MontanaRon

An English teacher's blog about his travels and his digital art.

Category: Uncategorized (page 1 of 15)

Morning Pages

I started something new today, doing Morning Pages as ideated by Julia Cameron. As Julia puts it:

Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing,
done first thing in the morning. . . [they] provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and
synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put
three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.

The activity is akin to meditation (which I also do) and it’s supposed to help with clear thinking, better ideas and less anxiety (something I’m not prone to feel too much). The main reason I’m doing it is to boost my creativity, another benefit which other people have mentioned .

I usually get up around 5:15 a.m. and go jogging around 6:30. The writing takes about 30 minutes, so I can easily do it before pounding the road. The idea is to write three legal-sized pages (about 750 words) of . . . whatever. It’s stream-of-consciousness writing, so whatever you feel like putting on paper, do it. I’m the only one who’s going to read it, and after I finished writing this morning, I crumpled up the paper, without reading what I wrote, and tossed it into the trash. (That’s one of the suggestions, not to read what you write until you’ve been doing the practice for a while.) Then, keep doing it every day.

I’m going to give this a try for a length of time. How long, I don’t know. Some people have been doing it for years and swear by it, saying they can’t start the day without doing their morning pages. So, hopefully this helps my “muse.” I’ll let you know what happens. More later.

Digital Art–In the Hall of Masks

Here’s my latest digital art creation, “In the Hall of Masks.” I originally created this for Halloween, but I didn’t finish it until a few days after. Better late than never, eh?

The photos of the masks and the dancers are mine from 2003 and 2004, when I attended the Mask-Dance Festival in Andong, South Korea, where I was teaching English at the time. All the other elements are from Pixabay. I used different blending modes, lighting effects and I ran a merged version through Topaz Labs 2.

After posting this to Facebook in a couple of art groups I belong to, I came back to it a few days later and discovered a few things that I should have done differently. I think it’s too red, and I should have moved one of the dancers closer to the viewer to give the piece a main focus point. I’ll probably go back and rework it later. Until then, enjoy.

digital art

In the hall of masks

My Now Page

If you look at the top menu, you’ll see a new page up there called Now. What is a Now page? The idea for it comes from Derek Sivers. The page lists things that I might be up to right at this point in my life, like what music I’m listening to, what books I’m reading, etc. “But, can’t you do that on social media?” you might ask. No, you can’t. Here’s how Sivers explains it on his about Now page:

What is a “now page”?

Most websites have a link that says “about”. It goes to a page that tells you something about the background of this person or business. For short, people just call it an “about page”.

Most websites have a link that says “contact”. It goes to a page that tells you how to contact this person or business. For short, people just call it a “contact page”.

So a website with a link that says “now” goes to a page that tells you what this person is focused on at this point in their life. For short, we call it a “now page”.

See examples by browsing nownownow.com.

Although it’s normal to make the web address “/now”, just like it’s usually “/about” and “/contact” in those other examples, the URL could be anything.

Don’t Twitter and Facebook updates do that?

No. If I wonder how someone is doing these days, it doesn’t help me to see that they went on vacation last week, are upset about something in the news, or even got a new job. That’s not the big picture.

Think of what you’d tell a friend you hadn’t seen in a year.

Like, “Still living in Dallas, though considering moving to Austin. Working at ABC. Really getting into cycling. The kids are age 3 and 6. I’m reading a lot of Pema Chödrön, and listening to a lot of jazz piano especially Brad Mehldau. I’ve stopped taking on web design clients, since I’d rather keep improving my back-end database work.”

That’s what a now page is for. You can’t get that big picture from any other outlets I’m aware of.

I’ll try to keep my Now page updated either every couple of weeks or perhaps only once a month, depending on what I’m up to. Check it out, if you want.

Venus Pleiades Update

I thought I’d take a gander at the Venus-Pleiades conjunction the next night (Apr. 4) and the viewing was a little bit better than on the 3rd. Venus was sitting above the Pleiades and I could make out the two fainter stars, one just to the right of the star immediately below Venus and the other between the bottom two stars in Pleiades. I couldn’t see these on the third. The air seems very clear today, so I’ll take another look this evening. Again, here’s last night’s rendition from the Stellarium software.

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).

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.

Desert Interlude

This is my latest piece of digital art. I haven’t given a whole lot of thought to what title I might give it, but for now I’m calling it “Desert Interlude.”

This started as a browsing trip through some of my photographs. The city is one of my photos of Meknes, Morocco, where I taught for a year back in 2005-2006. I added a desert scene from Pixabay, threw in a shot of the moon that I had taken, added some birds across the face of the moon with a “bird brush”, some texture to lighten things up a bit, a color lookup table and a few other odds and ends. In my next post, I’ll show you how I did it. As always, right click to enlarge the photo.

Desert Interlude

Digital Art–Book Cover Project

I recently joined another digital art group, a subgroup of another group I’m in. This new group, Kaizen, gives its members an optional monthly project to participate in, along with tutorials, training and gigabytes worth of royalty free content. One of the stipulations of the projects is that we can’t publish our project outside of the group until the project is deemed completed and closed. It closed recently, so here’s my contribution.

The project was to make art based around one of our favorite books, while trying to incorporate, if possible, an image of the book itself and elements that might relate to the content of the book. I had just finished reading an exceptional novel, “All the Light We Cannot See”, the 2015 Pulitzer Prize Winner for fiction written by Anthony Doerr. I highly recommend it. So, here’s my effort. I included my favorite quote from the book inside the image and the bottom quote is the first line or two from the novel. The various other elements in the image relate to the contents of the book. Hope you like it.

A Reading Frenzy

On my recent vacation in Thailand at Phuket Island, I bought an e-reader. It’s not a dedicated reader, like a Kindle or a Nook, but, instead, it’s a phablet–a phone and tablet combo. The device is a Lenovo Tab3 7 Essential, and it also fills in as a good e-reader. Until I bought it, I had been using my old Palm PDA with its 2″ x 3″ screen, which made for some difficult reading (without showing any photos, charts, maps, etc.) The Lenovo has a 7 inch screen and shows all graphics nicely. I can use the Kindle reader app with it, or Adobe Reader or any number of other readers.

Lenovo Tab3 7 Essential

Lately, then I’ve been spending a lot of free time reading various books. I recently finished “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” which can be found on the Internet for free (along with thousands of other books that have expired copyrights), and I’m now reading “The Lost City of the Monkey God” by Douglas Preston. It’s an at-times fascinating true story of the search for the fabled White City (Ciudad Blanca), lost in the jungles of Honduras for 500 years. I downloaded it from Amazon E-books for a relatively cheap price.

Lost City of the Monkey God

I’ve got a number of other books on my near-future reading list, including “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” and various sci-fi and historical fiction novels. I’ll be far from bored when I lie down on my canvas lounge (beach) chair on my front porch on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Bliss, of a sort. More later.

Clear Skies, Finally

Usually at this time of year in Laos, the night sky is quite clear, making for some good star gazing. Lately, though, it’s been unusually cloudy, a ruinous situation for astronomy enthusiasts. Finally, the heavens cleared last Sunday night. I pulled out my trusty 10 x 50 Olympus binoculars and braved the outdoors, covering up to avoid the hordes of mosquitos which have been visiting lately.

The viewing was quite good, though there’s always some light pollution from Nong Khai, across the Mekong in Thailand. That wrecks the viewing of, about, the lower 15 degrees of the sky to the north and east. But, I was searching about 60-70 degrees up, looking for a small star cluster designated Stock 23, a.k.a. Pazmino’s Cluster, that I read about in Sky and Telescope magazine. To my delight, I found it right away. In the binocs, it appeared as a small gathering of four stars that I could only resolve with averted vision. (How I long for a medium-sized telescope. I could buy one in Bangkok, but it would be impractical to use up here because I’d have very few clear nights in which to use it.)

Stock 23 star cluster

This is a screen capture from my planetarium program, Stellarium, showing Stock 23 (Pasmino’s Cluster). It’s the 4 stars right above the crosshairs. This is enlarged a bit from how it’s seen in 10 x 50 binoculars.

I took in a few other views before turning in. The Sword Belt in Orion was, as always, spectacular and the Double Cluster in Perseus showed up nicely. I browsed around the Milky Way, just enjoying all the stars rather than doing a search for particular objects. It was a very rewarding session, especially since I haven’t star-gazed in awhile.

I was reminded of some good times from 60 years ago! My cousins, the Balma family, and I would sit outside their house in Owosso, Michigan at dusk, waiting for the first star to appear. Whoever spotted it would get to make a wish that would (of course!) come true. I don’t remember what we wished for, but I can imagine that some of them became reality.

Every time I spend a few hours or minutes looking into space, I realize how infinite it is and how infinitesimal we are. This is not a depressing thought at all.

Double Cluster in Perseus

Another screen capture from Stellarium showing the famous Double Cluster in Perseus. It’s about the same view I get in 10 x 50 binocs, except the sky is not this clear in Laos!

The Sword of Orion

The Sword of Orion, a great naked-eye object that almost everyone is familiar with. It looks even better in binoculars and it’s spectacular with a telescope. This is another Stellarium screen capture of almost what my binoculars show (except for the sky clarity.)

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