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To see and observe

I’m the first to admit that blogging has been light around here; just the complexities of real life intruding.

I have been doing a lot of drawing lately and have noticed something interesting. Much of drawing (or any kind of representational artwork) isn’t about technical skill (say, the ability to draw ovoids), it’s about observing. It’s about really understanding what you are looking at or what’s in your head. I was working on drawing a dragon’s head recently and I referred to some picture of lizards to aid me. I started to become conscious of the peculiarities of how lizards are constructed. They really are rather birdlike in their skull shape. In some cases the scales around their jowls are bigger that those around the tip of the nose. I’ve seen this for years but have not been really aware of it. (As Sherlock Holmes once told Watson, “You see but you do not observe.”)

I was drawing the neighbor’s house yesterday and had a similar epiphany. I realized that what I take to be their front door opens into some kind of enclosed yard, not their foyer as I had presumed. Of course I’ve stared at this house for years without realizing this.

It makes one aware of how much we miss when looking at the world.

Why do we draw?

I’ve mentioned that I’ve been getting back into my childhood pastime of drawing comic style art. Musing on this prompted the question: why do we draw? By this I mean: what is the subconscious motivation to spend hours penciling and inking away at various pieces of fantastic and mundane imagery?

It’s an impossible question to answer, but I feel on some level that we feel we take ownership of what we draw. If I draw a fast sports car—as teen boys have done on algebra books for years—I, in some weird way, own that car. If I draw a fantastic spaceship, I again own it. And if I draw a beautiful, buxom woman, I own her as well, even if I am an overweight, pimply dork, as most comic artists are. (To be clear: I am not an overweight, pimply dork. I am quite beautiful.)

I suppose it’s similar to why we write fiction. Most humans have little control over their lives—they can lose their jobs, lovers, friends in an instant. Their economic fortunes are dictated by impossible to understand market forces and governmental whims. They are lost in a violent sea. But they can write; they can create their own worlds and people and control them. That provides at least some small sense of autonomy.

The crimes of animals

I recently came across discussion of the fact that, in medieval times, animals were often put on trial for various crimes. This web page describes such occurrences in detail and includes this delightfully grisly anecdote.

Such was the case on June 14, 1494, when a pig was arrested for having “strangled and defaced a young child in its cradle, the son of Jehan Lenfant, a cowherd on the fee-farm of Clermont, and of Gillon his wife.” During the trial, several witnesses explained that “on the morning of Easter Day, as the father was guarding the cattle and his wife Gillon was absent in the village of Dizy, the infant being left alone in its cradle, the said pig entered during the said time the said house and disfigured and ate the face and neck of the said child, which, in consequence of the bites and defacements inflicted by the said pig, departed this life.”

After listening to the evidence, the judge read out his verdict: “We, in detestation and horror of the said crime, and to the end that an example may be made and justice maintained, have said, judged, sentenced, pronounced and appointed, that the said porker, now detained as a prisoner and confined in the said abbey, shall be by the master of high works hanged and strangled on a gibbet of wood near and adjoining to the gallows and high place of execution …”

The pig ate a face! I feel a little less guilty about eating bacon.

The nature of work

There’s a book that came out recently arguing that people are working more than ever and this is causing a rise in anxiety. It certainly seems a sound premise. But I’ve seen few rebuttals saying, no, people are in fact not working more than ever, we actually have more free time. And, when you think about all these stories you’ve heard about people in 1750 getting up at 6 a.m. and working on the farm until dusk it also sounds true. People of the past did not live leisurely lives.

Can both statements be true? I think, in a sense, yes. It comes down to how we work. In the past, you might work a lot but it was a fairly uninterrupted process – you woke up, knew what you were going to do and did it. You might be working a lot but there was a certain flow to it. Nowadays, you might start to work on editing a Word doc, then you get an email saying there’s an emergency and you have to track down a powerpoint doc, then you finish that and you have to get the kids to soccer practice, the you got back to the Word doc and 20 minutes later you need to answer another email, then a call comes in… etc. I’m overstating for dramatic effect, but you get the picture. Though you may be working less in pure volume of hours, it’s a harried, distracted kind of process. And one that probably takes more cognitive energy than running tasks on a farm 15 hours a day.

I have at certain points in my life been in situations where the entire day was spent doing computer work (often for weeks at a time). I would wake up, sit down at the computer and be there all day, aside from eating and bathroom breaks. It sounds awful and in some ways it was but you brain achieves a certain kind of clarity. You can basically ignore all distractions, phone calls email etc. There’s really something almost meditative about that state.

News blackout

I wrote recently that I was of the opinion that the modern news is a negative force that should be avoided. Over the past month I’ve been engaged in a news blackout and I feel greatly enriched. I’m less tense, more optimistic and don’t feel like I’m missing a thing.

To celebrate, I’m thinking of taking a vacation soon to the relatively unknown nation of the Ukraine. I’ve been shopping for tickets and have found low prices on Malaysian Airlines. They seem like a dependable, trouble free operation. I think it will be a enjoyable adventure.

Cheers!

Return of the Rockets!

Oddball electronic duo Daft Punk recently won a Grammy for their song “Get Lucky.” Below is their Grammy performance of the tune; they are joined by several artists including Stevie Wonder. The robot-suited members of Daft Punk don’t appear until a couple minutes in.

I have to point out that the French Daft Punk are clearly influenced by another French pop group. The Rockets, who were active during the 70s. Compare and contrast.

I, being one who feels we need more robots in music, enjoy both groups.

Upgrading site

This is just a general FYI. I’m going to being updating the instance of the WordPress app that supports this blog. Since all sorts of things can go wrong with that process I figured I should put the word out. If you hear of a major city being destroyed it probably stems from an error in this updating process.

Moonies

I was sitting at breakfast today, having great thoughts, and an interesting question came to mind. The moons of other planets have names. Does our moon have a name?

Ask and Astronomer has the answer.

Moroccan drivers

I’ve mentioned that I’ve taken two trips to Morocco in recent years. One of the things I’ve seen there and have always meant to blog about is the utter chaos that is traffic. Cars and mopeds zip past each other and pedestrians (and donkeys and cats), always seeming a second away from a collision. People race their vehicles through alleyways with barely an inch on each side. Even if you, as a pedestrian, get a walk signal at a light, cars turning right can still turn and it’s your job to stay out of the way. The only other place I’ve seen with traffic that dangerous is Juarez, Mexico.

Here’s a great little video demonstrating this:

However, despite the cacophony, accidents are still rare*. On my most recent trip to Morocco I started to pay attention to why this is. One reason, I think, is that people are much better focusing on not where other vehicles are, but where they are going to be. They’re essentially applying the logic behind the famous Wayne Gretzky quote, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” Moroccan drivers are aware of where all the other vehicles are going to be in the next five seconds and steer accordingly.

* In Casablanca, I did once come across a crowd gathered around a man who’d been injured by a vehicle.

Of course, there’s one major difference between Moroccan and American and European drivers. In Morocco – a Muslim country – drivers are overwhelmingly male. (I don’t think I ever saw a female driver there.) Women are famously challenged when it comes to spatial perception which, obviously, is oft used in driving. It’s possible that driving in 1st world countries is so cautious because we need to accommodate the weakest drivers on the road e.g. women. Moroccans have no such limitation.

Ha! Just wanted to get the chicks worked up there. There’s actually a lot of evidence that women have less accidents than men, though one could debate whether that’s due to better driving skills or just more caution.

UPDATE: Here’s another crazy Morocco traffic video:

The cost of music

Time magazine (it’s a famous mag you may have heard of) notes that Radiohead’s Thom Yorke is pulling some of his music from Spotify. Essentially he feels he’s getting gyp’d by the streaming service (as many do.) This section in the article caught my eye.

Reports from acts like Damon Krukowski of Damon and Naomi, folk artist Erin McKeown and cellist Zoe Keating indicate that independent acts make around half a cent per song stream on Spotify. That’s a pittance compared with the 7¢ to 10¢ an artist can expect to earn from a song download on iTunes and even further removed from what artists earn from physical CD sales.

However, that’s a something of an apples to oranges comparison. A single stream on Spotify covers a single listen whereas if you download a song you can listen as often as you want. Crunching the numbers here and it seems 20+ listens of a download would actually mean the artist is getting paid less than they would were the listener launching Spotify for each listen.

Of course, it’s worth pointing out that downloads on iTunes do not cost 7-10¢ – they’re generally around a dollar. So where is the rest of the money going? According to this the label gets the big cut, Apple gets a about a third and the rest goes to the artist.

Without getting into a debate about the fairness of these numbers, I can’t see how this can be a sustainable model to encourage the creation of music. I think right now there are still a lot of people creating music because of the “glamour” associated with it (myself included.) But if musicians are eventually understood to be idiots doing a lot of hard work for nothing, that glamour will fade.

As a side point here: I actually dug up some of Radiohead’s music on Spotify last night. (The band’s music is still there; Yorke only pulled some solo and side band material.) I’ve never really dug them despite the fact that many herald them as the Jesus Christ of music. I listened to some selections from their “OK, Computer” album and… it wasn’t bad. Not the greatest thing ever, but certainly something I’d listen to again.