Shallow Thoughts : tags : art
Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.
Sat, 27 Feb 2016
I'm learning to weld metal junk into art!
I've wanted to learn to weld since I was a teen-ager at an LAAS star
party, lusting after somebody's beautiful homebuilt 10" telescope
on a compact metal fork mount.
But building something like that was utterly out of reach for a
high school kid.
(This was before
showed the world how to build excellent alt-azimuth mounts
out of wood and cheap materials ... or at least before Dobsonians
made it to my corner of LA.)
Later the welding bug cropped up again as I worked on modified
suspension designs for my X1/9 autocross car, or fiddled with bicycles,
or built telescopes. But it still seemed out of reach, too expensive
and I had no idea how to get started, so I always found some other way
of doing what I needed.
But recently I had the good fortune to hook up with Los
Alamos's two excellent metal sculptors,
Trujillo and Richard Swenson. Mr. Trujillo was kind enough to
offer to mentor me and let me use his equipment to learn to make
sculptures like his. (Richard has also given me some pointers.)
MIG welding is both easier and harder than I expected.
David Trujillo showed me the basics and got me going welding a little
face out of a gear and chain on my very first day. What a fun start!
In a lot of ways, MIG welding is actually easier than soldering. For
one thing, you don't need three or four hands to hold everything
together while also holding the iron and the solder. On the other
hand, the craft of getting a good weld is something that's going to
require a lot more practice.
Setting up a home workshop
I knew I wanted my own welder, so I could work at home on my own
schedule without needing to pester my long-suffering mentors. I bought
a MIG welder and a bottle of gas (and, of course, safety equipment
like a helmet, leather apron and gloves), plus a small welding table.
But then I found that was only the beginning.
Before you can weld a piece of steel you have to clean it. Rust, dirt,
paint, oil and anti-rust coatings all get in the way of making a good weld.
David and Richard use a sandblasting cabinet, but that requires a big
air compressor, making it as big an investment as the welder itself.
At first I thought I could make do with a wire brush wheel on a drill.
But it turned out to be remarkably difficult to hold the drill firmly
enough while brushing a piece of steel -- that works for small areas
but not for cleaning a large piece or for removing a thick coating
of rust or paint.
A bench grinder worked much better, with a wire brush wheel on one
side for easy cleaning jobs and a regular grinding stone on the other
side for grinding off thick coats of paint or rust. The first bench
grinder I bought at Harbor Freight had a crazy amount of vibration
that made it unusable, and their wire brush wheel didn't center
properly and added to the wobble problem. I returned both, and bought
a Ryobi from Home Depot and a better wire brush wheel from the local
Metzger's Hardware. The Ryobi has a lot of vibration too, but not so
much that I can't use it, and it does a great job of getting rust and
Then I had to find a place to put the equipment. I tried a couple of
different spots before finally settling on the garage. Pro tip:
welding on a south-facing patio doesn't work: sunlight glints off the
metal and makes the auto-darkening helmet flash frenetically, and any
breeze from the south disrupts everything. And it's hard to get
motivated to out outside and weld when it's snowing. The garage is
working well, though it's a little cramped and I have to move the
Miata out whenever I want to weld if I don't want to risk my baby's
nice paint job to welding fumes. I can live with that for now.
All told, it was over a month after I bought the welder before I could
make any progress on welding. But I'm having fun now. Finding good
junk to use as raw materials is turning out to be challenging, but
with the junk I've collected so far I've made some pieces I'm pretty
happy with, I'm learning, and my welds are getting better all the time.
Earlier this week I made a goony bird out of a grease gun.
Yesterday I picked up some chairs, a lawnmower and an old
exercise bike from a friend, and just came in from disassembling them.
I think I see some roadrunner, cow, and triceratops parts in there.
Photos of everything I've made so far:
[ 14:02 Feb 27, 2016
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Thu, 16 Apr 2015
I've always loved small-town newspapers. Now I have one as a local
paper (though more often, I read the online
Los Alamos Daily Post.
The front page of the Los Alamos Monitor yesterday particularly
caught my eye:
I'm not sure how they decide when to include national news along with
the local news; often there are no national stories, but yesterday I
guess this story was important enough to make the cut. And judging by
font sizes, it was considered more important than the high school
debate team's bake sale, but of the same importance as the Youth
Leadership group's day for kids to meet fire and police reps and do
arts and crafts. (Why this is called "Wild Day" is not explained in
Meanwhile, here are a few images from a hike at Bandelier National Monument:
first, a view of the Tyuonyi Pueblo ruins from above (click for a larger
Some petroglyphs on the wall of Alamo Canyon.
We initially called them spirals but they're actually all concentric
circles, plus one handprint.
And finally, a cairn guarding the bottom of Lummis Canyon.
All the cairns along this trail were fairly elaborate and artistic,
but this one was definitely the winner.
[ 14:01 Apr 16, 2015
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Fri, 06 Jun 2014
Santa Fe is a city that prides itself on its art. There are art
galleries everywhere, glossy magazines scattered around town pointing
visitors to the various art galleries and museums.
Why, then, is Santa Fe county public art so bad?
Like this mural near the courthouse. It has it all! It combines
motifs of crucifixions, Indian dancing, Hermaphroditism,
eagles, jaguars, astronomy,
menorahs (or are they power pylons?),
an angel, armed and armored, attempting to stab an unarmed angel,
and a peace dove smashing its head into a baseball.
All in one little mural!
But it's really the highway art north of Santa Fe that I wanted to
talk about today.
Some of it isn't totally awful. The roadrunner and the horned toad are
actually kind of cute, and the rattlesnake isn't too bad.
On the other hand, the rooster and turkey are pretty bad ...
and the rabbit is beyond belief.
As you get farther away from Santa Fe, you get whole overpasses decorated
with names and symbols:
I think of this one near Pojoaque as the "happy dancing shuriken" --
it looks more like a Japanese throwing star, a shuriken, than anything
else, though no doubt it has some deeper meaning to the Pojoaque pueblo people.
But my favorite is the overpass near Cuyamungue.
See those deer in the upper right and left corners?
Here it is in close-up.
We've taken to calling it "the digestive deer".
I can't figure out what this is supposed to tell us about a deer's
alimentary tract. Food goes in ... and then we don't want to dwell on
what happens after that? Is there a lot of foliage near Cuyamungue
that's particularly enticing to deer? A "land of plenty", at least
for deer? Do they then go somewhere else to relieve themselves?
I don't know what it means. But as we drive past the Cuyamungue
digestive deer on the way to Santa Fe ... it's hard to take the city's
airs of being a great center of art and culture entirely seriously.
[ 12:40 Jun 06, 2014
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Wed, 03 Jul 2013
[This a slight revision of my monthly "Shallow Sky" column in the
SJAA Ephemeris newsletter.
Looks like the Ephemeris no longer has an online HTML version,
just the PDF of the whole newsletter,
so I may start reposting my Ephemeris columns here more often.]
Last month I stumbled upon a loony moon book I hadn't seen before, one
that deserves consideration by all lunar observers.
The book is The Moon: Considered as a Planet, a World, and a Satellite
by James Nasmyth, C.E. and James Carpenter, F.R.A.S.
It's subtitled "with twenty-six illustrative plates of lunar objects,
phenomena, and scenery; numerous woodcuts &c." It was written in 1885.
Astronomers may recognize the name Nasmyth: his name is attached to a modified
Cassegrain focus design used in a lot of big observatory telescopes.
Astronomy was just a hobby for him, though; he was primarily a
mechanical engineer. His coauthor, James Carpenter, was an astronomer
at the Royal Greenwich Observatory.
The most interesting thing about their book is the plates illustrating
lunar features. In 1885, photography wasn't far enough along to get
good close-up photos of the moon through a telescope. But Nasmyth and
Carpenter wanted to show something beyond sketches. So they built
highly detailed models of some of the most interesting areas of the
moon, complete with all their mountains, craters and rilles, then
photographed them under the right lighting conditions for interesting
shadows similar to what you'd see when that area was on the terminator.
I loved the idea, since I'd worked on a similar but much less
ambitious project myself. Over a decade ago, before we were married,
Dave North got the idea
to make a 3-D model of the full moon that he could use for the SJAA
astronomy class. I got drafted to help. We started by cutting a 3-foot
disk of wood, on which we drew a carefully measured grid corresponding
to the sections in Rukl's Atlas of the Moon. Then, section by section,
we drew in the major features we wanted to incorporate. Once the
drawing was done, we mixed up some spackle -- some light, and some
with a little black paint in it for the mare areas -- and started
building up relief on top of the features we'd sketched. The project
was a lot of fun, and we use the moon model when giving talks
(otherwise it hangs on the living room wall).
Nasmyth and Carpenter's models cover only small sections of the moon --
Copernicus, Plato, the Apennines -- but in amazing detail. Looking at
their photos really is like looking at the moon at high magnification
on a night of great seeing.
So I had to get the book. Amazon has two versions, a paperback and a
hardcover. I opted for the paperback, which turns out to be scanned
from a library book (there's even a scan of the pocket where the book's
index card goes). Some of the scanning is good, but some of the plates
come out all black. Not very satisfying.
But once I realized that an 1885 book was old enough to be public domain,
I checked the web. I found two versions: one at Archive.org and one on
Google Books. They're scans from two different libraries; the Archive.org
scan is better, but the epub version I downloaded for my ebook reader
has some garbled text and a few key plates, like Clavius, missing.
The Google version is a much worse scan and I couldn't figure out if
they had an epub version. I suspect the hardcover on Amazon is likely
a scan from yet a fourth library.
At the risk of sounding like some crusty old Linux-head, wouldn't it
be nice if these groups could cooperate on making one GOOD version
rather than a bunch of bad ones?
I also discovered that the San Jose library has a copy. A REAL copy,
not a scan.
It gave me a nice excuse to take the glass elevator up
to the 8th floor and take in the view of San Jose.
And once I got it,
I scanned all the
moon sculpture plates myself.
Sadly, like the Archive.org ebook, the San Jose copy is missing Copernicus.
I wonder if vandals are cutting that page out of library copies?
That makes me wince even to think of it, but I know such things happen.
Whichever version you prefer, I'd recommend that lunies get hold of
a copy. It's a great introduction to planetary science, with
very readable discussions of how you measure things like the distance
and size of the moon. It's an even better introduction to lunar
observing: if you merely go through all of their descriptions of
interesting lunar areas and try to observe the features they mention,
you'll have a great start on a lunar observing program that'll keep
you busy for months. For experienced observers, it might give you a
new appreciation of some lunar regions you thought you already knew
well. Not at super-fine levels of detail -- no Alpine Valley rille --
but a lot of good discussion of each area.
Other parts of the book are interesting only from a historical
perspective. The physical nature of lunar features wasn't a settled
issue in 1885, but Nasmyth and Carpenter feel confident that all of
the major features can be explained as volcanism. Lunar craters are
the calderas of enormous volcanoes; mountain ranges are volcanic too,
built up from long cracks in the moon's crust, like the Cascades range
in the Pacific Northwest.
There's a whole chapter on "Cracks and Radiating Streaks", including a
wonderful plate of a glass ball with cracks, caused by deformation,
radiating from a single point. They actually did the experiment: they
filled a glass globe with water and sealed it, then "plunged it into a
warm bath". The cracks that resulted really do look a bit like Tycho's
rays (if you don't look TOO closely: lunar rays actually line up with
the edges of the crater, not the center).
It's fun to read all the arguments that are plausible, well reasoned
-- and dead wrong. The idea that craters are caused by meteorite
impacts apparently hadn't even been suggested at the time.
Anyway, I enjoyed the book and would definitely recommend it. The
plates and observing advice can hold their own against any modern
observing book, and the rest ... is a fun historical note.
Here are some places to get it:
Or, try your local public library -- they might have a real copy!
[ 16:12 Jul 03, 2013
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Thu, 13 Dec 2012
This is one of the creepiest statues I've seen in a park.
A bronze lady has her feet embedded in a green cross, with cut tree
stumps below her.
On the pedestal below her, it says:
HELP SAVE OUR TREES
THE FOREST IS THE MOTHER OF THE RIVERS
A small plaque below that says:
THE AMERICAN GREEN CROSS
GLENDALE CHAPTER No 1
On the wide of the pedestal, it says:
CONSERVE THE FORESTS
PREVENT EROSION —
RENEW SOIL FERTILITY
PERPETUATE THE LUMBER SUPPLY
The title of the work, as given on an even smaller plaque on the
gruond in front of the statue, is "Miss American Green Cross".
Apparently it was created in 1928 by sculptor Frederick Willard Proctor,
for an environmental group (although I don't usually think of "the
lumber supply" being a prime concern of environmental groups).
The statue was first erected at Glendale High School in 1928.
But she suffered some damage and abuse over the next few years,
hit by a car. And then at some point in the early 1930s she
disappeared. No one knew what had happened to her.
She wasn't officially rediscovered until 1954, when some hikers
reported seeing it near the old Brand family cemetery, now part of
Brand Park. She stood there for another three and a half decades, where
she continued to be vandalized, acquiring scratches as well as grafiti,
and eventually losing both arms.
Eventually, in 1990, after some debate over materials and methods, the
city of Glendale restored the statue and moved down the trail to itsmis
current location near Brand Library at the foot of the Brand Park
I've chuckled at this statue for years, whenever I visit Glendale and
hike Brand Park. I still find her trapped legs, crucifixion motif,
and pile of razed stumps creepy. But I must say that her history is a
lot more interesting than I had imagined.
[ 21:04 Dec 13, 2012
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