions are very similar.)

  1. Download and Install Stella via your Linux package manager, or precompiled binary files following the instructions on the Stella site.
  2. Download and save your choice of Atari 2600 game ROMs from the massive repository over at EmuAsylum.  You don’t even need to extract (or unzip) the .zip format files that you download, Stella will read them just fine.  Just find a good place to stash them and remember where you put them.
  3. Open Stella.  This is the screen that will greet you upon your first startup.

    Initial Screen

    Initial Screen

  4. At this point you can either browse to your folder via the file browser in the initial screen, or for a more polished method, setup the path to your ROMs folder via the Options menu.  Click on the ‘Options’ button at the bottom of the ‘Initial Screen’ as below.

    Click on 'Options' button

    Click on 'Options' button

  5. You’ll be taken to the Option Menu.  Choose the ‘Config Files’ option.

    Choose 'Config Files' option

    Choose 'Config Files' option

  6. You’ll see the Config Files menu.  At this point you can either type the path to the location where you saved your ROMs into the text box to the right of the ‘Rom path:’ button, or you can click on the ‘Rom path:’ button itself and browse to the folder location for your saved ROMs.

    Rom path: button

    Rom path: button

  7. Once you have browsed to the folder housing your ROMs, click the ‘Choose’ button.

    Choose button

    Choose button

  8. This will fill in the ‘Rom path:’ text box for you.  Click the ‘OK’ button.

    OK button

    OK button

  9. Now you’re back to the Options menu.  Feel free to take this time to make any custom changes to the Video, Audio, Input, and VI settings.  Once you’re satisfied with your settings, choose the ‘Exit Menu’ button.

    Exit Menu

    Exit Menu

  10. Double click on your game of choice and get your game on!

Pattern

We all have a certain way we approach different tasks in life. I’ve recently come to question my methods and their origins. Why do I do things the way that I do? I tend to have very particular and specific ways to do almost everything that I do. Most stem from a personal desire for organization and efficiency. For my own self catharsis, and your entertainment, I’ll give a few examples. I’m not much of a shopper, especially when it comes to clothes. I find a certain type that I feel comfortable in, make sure it will satisfy any dress codes mandated by my employer, and then buy an identical set of five of each. Tube socks, white crew undershirts, boxers, slacks, jeans, shorts, etc. I do tend to stray slightly when it comes to t-shirts or sweaters. However this is simply a tactic to avoid the appearance that I never change clothes. This allows me to get dressed in a matter of seconds rather than hours. A less practical example would be that any time I encounter numbers in life, I tend to stick to a basic hierarchy. When limited, I’ll choose the even number. As the limits decrease, I’ll lean toward a multiple of 5, or an even number that is also a multiple of 5. This comes in handy when trying to decide on a volume for the radio and the like. A numerical volume of 10 is preferred, however if that is too quiet, I’d raise it to 12, then to 15, then to 18, then to 20, etc. When the opportunity presents itself, I tend to work up the hierarchy in order to choose a number based on its being a prime number, or perhaps a certain (preferably even, multiple of 5, or prime) number of steps from zero along a Fibonacci sequence.

I’ve heard it said that when you truly love something, you see it everywhere you look. If that’s true, I must love patterns, and folks who couldn’t poor water out of a boot if the instructions were on the bottom of the heel. I live in a world of pattern. I see everything as pattern. I live my life by pattern. Patterns as simple as the order in which I wash the various parts of my body in the shower, to the more complicated patterns by which I categorize musical notes by numerical value in order to remember the melody of a song and its harmonies. I try my best to notice and record the patterns around me, in hopes that it may someday serve a purpose.

As one who believes the “everything happens for a reason” philosophy, I tend to question the reason for certain patterns. Although this questioning is usually of no real consequence, it does usually give rise to a chuckle. Have you ever noticed that the ridges on a banana match up to the joints of your thumb and finger when held? Or that Evil’s Agents is an anagram for Evangelists? There are times when I encounter a pattern that I find beautiful. Beauty comes in many forms for me. Sometimes it is the simplicity of a certain pattern that steals my attention. Other times it’s the complex combination of multiple patterns working together to make a quite different pattern. More on these later.

I would also have to state that there are also times when I encounter a pattern that stimulates those other feelings that we’ve discussed, namely disappointment, confusion, anger, and fear. Perhaps these negative feelings stem from holding others to the same standards that I hold myself to. I’m beginning to think that I set the bar too high. Perhaps I’m just becoming jaded with age, but it seems that the older I get, the more I find myself surrounded by blatant laziness, ignorance, and helplessness. The part that really stirs up these negative feelings in me, is the all too common willingness to succumb to these various forms of weakness. I can sympathize with someone who doesn’t have the ability to accomplish a task because of some natural handicap. If you don’t have legs, I don’t expect you to bring home any marathon medals. If your mental ability to learn stopped around age 5, I don’t expect any Nobel prizes for groundbreaking work in theoretical physics. However unnatural handicaps, namely ones that are acronym heavy and common sense light, are a whole different story. As someone with more questions than answers about this whole experience called life, I know that I have not ascended beyond the common issues, problems, troubles, or complications.

My 8 year old son came out of his room one morning, shortly after we had adopted 2 new puppies into our family and home, to say, “Sneeeeeeef! Dad, I think the pups pooped somewhere.” To which I replied, “When you find it, clean it up.” Later that morning while taking him to school, I asked him for an update on the status of the dog poop. He was silent for a moment, then stated, “I didn’t find it, so I didn’t clean it up.” The truth is, he didn’t go looking for it, because finding it would then entail cleaning it up. Who wants to clean up someone else’s poop? Any takers? Didn’t think so. He learned quickly that it is easier to “not notice” problems, because being the one to find the problem means that you’ll probably be the one who has to solve it. I’d like to think that this behavior was only common in children, but I’d be grossly diluted. The scary part is, I look around our world and see several adults developing this behavior pattern. No one wants to help clean up the poop of life, so we just pretend we don’t notice the odor. We can’t have it both ways, yet we like to complain about how much our society has changed, for the worse, in the past 50 years. We all need to lose our fear of work. If something doesn’t smell quite right, we need to hunt down the source, and work together to clean it up.

More frightening than disappointing is the fact that so called “holy” institutions seem to lead the way in enabling or even encouraging such behavior. If memory serves, I recall multiple holy texts containing statements and implications that the “holy” are to set the example for the “unholy.” This isn’t limited to morality, it should encompass every part of life. The “holy” should lead in creativity, artistry, innovation, integrity, work ethic, generosity, humility, health, business, entertainment, sports, and education. I can think of a very few examples when this has ever come to fruition. Irony of ironies is that in most cases, the success of such attempts is hindered by the “holy” community. These communities seem to spend more time arguing among themselves than working together to set the standard for the others to live up to. Rather than remaining traditional and cutting ourselves off from the others, or being a conformist and following the others, these communities need to become transformers. Although this sparks an image of electronic equipment or perhaps robots disguised as vehicles, transforming ourselves and the others around us into a people working together to solve the issues at hand seems like a better option. But who am I to dismantle thousands of years worth of religious bickering.

To recapture a previous thought, there are patterns that I enjoy. There is ironically no set pattern to the patterns that I enjoy, other than to say that I enjoy the patterns that are mysterious. The patterns that I don’t adequately understand. The patterns that I don’t know enough about to discuss simply. Patterns that are larger than my ability to discern. I am constantly humbled by such patterns. These mysterious patterns are the root of inspiration. Art, music, philosophy, science, math, all require inspiration. In this way, the mysterious patterns lead us to form our own patterns.

Imagination can sometimes lead to knowledge. I have seemingly random epiphanies at times, often during mundane or monotonous tasks. Sometimes the breakthrough happens during a morning shower, or while mowing the yard. I find that most times, answers are found by adjusting my perspective. Dialing back the microscope, and perhaps exchanging it for a telescope instead. I find beauty in simplicity. This is where I find God. If I were to ask, how to breathe, could you explain it to me? This is something that we all do, yet can’t adequately explain. This concept fascinates me. It is so simple that we all manage to accomplish it with little to no conscious effort, yet so complicated, it has taken several lifetimes to understand the basic process from start to finish. Most would respond that they just do it. That is simplicity. I suspect God would reply similarly if asked how to create everything from nothing. He would respond that He just did it. That is simplicity. I believe that everything is this simple, if you have the right perspective.

I wonder what perspective it would require to explain simply who I am? I can tell you what I’ve done, how I’ve done it, who was there, and when I did it, yet none of these explain who I am. We can discuss my name, my species, my genealogy, my job, my history, my present, my hope for the future, my appearance, my possessions, my beliefs, yet I can not simply tell you who I am. Who I am seems to be an image or idea or concept. If I am merely an idea or image or concept, could I get wet in the word water? Who or what forms this image or idea or concept? Where is this image or idea or concept? You have an image of me, as do I, however our images are not the same. My image of myself is based in part on what you reveal to me of your image of me. Your image of me is based in part on what I reveal to you of my image of myself. However, neither of us can access the image held by the other directly, only indirectly, only in reflection. Perhaps the reason for this limitation is to protect from reaching another more difficult or even damaging limitation. Imagine a video camera, whose lens could directly access the image it was capturing directly. The image would grow into an infinite replication within a replication of the original image until the ever growing image would become too complex for the camera to capture. Perhaps our limited physiology would not be able to function under the strain of this infinite feedback loop of self image, at which point all other experience would become irrelevant at best, or cease altogether. Who am I? Who is asking?