MontanaRon

Just another ordinary English teacher eclectic expat blog about nothing in particular.

Venus Conjunction With Pleiades

There was a nice astronomical conjunction last night, April 3, after sunset. Venus sat right next to the Pleiades star cluster in the constellation Taurus, the Bull. We had clear skies, meaning no clouds, but the pollution these days from brushfires nearby and from farmers burning the stubble off their fields in preparation for monsoon season planting, makes sky viewing very difficult. I could see the event OK, but the spectacle was dimmed quite a bit due to the pollution.

When I’m looking at the skies through my binoculars, I sometimes think how nice it would be to have a telescope again, but then I come to my senses and realize that having one here would be a lost cause, so to speak. About the only time of year that the skies are transparent are in December and January. Every other time the viewing is ruined by air pollution or monsoon season clouds. Anything that might be low on the horizon would be washed out by the lights from Vientiane to the west, though higher up objects are viewable. That’s about the only direction viewable to me from the house because I’m surrounded by trees or bright street lights ruin the view. Anyway, here’s a decent semblance of what I saw last night as captured from my Stellarium planetarium software (it’s open source and free–give it a try).

Covid in Laos

There hadn’t been any confirmed cases of covid-19 infection in Laos up until about a week ago when a couple of people were found to have the virus. Since then, six more people have been infected, and all of them are related, in some way, to the first two cases. Just about everything has shut down, though, including bars, restaurants, gyms, movie theaters, and other entertainment venues. Even the two “mom-and-pop” restaurants in front of my house have closed. And, most amazing, the karaoke just across the road has shut down. Ahh, peace and quiet in the evening for a while, unless the neighbors decide to crank up their music, which they did last night. Luckily, I’m pretty well stocked up on food, so I’m staying at home, except to go jogging in the morning and maybe take a bit of a walk in the evening after the day’s heat has gone down a bit. (Lately, it’s been around 100 and will be for about the next three days.) To the heat and the virus, add in the horrendous air quality of late (> 150), and Laos is not the most pleasant place to be right now.

Vientiane College shut down, along with all other schools, a couple of weeks ago, so I’m on extended vacation at the moment (paid, thankfully). Our next term was supposed to start on May 7th, but that increasingly looks unlikely. Hopefully we won’t be out of commission for too much longer after that. So, I’m just sitting at home, watching movies and TV shows, doing a bit of digital art, playing online games (Lord of the Rings, Eve Online), reading and drinking beer. What’s a guy to do? We’ll get through this, but it could turn out to be rather boring after a while.

Oh, one other thing is that in the middle of April is arguably the biggest holiday of the year in Laos, the Lao New Year (Pee Mai Lao), but, because of the virus, the government has cancelled all of its holiday events and advised people not to gather in large groups for celebrations (this includes weddings and birthday parties). I’m really curious to see how many people follow through with that. I suppose there will be at least a small party out on the farm where Nai’s sister lives and where I used to live. I’ll go out there for one day (out of the three that comprise the holiday) and be sure to social distance myself from the others. How much they’ll do the same, I don’t know. If things get out of hand, I’ll boogie on out of there and go back to my house.

So, in finishing, I hope everyone stays healthy and safe. Catch up on your reading or gardening or whatever and wait it out. More later.

Quill and Camera Blog

If you’re interested in creating digital art, there’s no better place to look than Sebastian Michaels’ “Quill and Camera” website. There, you can find out about all the courses that are offered concerning digital art, as well as innumerable interviews with digital artists, how they got started, what motivates them and other items of interest. You can also find the magazine “Living the Photo Artistic Life.” Have a browse through an issue’s pages and gaze in wonder at what some of these fine artists can create. Really awesome.

As if I haven’t got enough on my plate, I’ve also subscribed to another course, called “Beyond the Brushes.” This one seems to be well-run by an expert who will introduce you to and train you in painting in Photoshop. I subscribed for a month ($39) and I’ll give it a try for at least a couple of months. However, I’m not sure it’s for me, mainly because it’s a time consumer, and I spend enough time on the various courses I’m taking from the aforementioned Mr. Michaels. But, I’ll give it a go for awhile and see what happens.

Rain!

Yes, rain, glorious rain! We haven’t had any in months, literally. The last few days, though, we’ve had around an inch, I think. It’s been quite a severe drought due to various factors, including climate change and the increasing number of dams on the Mekong River. (Check some of the factors that are screwing over the Mekong, including China, Laos, and Vietnam.)

Any amount of rain is welcome, but it definitely hasn’t been enough to break the back of the drought, which probably won’t happen until the rainy season starts in late May and June. When I went jogging this morning, there was a nice sprinkle that got me moderately wet, but once I got back to my house, the rain came down quite nicely, soaking the ground. It’s finished now, and there isn’t any rain in the forecast for the near future, but we’ll take any that we get.

Astronomy-Uranus

I was able to find Uranus this past Saturday evening because the sky wasn’t as hazy as it had been. I keep daydreaming about buying a Celestron telescope the next time I’m down in Bangkok, possibly a six-incher, the popular NexStar 6SE. But, then I start thinking about how often I would use it: probably not much.

At this time of year the skies are at their clearest, but even now there’s a large amount of haze from pollution that destroys the possibility of seeing faint objects. Later, the rainy season sets in and most nights are very cloudy or overcast. I don’t think I’d get much use of a telescope. For now I’ll stay with my binocs (but, you never know).

Saturday night, the sky was fairly transparent, so I was able to see 6th magnitude Uranus with the binoculars, even though I didn’t wait for my eyes to become dark-adapted. Right now, it’s above Venus in the evening sky and fairly easy to find by star-hopping from the brighter planet. Here’s the evening sky, using a screen capture from my planetarium software, Stellarium.

And here’s a closeup of the view in my binocs. The star at the bottom of the triangle, to the right of Uranus is 7th mag., and I was able to make it out also, so the clarity was pretty good.

Here’s hoping for more clear skies.

Finger Exercise-Taekwando Master

Here’s a shot taken way back in 2004 in Andong, South Korea, of my taekwando master, Mr. Kim, chopping his way through 9 or 10 slabs of marble. He did this in front of a large group of younger students and their parents, and he was quite nervous. He had never attempted to do this many slabs before. As you can see, he was successful! I created this with the Sandstorm action from the set of Artistry4 actions I recently bought from PhotographyBB. Again, I did some tweaking to the overall effect.

Taekwando Master

Finger Exercise-Boy Power

Here’s a new finger exercise I’m calling “Boy Power” that I created with the help of Grungeart Glow from Artistry4 Actions, a new set of actions I bought from PhotographyBB. The tweaks you can make with this action are endless. Fascinating to work with. (The boy is my partner’s grand-nephew, Leo.) In this one, I changed the background color to black and tweaked some of the scratches and splatters.

Boy Power

Living the Photo Artistic Life Magazine

Living the Photo Artistic Life Magazine
Featuring the extraordinary digital artwork of the artists in our internationally celebrated “AWAKE” group …

Maybe you’d like to take a look at some of the awesome artwork that can be created in Photoshop. Check out the magazine at the top of the post. There are some truly creative efforts by some awesome Awake members. Unfortunately, I’m not in the magazine yet, but that’s definitely one of my goals. Someday . . .

Finger Exercise–Life is Beautiful

A quick finger exercise this morning, called Life is Beautiful. It combines a couple of murals from downtown Las Vegas with a color lookup and a texture from the Photoshop Artistry course.

Life is Beautiful

Life is Beautiful

Photoshop Fan

I’m a big fan of Photoshop (PS). I’ve been using it for a number of years, mostly doing basic photo retouching with earlier versions of the software. Lately, though, I’ve been learning much more about PS through enrolling in the various digital art courses I’ve been taking under the umbrella of Photoshop Artistry. Our founder and digital art mentor, Sebastian Michaels, states that you don’t need to learn all the intricacies of PS to create digital art, that the basics will do, but it is fun learning PS in depth and learning the awesome techniques that other artists use. I also enjoy using Lightroom, another Adobe product I’ve had for quite a while. It’s great for post-processing photos and for storing and cataloging those photos; I’ve got around 20,000 of them.

So, I don’t mind paying, along with many others, the $10 monthly subscription fee for being able to use the two products (that’s $10 for both, not each). Some folks, though, have always been and still are up in arms about the subscription model that Adobe has adopted. You can read two points of view, one from a photographer who doesn’t mind the fee and one who does.

Photoshop Artistry is the basic course that got me started doing photo art in PS. If you want to learn more about it straight from Sebastian, he was interviewed recently on PS Guru Dave Cross’s weekly podcast (Episode 41). Give it a listen.

If you’d like to get into PS in more depth, you don’t have to pay to enroll in a course, as there are a large number of websites where you can learn more about the software. I recommend Colin Smith’s Photoshop Cafe or Adobe’s Daily Creative Challenge (scroll down the page for past challenges). And, of course, there are plenty of Youtube tutorials. I do, however, highly recommend Photoshop Artistry.

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