Jack’s Blag

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2009 Movies That I’m Dying to See

Posted by jack on February 16, 2009

2009’s cinematic horizons are looking quite promising! These are but a taste of the movies that I’m getting excited about this year:


Not to be confused with Nine, a live-action movie being released on the same day (9/9/09). 9 is much prettier, and, frankly, appeals to the geek in me much more thoroughly.

The Watchmen

According to a recent pre-screening of the movie, fans of the comic series will be pleased. Having never read the comics myself ( -1 to geek cred, I know) I can only go by what I’ve seen so far– with director Zack Snyder at the helm and a comic-book aesthetic that’s almost Dick Tracy-esque (despite the comics being created in the mid-80s), this one is high on the Must See list.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

All I needed to hear was “They’re making a movie about Wolverine’s origins, and Gambit’s gonna be in it.” It also looks to have some stellar production values.


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Posted by jack on February 7, 2009

I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve been on standby since this baby was invented, salivating until the day I can actually afford this precious gem.

“…too bad it’s still going to set you back $359 when it arrives on February 24.”


Official-looking Kindle 2 pictures and pricing leak out – Engadget.

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Obama’s Inaugural Geek Cred

Posted by jack on January 20, 2009

As a young woman decended from slaves and indentured servants, small business owners and obscure creative minds, today is one of the happiest and most triumphant days that I’ve had in a long time. The beginning of Barack Obama’s presidency signals an era of hope for me, and for many Americans who feel as though they’ve been let down by their leaders. As a young woman of mixed heritage, I feel as though I can breathe again.

Although the young woman decended from hard workers couldn’t wait to get out of bed this morning, the geeky side of my personality wasn’t terribly excited about today. She grumbled out of bed, let out a wide yawn while making her coffee, and groggily turned CNN on to watch the inauguration. “Hooray for a president that believes in science– now can I go back to bed?”

She was quickly silenced and brought wide awake after Joe Biden was sworn in as our Vice President and a “unique musical performance” was announced.

Anthony McGill on clarinet, Gabriela Montero on piano, Itzhak Perlman on violin. Cool.

Yo-Yo Ma on Cello? Awesome!

Performing a piece written by… JOHN WILLIAMS? You know, the guy who composed music for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Jurassic Park, among others? Yeah, that guy.

It was an excellent primer for Obama’s speech, which was bewilderingly uplifting on its own. I was overwhelmed with joy and hope when an orchestra of such prestige played an original piece of music written for such a memorable occasion.

Because of this, it suddenly feels like it will be a new era for art and science. This geek cred is well-earned, Mr. President.

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Online Communities: DeviantArt Alternatives for the Professional Artist

Posted by jack on January 14, 2009

Let’s face it: when it comes to online art communities, DeviantArt is the 800 pound gorilla on the block. There is no other web community that hosts such an endless phalanx of art, and the constant flow of new accounts far overshadows the ebb of deleted, suspended and banned accounts. There is no end to its internet reign in sight.

There’s no doubt that DeviantArt has earned the number one spot in the Google search for “online art community”, but the reasons for their dominance become clear to anyone who signs up: there is no bigger black hole for the arts in the known universe. They welcome EVERYONE who knows how to register for a website, and they accept all work ranging from poorly drawn phalli (as long as it’s not erect, according to their pornography policy) to exquisite concept art by today’s leading illustrators.

This is not to say that DeviantArt is a bad place to exhibit one’s artwork. That #1 slot in Google’s search engine officially makes them one of the best online marketing machines for the independent artist, and they protect the rights of their community by serving as a sort of copyright farm for the individual artist. DeviantArt puts forth a mission, and they fulfill that mission to the letter: “In its purest form, deviantART is a means for expressing yourself in a variety of ways.”

Since DeviantArt is an all-inclusive artistic community, it can be difficult for a professional artist to get useful feedback on any particular piece of artwork. An important element of artistic growth is getting constructive criticisms and feedback on your art so you can improve your techniques and expand what you know. Unfortunately, since the community is so massive at DeviantArt, the odds of getting feedback that is actually constructive can feel pretty slim at times.

When you’re looking for a more professional atmosphere to show your works online, there are very few alternatives to DeviantArt. The ones that DO exist, however, can be your best friend as far as keeping up with the industry, networking with professionals and obtaining valuable educational gems from your peers. These are the sites that impressed me the most, and served as the most effective and friendly online professional artist communities:




The community on ConceptArt.org is composed of extremely helpful artists who remember what it was like to start out in this industry. It is rare to come across users who are haughty, nonconstructive, or just plain assholes– all they ask of new users is that they come with the desire to listen, learn and contribute. There is also a user-initiated program in the forums where a seasoned artist will team up with someone who is still learning, and help them improve their skills. This is a community run by artists, for artists, and whatever you put into it, you’ll get back out of it.


The forums here are loaded with detailed, comprehensive tutorials written by pros who are seeking to help their newbie counterparts. If you don’t see a specific tutorial, or have a particular problem with a piece of work, you can post your quandary in the forums and get a relatively quick response– the best part is that since you’re asking artists, the answer you receive has a chance of being illustrated in both words and pictures!

In addition to the treasure trove of numerous articles, forum posts and link lists that can satisfy your every craving for knowledge, ConceptArt.org also offers video demos and tutorials by industry pros for a small fee. For a mere $15, you can get your hands on a 1 hour tutorial on many different subjects that are pertinent to concept artists, including perspective drawing, dynamic storyboarding, and speed painting.

If that weren’t enough, ConceptArt.org expands their community well outside of the intertubes with regular conventions for the purpose of teaching, networking and having fun. You can read about their latest gathering here, and you can stay up to date about their workshops here.

The only section on CA that needs some serious sprucing up is the Industry Jobs section. While their forums do provide a regularly updated Employment section (which is highly recommended), the Industry Jobs link at the top of their homepage hosts a plethora of zombie threads and feels tacked on for the sake of having the link there. It’s more of a nit-picky web design issue than anything else… but when you’re dealing with a community of artists details like that can be vital.


The galleries on CA are an amazing source of inspiration, and a great place to study and observe thousands of different styles from hundreds of artists. Creating your own gallery for people to peruse through is a cinch, with easy forms and reasonable requirements (two pieces of art and a bio? Check.). As far as protecting your IP goes, CA’s got you covered– anything that goes into their gallery will remain the property of the creator, so you won’t have to worry about anyone ganking your copyrights.




CGHub.com hosts friendly students and professionals who love to share knowledge and trade resources in order to help their peers improve. A trip through the forums reveals an interactive community which loves to host regular jams (competitions) with each other, complete with constructive feedback for the results. Lots of Q&A goes on here, with nearly every question panning out into a conversation between users, as opposed to a black-and-white answer. The members on CGHub.com seem to be eager to help each other grow into educated, well-informed artists, and diving into this approachable hub is a breeze.


The probably-misnomered “Scripts” section of the website proves to be a treasure trove of user-created plugins, brushes, textures and more for nearly every piece of creative software you can think of on the market today. While the intro page makes this section feel a little thin, scrolling down to the “Top Rated” and “Most Downloaded” sections will give you plenty of content to browse through. This is also your time to shine if you’ve spent any amount of time creating tools to make your life easier in programs such as ZBrush, Maya, 3dsmax, Adobe After Effects and so on– imagine what a community hero you’ll be if you make those simple .objs, textures, brushes or scripts available for public use?

CGHub.com’s articles are a great resource for industry news and competition updates, and can be easily browsed by category. The “Jobs” section is very easily navigated by industry, location, and job-type (freelance or full-time) and seems to be frequented by some big companies when they’re looking for creatives.


User gallery creation is simple, and looking for other artist’s works is a snap. You can even request critique on a specific artwork, and that piece will be placed in a sidebar widget that can be seen by anyone browsing the gallery section of the website.




Yet another helpful community of creatives, both student and professional alike. This community is updated daily with content from both the administrators and the users, as seen in the “Events” section. Just like with any other professional artist community in existence, you’ll get out of it what you put into it.


Lots of tutorials are to be had on 3dm3.com, but some of them can be quite vague. If you prefer detailed, in-depth tutorials, this might not be the place for you– if you just enjoy seeing the artist’s process behind making a piece (which can be good for indirect study), then look no further.

The Jobs section of 3dm3.com is easy to navigate with tabs that lead you to the different specialties that employers are looking for– the only downside is that the pickings are rather slim, and it doesn’t seem to be updated very often. Sure, you can go to the forums and check out theĀ  Employment threads… but then why have a “Jobs” section in the first place if you’re gonna do that? Just like ConceptArt.org, it seems to be an afterthought, tacked on for a bit of curb appeal.


You get exactly what you expect of a professional artist community: a functional gallery. Nothing spectacular, but it WORKS, dammit, and that’s the most important feature.

Do you know of any other awesome online professional artist communities? Let me know!

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How To: Make a Clockwork Courier Pigeon

Posted by jack on January 3, 2009

clockwork_bird_kit_by_melanipposOr, if you prefer honesty, a way to distract you readers from the fact that I haven’t posted on this blog for a while.

Never mind that! Print out these instructions and get your metal-working hat on (although I suppose one could make this out of cardboard, of one really wanted)!

Courier pigeons are rather adorable for being extinct– bring back the breed with this cute little sculpture-thing that looks excellent perching anywhere in your home, office or workspace.

The directions for assembly are pretty straightforward and can be easy to follow if you don’t require pictures to help you learn. Give it a go, why don’t you?

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10 Projects To Do While It’s Still Cold Out

Posted by jack on December 26, 2008

scoodieSo it’s cold out, the kids keep bugging you to keep them entertained, and you’ve got a workshop full of crap that you should probably throw away. Well, get off your asses, you scurrilous ne’er-do-wells, and check out the following list of cold weather projects! You could do a few of these projects without it being cold outside, I suppose… but since the winter months can bring clouds of uninspired laziness, it’ll do you some good to gather the family ’round the power tools and complete of few of these fun how-tos:

1. Make Electric Origami

Level of Difficulty: Easy

The art of origami can be impressive as it is, but adding electricity to it makes it ten times cooler. The supplies for this project are cheap and easy to come by, and the uses for these tiny lamps can be endless, if you’re creative. Make a few spares to serve as emergency lanterns for when you forget to pay your electric bill, or apply the same circuit to a paper airplane and take them to a rave!

2. Make a Scoodie

Level of Difficulty: Easy, if you own a sewing machine

Being the owner of several pets that enjoy stealing my clothes, I sometimes find it difficult to find all of my winter gear before I head out of the door. Having a scoodie (scarf+hoodie) gives me one less article of clothing to loose, AND I can leave the house looking stylish, despite my inability to put my arms down.

3. Make a Snow Lantern (out of real snow!)

Level of Difficulty: Easy

On its own, this project might be too simple to keep you entertained for an extended period of time– but these snow lanterns definitely have their uses, and you have to admit that they’re pretty cool looking. If you’re not afraid of the cold, try lining your backyard with these and hosting a mid-winter fire-pit or barbeque. Good times!

4. Build a Quinzee

Level of Difficulty: Easy-Medium; bring a couple of friends to help

Quinzees are shelters made out of snow that, unlike their igloo counterparts, are easy to build and don’t require much precision to make. Quinzees make great forts for snowball fights, or can serve as a warm and toasty shelter for those sudden snowstorms that can happen on your 10-block hike from the parking garage to your job.

5. Make chocolate bars that look like Han Solo Trapped in Carbonite

Degree of Difficulty: Medium

Being a tutorial that delves into basic mold-making techniques, this project might set you back a tad in terms of time and money. That said, you will get MAJOR geek cred if you send this as a gift to friends, family, or people at the office. The look on the recipient’s face when they receive this awesome tribute will be more than worth the price.

6. Dress Like a Robot and Hit the Bars

Level of Difficulty: Medium

Reserving costumed tomfoolery for Halloween is an outdated concept– who says you can’t dress like a robot whenever you want to? Do it alone, or go bar-hopping with your robot friends! A word of caution: your peripheral vision will be severely hampered, and getting in and out of your vehicle will be a challenge. Rest assured, though, the cardboard will keep you nice and warm while you’re trying to pass that road-side sobriety test in the middle of winter.

7. Make a Magnetic Wall Chess Set

Level of Difficulty: Medium-Hard

This jumbo chess set was made to help solve storage problems, since you can hang it from the wall with ease. This project has lots of possibilities, since it can serve as a framework for creating other magnetic, wall-mounted games. If you can complete the chess set, why not make a giant game of magnetic scrabble or monopoly? How about Operation? (I can’t be held responsible for any mishaps, but if you can get a giant, magnetic game of Operation going without killing yourself or others, PLEASE share the pictures!)

8. Make an Interactive LED Dining Room Table

Level of Difficulty: Hard

If you’re looking for a little modern flare for your dining room for relatively low cost, you might want to set aside a couple of weekends to bust this project out. Not only does this table light up, the lights interact with you while you eat by subtly blinking in and out of existence via sensors. If you’re looking for a fun and interesting project that challenges your woodworking and electrical prowess, give this one a shot!

9. Make Your Own Booze

Level of Difficulty: Hard

It’s been snowing for days, there’s ten feet of snow out and you haven’t been to the liquor store in a week. You have one precious bottle of MGD left in the fridge, and you’re thinking of squirreling that away until you REALLY need it. No need, my booze-weary friend! With a little time and a few household items, you can create homemade “wine” that yields all the benefits and none of the flavor of its real counterpart. Just use common sense when exploring this how-to– no one but you is responsible if you go blind from mis-using this stuff.

10. Use Electrolysis to Etch an Altoid’s Can

Level of Difficulty: Medium-Hard

If you’re familiar with how objects are plated with metal, you can use the same process to etch an image into an Altoid’s tin (or nearly any other metal container you can find). This will make a perfect gift for the person whose kitchen you made a mess of by making that “wine” from the last how-to. Use extreme caution while attempting this project, because it is also a good demonstration of why throwing electronics into a bathtub can kill you.

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Book Review: “The Boy Mechanic: 200 Classic Things to Build”

Posted by jack on December 23, 2008

512xra0zthl_ss500_In the age of wireless technologies, instantaneous communication, and phones that do more than make calls, The Boy Mechanic will seem rather dated as a straightforward “how-to” guide. This literary concoction, composed by the editors of Popular Mechanics magazine, features instructions for projects from the early 20th century which were made to test the fortitude of both boy and man. This book is a great look at the “good old days”, when every family had a handyman in it out of sheer necessity; the articles in the book were pulled directly from old Popular Mechanics and edited as little as possible, which adds to the turn-of-the-century intrigue (and humor) of these building ventures.

It also makes you feel fortunate that the time of the home-made querl is long gone.

A lot of the projects in this book are outdated, designed mostly for the self-sufficient household of the early 1900s, but you can still get some use out of these antiquated designs. We could all use an extra wall-mounted silverware holder, and who WOULDN’T want to make birch bark leggings when they go camping? I can certainly think of more useless things to posses.

The tutorials aren’t written for the novice craftsperson, as a certain amount of knowledge is always assumed of the reader, and can therefore be difficult to follow accurately. If you’re not a member of the DIY community, I can still recommend this book as a great bathroom reader, if nothing else.

If you ARE a proficient craftsperson, I’ve got good news for you: coming up with ideas to customize your home has never been easier. In the age of prefab furniture, you’ll be hard pressed to find a combination bookcase/writing desk of good quality, so why not make it yourself next weekend? And if you happen to be a great big Steampunk geek (like yours truly) you will find that a lot of these designs can be easily fitted with that brass, Victorian, made-it-myself-out-of-spare-parts look that you crave in your daily life.

So I haven’t convinced you that this book isn’t worth the semi-gloss that paper it’s printed on? I’ve got a few words for you:

How to Attach a Sail to a Bicycle


For a meager cover price of $10, you can have the plans for 200 “classic” things to build, about 20 of which might be dangerous and/or illegal to take to the streets. Still, if you’ve got a handy person in your life who’s looking for more things to do, this just might be the book for them.

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Virtual Review: Adventures with OpenSim part 1

Posted by jack on December 22, 2008

Since late 2006, I have been gallivanting in the virtual world of Second Life under the moniker of Cyanide Seelowe. One of the first things I did when I joined Second Life was meet up with a fellow named Rezago Kokorin and founded the Virtual Artist Alliance, a group committed to gathering people to give them the knowledge, tools, and practice they need to commit Random Acts of Public Art. These last few years have been fruitful, but it has become painfully apparent that operating anything on a large scale in Second Life requires massive amounts of money. Up-front land fees, monthly server maintenance fees, currency transfer fees, texture upload fees; all totaling hundreds or thousands of dollars.

There was a mighty outcry, and the people rebelled.

Being an Open Source geek, I began to investigate OpenSimulator, which, much to my excitement, allows one to own virtual land for cheap with a few easily acquired tools. Not only is it cheap, it’s (kind of) easy to install and (relatively) easy to maintain, so it appeals to the little voice you might have inside of your head that yells “Fuck the premium, I’ll make it myself!”. Lord knows that little voice drives my very existence forward.

So what exactly do you need to get your very own private simulator going?

It seemed simple at first: download the OpenSim software, make or rent a server that fulfills all of the system requirements, install and configure. It sounds too good to be true, because it is– the documentation for installation and configuration is scarce at the moment, and the wiki needs some major contributions (no installation page, as of this article’s publishing date… ouch). Referencing the developer forums is only slightly more helpful- it seems, in fact, that the best approach to a successful install is referencing multiple install and config guides and piecing the information together bit by bit. Patience, persistence, and a small sledgehammer* with which to discipline your misbehaving binary-box should yield the following result:


It seems like quite a bit of work, but the results are well worth it if you have big ideas for that little private island you’ve just created. You can keep it all to yourself and make prototypes all day with an easily-adjustable prim limit, you can invite friends over to hang out with you on your stand-alone grid, or you can connect to the OSGrid and indescriminately allow the masses to join you!

Personally, I think I’ll be creating a private region (or two?) for members of the Virtual Artist Alliance to play around on. Perhaps it is naive of me to say so early in the game, but it seems that the sky’s the limit now that I’ve got the tools to free myself from Linden Lab’s servers.

*results of sledgehammer may vary

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Book Review: ReadyMade’s “How to Make {Almost} Everything”

Posted by jack on December 21, 2008

readymade-bookCollege students, pack rats and weekend warriors rejoice: there is still hope to be rid of the mounds of arbitrary junk that you’ve been collecting over the years! Too many beer cans from your last frat party and not enough room in the recycling bin? Make a stylish screen divider. Did your wife remember to buy seran wrap despite the obvious surplus you’ve got hanging around in the kitchen? Make a chair. Is the mailman just a little too diligent about delivering the Yellow Pages to your door every week? Make a coffee table!

ReadyMade Magazine’s How to Make {Almost} Everything will show you how to do that and more while filling your head with strange, useless and delightful-to-know facts about the stuff you’re working with to make these projects. In addition to the projects themselves, there are sections designated “this is not a project” that will improve the way you look, feel and do stuff in the most general sense. Learn how to pen the perfect love note and avoid the need for plastic surgery, all in one compact life-guide!

The guides and tutorials are written with a refreshingly sarcastic flair to them, and pictures-a-plenty make the projects easy to follow and execute. If you want to look at things from a designer’s point of view, the book is just really pretty, but in a functional sort of way. The cover comes complete with a ruler and stiff binding so you can use it as a straight-edge, and the front and back covers come equipped with templates to be removed so you can use them for one of the projects in the book.

With a $25 cover price, this book is, at first glance, pretty pricey (never mind that, at the time of this writing, there are over 40 used copies waiting to be snatched up at Amazon for much cheaper). Depite that, take a moment to flip through this 205 page volume and peruse the projects– you’ll undoubtedly find instructions on how to make something similar to (or even cooler than!) that item you’ve been eyeballing in the Ikea catalog that will make this book more than worth the price.

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Why Blag?

Posted by jack on December 21, 2008

Because xkcd is one of my favorite webcomics on the blogotubes, that’s why.

More importantly, though, my interests, infatuations and fixations needed a more general place to be delivered from. Being a victim (child? minion? lackey?) of Web 2.0 makes me feel that four websites, two twitter accounts and more social networking accounts than I can keep track of JUST ISN’T ENOUGH.

Furthermore, I think the intersphere could use another strongly opinionated geek who likes to talk about things that may or may not be relevant to your interests.



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