Thursday, May 31, 2012

592 - Sophie Sketch

An office job would be the death of me.  I don't much care for office people as a rule, and I seldom do well at meetings.  Yesterday, I needed to attend a meeting.  I was surprised that my opinion was required.  Most meetings I go to, I am expected to just sit there and be a warm body.  That way, the functionary that called the meeting can feel good about having the power to draw all the staff into one room for a time. 

After I said my piece, the rest of the meeting had nothing to do with me, and held none of my interest.  Typically, I sit at the back and pretend to make notes.  The handouts had wide margins, so I felt invited to sketch to at least keep my hand warm, and to fill the blank space. 

This is the HMS Sophie attacking her nemesis, Cacafuego, on the high seas.  It's unusual for a ship of Sophie's petite stature to have a quarterdeck gallery, but the Sophie was a special ship.  The Cacafuego is a Spanish xebec, a long, lean tall ship with massive triangular lateen sails common to the Mediterranean Sea. 

Read more about these two splendid fighting ships in Patrick O'Brien's peerless novel  "Master And Commander" (1969)!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

591 - Invitation To Karaoke Night

Friends don't let friends invite me to karaoke night.  Yet the other day, I was faced with an invitation to go singing in public for recreation.  Few people know my vocal stylings, but I am sure all would agree that if I was the last being alive on Earth, I would finally find my true audience as a singer. 

It's the kind of invitation one gets when the host doesn't know you all that well.  You know that karaoke means a lot to them, so they assume it means something to you.  How can I complain?  I haven't got a lot of party invitations as of late (I blame the Year Of The Dragon), but karaoke bars know better than to let people like me in.

People like me: the tuneful-impaired.  There, now it's out in the open. 

There aren't any drawing bars around, at least none that I know of.  Places where you can go and draw pictures of each other in public, with big old paper pads and easels, the heady scent of dry-erase markers mixing with citrus from trendy mojitos and the waft of overpriced tapas.   Where the conversation in well-lit corners can wildly veer toward the merits of solid solingen steel blades in rotary pencil sharpeners.  The squeak of Copic markers on crisp vellum, the swish of sable filberts on gessoed canvas, the sudden torrent of swearing when you dump the inkwell on your date's new outfit.  No, places like that don't exist because people would very much rather go out to hear each other sing than to watch each other draw.

Either way, though, booze makes the night palatable.  I'll go drink, and if there is a dance floor, I will dance, since some of my friends have talented voices.  If I can't dance, then I will steal a napkin and jealously draw mean caracatures of the singers with the Sharpie marker I smuggled into the bar under my clothing.

For another stab at the topic of musicians vs. visual artists, please visit JSVB Post #217, which you can find by clicking way back here.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

590 - Greek Style Potatoes


This is an easy recipe to make Greek Style Potatoes.  The secret is in the garlic lemon chicken broth, which brings out the potato flavour without using a lot of salt.  I make this recipe for two people, but it scales easily up or down. 


3-4 yellow flesh potatoes
1 cup chicken soup broth
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 clove garlic
1 - tbsp olive oil
Italian spice to taste


- If you chose to use small potatoes, you may want to leave the tender skin on.  I usually peel them, however.

- You can use home-made chicken stock or broth, or you can use a can of broth from the store.  If so, try to use a low-sodium broth.  In an emergency, you can use a can of chicken noodle or chicken rice soup:  simply use a strainer to remove the solids from the broth.  They make a nice midnight snack. 

- I like to use minced garlic from a jar.  If you use a clove, chop it as fine as you can.   You could also use garlic salt or garlic powder, as long as it is mixed well with the broth. 

- "Italian spice" usually includes basil, coriander, cilantro, thyme, oregano, marjoram, and rosemary.  You can use a tiny pinch of each of these spices in any combination, or just use a store-bought blend. 


Pre-heat your oven to 450°F. 

Peel the potatoes.  I like to cut them into bite-sized chunks, but some will quarter or halve the potatoes.  The smaller the pieces, the faster they will  cook.

Heat the oil in a fry pan on medium-high heat.  Fry the potato pieces in the hot oil, stirring from time to time.  Remove the potatoes into an oven-safe pot after they have browned a little.  Pour the chicken broth, the lemon juice, a drop of olive oil, and the garlic into the pot with the potatoes, and give everything a good stir. 

Put the pot in the oven and allow to cook uncovered.  The broth will boil away and also soak into the potatoes.  Watch the pot.  When the broth is mostly gone, the potatoes will be cooked, and the dish will be ready to serve.  Usually, this takes 20 minutes to half an hour.  The potatoes are cooked when they flake easily when prodded with a utensil, or if they are mushy. 

Remove the potatoes from the pot into your serving dish.  Sprinkle the potatoes with the seasoning to taste.  Greek style potatoes pair well with steak, lamb, or Greek food in general.  So tasty, so easy to make! 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

589 - Basement Suite And Sour

I've tracked down and photographed the basement suite apartment that was my home base during University.  This is a recent picture.  When I was in school, the car in the picture would have been brand new.  By coincidence, I drove a car much like it back then.   

Nothing seems to have changed.  I am pleased that I have moved on, though.  I regarded my little hole in the ground as my own fiefdom of personal freedom.  I got to do pretty much whatever I wanted, although I don't recall ever setting my sights very high, with the exception of romantic conquest.  Unlike my friends who adopted dormitory life, I could eat what I wanted, sleep when I felt like it, and watch whatever television channel I pleased.  On the other hand, my apartment was usually a lonely place.  If I wanted to get out and visit people, I often was compelled to climb into my car and drive somewhere to where the fun was. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

588 - Koi

I was lucky with my camera taking this shot.  The koi (large carp fish) seemed intent on travelling beneath the lily pads. 

Even so, I felt compelled to cook the picture in Photoshop.  I boosted the colour curves so that the water looks more green and the fish looks more golden.  I also altered the koi's pose a little using Liquefy.  The misty, etherial look of the water is natural, due to algae. 

My idea was to use this photo as the basis for a painting, but I am not sure I can improve on it in that medium. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

587 - "No Caption"

This cartoon has no caption.

Often enough, I will see a cartoon without a proper caption.  That's the funny little line at the bottom of the frame.  Sometimes, the idea is that the artist provides the artwork without any text, and there's some kind of contest for the readers to provide a suitable caption.  Normally, I despise that level of effort.

My cartoon is drawn in a reasonable facsimile of the broad style you see in magazines from time to time.  In this case, unfortunately, the incident is based on a real event that occurred much like as depicted in the drawing.  It's really too stupid to elaborate.  I'll leave it up to JSVB readers to come up with their own caption, but be aware that there will be no reward for the best one-liner.  Maybe an angry, insulting e-mail from the artist, if you are lucky. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

586 - "Rick & Terry"

Exactly twenty-five years ago to the day, Rick Hansen completed his heroic around-the-world "Man In Motion" tour to benefit spinal cord injury research.  Today, he was back in Vancouver to re-create the ending of his monumental achievement: to circle the globe in his wheelchair, a journey where he personally wheeled over 40,000 km through 34 countries from 1985 to 1987.  

The other day, Rick Hansen was in Port Coquitlam, a city to which Rick shares a special connection.  Port Coquitlam is the birthplace of Terry Fox, the one-legged athelete who dreamed of running across Canada to raise money to cure cancer.  Tragically, Terry's journey was cut short by his disease, which eventually claimed his life.  Others such as Steve Fonyo and Rick Hansen were inspired by Terry Fox's goal to complete their own tours. 

Rick claimed that the two most difficult parts of his journey were navigating the Great Wall Of China, and climbing Thermal Hill here in nearby Coquitlam.  Heartbreaking video footage shows Rick powering forward a six inches at a time uphill, then his wheels losing traction and the chair sliding downhill a foot.

Today, Rick is more upbeat about the climb, although it was likely as hard for him to make it to the top of Thermal Hill this week as it was twenty-five years ago.  It's a devilish incline.

"It starts off easy," Rick told a local reporter, "Just a gentle slope at first.  The first time around, I figured no problem.  Then it got steep in a hurry."  Witnesses remarked that if Rick leaned back so much as an inch, he likely would have tipped his wheelchair over.

Rick continued, "I poured everything I had into that climb.  Finally, I made it to the level part at the top of the slope.  There was a bend in the road there.  I got around that and looked up... there was even more hill than before!  I wasn't even halfway up!  My heart nearly exploded when I saw that."

I don't know what physical reserves Rick Hansen had to call upon for his climb, yet I took the liberty of depicting Terry Fox giving him a hand up Coquitlam's Thermal Hill. I figure that if the two had met, maybe they would be okay with that. Maybe not, though. Both atheletes transformed their tours into deeply personal crusuades. Perhaps it's too easy for the artist to lionize the athelete.
Also, would Terry Fox as a guiding spirit still keep his artificial leg? In truth, I would hope not. However, for the sake of artistic composition, I included Terry's machine leg to make him more identifiable.

Through JSVB, I offer my congratulations to Rick Hansen on the success of his tour, both twenty-five years ago and now.  From what I know of Rick Hansen, he refused that anybody should help him move in his chair.  Like Terry Fox, he had a trustworthy and loving support team to look out for him on his journey, but like Terry, he insisted on taking every inch of the path on his own terms. 

For a JSVB post on Terry Fox, please click here.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

585 - Ant Betty

Remark: if there's sugar ants, it must be Spring.  How true. 

When the weather gets warmer, we see an increase of ant activity around our house.  Some even make incursions into our home, which dooms them to a trip into the forest via the Dustpan Express. 

We've taken to referring to the ants as "Bettys", which is a little nicer than announcing that the hibiscus plant is crawling with formicidae.  Betty was the Splendid And Perfect Queen Of The Ants in Episode 22 of "The Tick" ("Ants In Pants!", 1995). 

Friday, May 18, 2012

584 - Heil Hydro!

If there is a meter to gauge the hatred of British Columbians for the enforced installation of residential "smart meters", the government seems completely unaware of it. 

A smart meter is a new form of power meter that uses computer technology to assess the rate of power consumption in your home.  It knows when you turn your lights on and off, use your washing machine, watch your television, when you sleep and wake, when you go off to work or steal away on a vacation.  It can identify and categorize the usage patterns of any electrical appliance plugged in to your residence.  It also has the authority to completely shut off your power like a main breaker switch.  Periodically, using a radio transmitter "less than five times [as powerful as] a running microwave oven" (National Renewal Energy Laboratory, Technical Report September 2011), it will transmit this information to any interested receiver. 

In British Columbia, it is mandatory to have one of these things installed.  Unlike other municipalities that employ smart meters, there is no opt-out program.  If you try to alert BC Hydro (power utility) that you do not want a smart meter, they place you on a "delay list", which means that they will periodically contact you to sell you their product, until you either cave in or they arrive on your doorstep to use forcible means to install the meter.

That's right: installation technicians (not electricians) are carrying demolition equipment to cut through physical blocks, chains, and fences that people have erected on their property to prevent the installation of these devices.   

So why does Hydro demand smart meters everywhere?  A smart meter is a remote-controlled device, which means that a meter reader does not have to go onto private property to get a reading.  This makes sense where smart meters have been installed in the favelas of Rio de Janiero, some of the most violent, drug-ridden neighbourhoods on the planet.  Down there, military squads armed with machine guns escort the utility repairmen on their route (Bloomberg Businessweek, March 2012).  So why does our government treat the suburbs and condominiums of British Columbia like Cidade de Deus?  The answers are as hazy as the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery on 4/20 Day. 

Perhaps the origin begins with David Emerson, the former Federal Liberal appointee with connections to British Columbia government, especially former Premier Campbell.  Mr. Emerson is now a senior advisor and investor with CAI Capital Management. CAI owns and operates Corix, which received the uncontested contract from BC Hydro to install smart meters across the province.

Insider influence at the BC Legislature, is that what we are thinking?  Nothing like, oh, say, the so-called BC Rail fiasco where high-ranking members of the Campbell government used inside knowledge to profit from the sale of the publicly-owned provincial railroad to private concerns.  Nobody is saying that the creation of the smart meter program might finally make the bloated and cumbersome BC Hydro Corporation attractive enough to be broken apart and sold to private industry like BC Rail was.  Since even our current Premier Christy Clark cannot deny enough her involvement in BC Rail, the Liberals must not be thinking that selling BC Hydro is even remotely possible.  This is what we must believe.

Strange, too, that the US Federal Government had extensive funding in place to install smart meters all throughout the American States and Protectorates, yet recently they pulled all of that funding.  Why not go for all those smart meters?  Maybe the fact that the early-generation meters tend to double and triple reports of power usage was a factor (hang on to your utilities receipts!) .  Maybe there's truth to the stores of people getting sick living near the powerful smart meter transmitters.   Maybe the meters are just too expensive in the long run.  Some articles maintain that smart meters have a life span of around ten years before they need to be repaired or replaced.  Whatever the reason, the Americans aren't as bullish on smart meter technology as they once were.

This is leaving companies like Toshiba, Landis + Gyr, Echelon, and Elster Group (manufacturers of smart meters) with a massive overhead of unsold smart meters.  So if the Americans aren't buying them, then they will go to South America instead.  And Mexico, Central America, and that Other Columbia... BC.  Places where the government is desperate for a buck and can be sold cheap goods for a healthy profit to insiders. 

Bloomberg estimates that the sale of smart meters below the equator will be worth $15.2 billion by the end of the decade.   That's some chunk of change, with each smart meter costing around $250 apiece.

But... BC Hydro claims the Corix meters cost $555 each (Norm Ryder, The Daily News, May 3, 2012).  Is Corix double-charging us for the meters and pocketing the difference?   We'd have to pose to  David Emerson that question to get an answer.  Or maybe query  the post-Campbell survivors in the Liberal cabinet, the same Libs who negotiated with the Feds to introduce the HST tax in return for $1.25 billion in transfer funds (later the Liberals would claim only $1 billion, yet even so their budget failed to balance... ouch.)  Yeah: the HST, just like BC Rail, the Fast Cat Ferries, now smart meters; all of these things share the commonality that they were imposed upon BC democracy without preamble or discussion.  And light bulbs, lowly as they may be, let's not forget to add them to the list. 

Democracy?  Heil Hydro!  There's your democracy for you.

The image was created from public domain art in Photoshop.  See if you can spot the likeness to a famous historical figure! Hint: comedian John Cleese does a famous imitation in "Fawlty Towers" ("The Germans", 1975).  Thanks to Cap'n Bob and Eranb for providing source imagery of a Corix-type smart meter and an Israeli stop sign hand. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

583 - Crazy Cat Lady Car

For a few days, my wife and I spent some time with an old friend we haven't seen in over a decade.  In the time absent, our friend turned into one of those people we would call a Crazy Cat Lady: a single girl who has become obsessed with cats.

If she drove a suburban car, this is what I imagine it would look like, if it also had those insipid stickers that the suburbanites prefer. 

This is just a Photoshop job on a photo I took for this purpose.  I have not seen these stickers for real, but I imagine someone somewhere would have them. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

582 - Roche à Perdrix

Here is a photo I snapped of Roche à Perdrix, the last mountain on the easternmost border of Jasper National Park heading east into Alberta.  "Roche à Perdrix" translates from French into "The Rock of the Partridge".

Monday, May 14, 2012

581 - Jones The Squirrel

We named the squirrel who has claimed our backyard as his territory "Jones", on account of his needy nature.  For example, he joneses for our flower bulbs, garden sprouts, and the occasional treat. 

I have a sketch of one of Jones' relatives on JSVB, which you can see by clicking here.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

580 - Jeff Wears A Panda Hat

Mothers' Day falls on the 13th of this month, which is also traditionally Ungood Art Day on JSVB.  Sorry Mom (who was quite an artist herself), but Ungood Art trumps a greeting card holiday this year, at least on my website. 

Today's piece depicts an anime-ish version of myself wearing a panda hat.   I've already got a couple of posts with panda hats on JSVB.  Click here and here to see them.  I think panda hats are pretty funny.  So did Ben Stiller in "Tropic Thunder" (2008).  Panda hats are popular in San Francisco on account of their 5'11" 237 pound infielder Pablo "Kung-Fu Panda" Sandoval.  I believe the first popular panda hat belonged to J.M. Barrie's Lost Boy "Tootles" from his Peter Pan series of books, circa the early 1900's.  Despite perhaps over a century of laughs and entertainment to be gained from panda hats, I definitely do not want to wear one myself. 

This picture is taken almost directly from the label of a Chinese beverage my wife bought.  I was surprised to see a reasonable likeness of myself on the packaging, with the panda hat.  I sketched the image with the thought of presenting it for Ungood Art Day.   The nature of Asian industry being what it is, I predict that by the end of this century there will be for each person in North America an Eastern product label that depicts them much like Mr. Sparkle who banishes dirt to the land of wind and ghosts.