Just Started Running BOINC!

I’ve been running my Debian Linux (PowerMac G4 780 MHz) file server for almost a year now. Aside from a recent near-suffocation from cat hair it has had no problems. When we’re going to be out of town I shut it down, but otherwise it runs all the time. We haven’t really noticed the addition to our power bill and in the winter it just contributes to the in-home heating, so it’s not a big deal. Especially considering that I got this machine for little or nothing.

It’s pretty nice being able to jump from my desktop to my laptop without missing a beat when working on various projects or to listen to my entire music collection from anywhere in my home. It’s also very satisfying to have a weekly automated backup to a secondary drive for all of my files. I don’t have an off-site backup solution yet, but at least I’m prepared for hardware failure.

Better late than never, but I finally got around to setting up BOINC on this server.BOINC is “Open-source software for volunteer computing and grid computing.” Basically, it turns lots of individual computers into one effective super computer. The main goal behind this software is to allow individuals to help under-budgeted research projects by allowing them to use their idle computers to process computations.

Since my PowerMac G4 spends most of its time twiddling its thumbs I thought it would be good to give it something constructive to do. In this case I have set it to help with the Rosetta@Home project:

Rosetta@home needs your help to determine the 3-dimensional shapes of proteins in research that may ultimately lead to finding cures for some major human diseases. By running the Rosetta program on your computer while you don’t need it you will help us speed up and extend our research in ways we couldn’t possibly attempt without your help. You will also be helping our efforts at designing new proteins to fight diseases such as HIV, Malaria, Cancer, and Alzheimer’s.

It sounds like a pretty good thing to provide assistance to. I’ll report back once my server has actually completed some work and registered on the project’s meters.

Fine Art in Museums: Tigers in Zoos

This post is the second of what I hope will be a series. My friend Adrian Hanft and I are going to try having an ongoing conversation about art and creativity. Initially it was going to be held via email, but we’ve agreed that it might be more interesting to have it via our blogs by way of the internet. With any luck it won’t end up being a bunch of ill-thought drivel. This one’s a real hum-dinger though. Observe how I go completely off-topic by the fifth sentence.

Topic 1: Art and Culture

Adrian: I loved going to the art museum as a kid. It was so exciting to see beautiful pictures by famous artists. But I remember when I walked into the modern art wing of the museum and saw a row of Campbell’s Soup cans for the first time. It was utterly shocking. This couldn’t be art! It can’t be! I have been a Warhol fan ever since. I can’t think of anything that has changed my perception of art as completely as that. You were passionate about Jackson Pollock like I was about Warhol. What is the lasting impact that your studies of Pollock have had on you?

Jason: I think the ‘all-over composition’ is the lasting lesson learned from studying Pollock. But that’s just technique. Nuts and bolts. There’s no ‘why’ in there.

A large misunderstanding about reality has made it so that I sincerely insist that real art is not something that should be made or chosen to match a couch. Why does that statement get anywhere near my lips?

Its a problem with what I see as fine art’s arrogance. I think its revisionist history. I think the long list of well known artists are obviously the artists that were commercial-savvy or there was somebody that found their work and saw the commercial potential. They were working artists that got paid to make things that others liked to look at. And the names that we celebrate from the past are those that were the most successful. No art expert would debate that but somehow they overlook what that says about what art is.

Maybe I sincerely believe that ‘real art’ shouldn’t be chosen because it matches a couch, but the reality is that that attitude is self-important and false. The reality is that artists should recognize the truth behind the nostalgia for art history: ARTISTS ARE MAKING ART TO ADORN HOME WALLS, SIT ON TABLES, MATCH COUCHES AND SIT NEXT TO BUSHES IN GARDENS. Art doesn’t exist anywhere else.

Seeing a painting on a large white wall in an art museum is no different than seeing a tiger in a cage at a zoo. Only an idiot would think that that is its natural habitat. That the zoo is its destiny. And yet that’s what ‘fine art’ teaches people. But that doesn’t mean it’s okay to put my beautiful painting next to an ugly couch.

Adrian: I never thought of it that way, but I like that analogy. But doesn’t it bother you to think of a Pollock hanging on a wall across the room from a screen that plays Dr. Phil all day? And given the choice between the two, Dr. Phil will get more eyeball time. I am not sure the home is the natural habitat for art, either.

Jason: No, it wouldn’t bother me to see a Pollock in a living room. I don’t think art should be treated like a sacred artifact. In this Dr. Phil-living-room case, the Pollock would be a decoration for the wall. A great decoration for that wall. Boy, I wish I had a Pollock to hang in my living room! My walls are bare right now because I don’t have any hand-made art to hang and I simply won’t hang some cheap mass-produced image there. Mass-produced furniture? Okay, well, I can’t afford/don’t have the time to make anything better. Mass-produced art? It’s not for me. Unless it’s a screen print. Or a lighograph. Wait, why isn’t mass-produced art good enough for my walls again? Well, however the art is produced (even, gasp, offset printing), if the image has been seen a million times or is not very good I have no interest in hanging it on my wall. There. Now it sounds like I know what I’m doing…

It’s no wonder contemporary ‘fine art’ is irrelevant in our culture. Graphic design/interior design/industrial design/architecture will be the most important artistic artifacts of society. Those are the things people pay for in our society.

Adrian: Society also pays for things like American Idol and liposuction. I sure hope that’s not what the history books are talking about when they write about our times. I completely agree, however, that our culture is shaped by the artists. Whether it is advertising, fashion, movies, music, architecture, the artists are the one’s that push the culture forward.

I just had a scary thought. I am almost certain that if Andy Warhol were still alive he would most likely be a judge on American Idol. Then he could actually hand out fame to people in almost exact 15 minute increments. And Jackson Pollock would make great reality television. What has this world come to?

Jason: In the words of the immortal Tupac Shakur: It’s strictly business, baby. Strictly business.

And I don’t find that offensive in relationship to all of art history as we know it. The fact that this is nothing new does leave a bad taste in my ideological mouth though. I do so want everybody in the world to get along and spend their time doing meaningful things.

This conversation will most likely continue on Adrian’s website. I’ll provide a link when that happens.

In Search of a Truly Creative Occupation

This post is the first of what I hope will be a series. My friend Adrian Hanft and I are going to try having an ongoing conversation about art and creativity. Initially it was going to be held via email, but we’ve agreed that it might be more interesting to have it via our blogs by way of the internet. With any luck it won’t end up being a bunch of ill-thought drivel.

Topic 2: Talent in the Workplace

Adrian: My first job out of college was working at a Costco. At the time I desperately wanted to be a designer, and I hated that job. The funny thing is that sometimes I daydream about the days working in a warehouse. I worked with a guy named Paul who was as creative and interesting as anyone I have met in the design world. I remember you used to have a mentality that you could be as happy working as a janitor (actually I can’t remember the exact occupation you used, but you get the idea) as you would be as an artist. Do you still feel that way, and what (if any) is the relationship between a person’s creativity and their occupation?

Jason: Actually, my current job is at least 50% non-design. Some of what I do could be called ‘designing workflows’. EXAMPLE: We have a task to complete every issue, how do we do it efficiently and have documentation so that we can prove when and how it was done?

Other things that I do are copy editing (a necessary skill for any good designer), project management, production, write documentation, office technical support, web coding (HTML,CSS,Javascript,Server-Side Stuff) and video editing.

Anyway, I’m not sure I’d be happy as a janitor necessarily, but I could do a variety of jobs and BE HAPPY as long as it involved some sort of problem solving on a regular basis. Graphic design and studio art work are definitely things that I approach as problems/puzzles.

The more I get to know about my own capabilities the more apparent it is that my artistic abilities are secondary abilities. These secondary abilities are birthed from a more primary skill: compulsive problem solving or a compulsive necessity to make something that is incomplete complete or improved, better.

Adrian: It isn’t that hard to add some visual polish to a crappy concept. If that is the “art” part of being a designer I am not at all interested. People that think that is what I do don’t realize how insulting that is. The fun part (and the real value) of a designer is that they can improve the end product. If you want frosting, hire a baker. If you want me to help make your project successful, let’s talk about design.

Jason: I guess that could be a description of ‘artistic abilities’, but I find myself quite delighted in doing many things that are not at all ‘artistic’.

What really bothers me is the measure of importance of what I do. I’m not a snob, but it seems to me that I’ve been given a lot of capabilities that the majority of people don’t seem to have. I can be egotistic about it, but I really shouldn’t. The older I get, the more humble I am about my talents. The talents are not something I created. They are things that I’ve been given, gifts. Sometimes it bothers me that I’m not doing something more important with these gifts.

Adrian: I will confess to being a little snobbish in that regard. For example, I am amazed how often I write a quick “fake” headline for a web comp and those words end up on the finished website. I can’t believe someone who has known about a company for 20 minutes can burp up a better headline than the president of that company. But copywriting isn’t really one of my gifts. Design might be. And it is in the moments when I do produce something truly good for an irrelevant product or company that I ask myself, “am I wasting my talent?” Should I be working on things that are more important?

Jason: What ‘more important’ means is elusive though. It could mean better paying, something that makes you famous or something that helps people. I definitely lean towards helping people. A weekly magazine about country music stars doesn’t seem very important, but I think there’s a micro and a macro option here. In what I think follows a Lutheran approach to life I’ve focused on the micro. What can I do to help the people in my immediate vicinity?

Adrian: I think it’s interesting to think of that as a Lutheran characteristic. The work I do isn’t world-changing and the chances of fame knocking on my door based on the design I do for a local business is really slim. But if I work hard and have a positive impact on the people I work with makes the work feel a little more important. Is that what you mean by “micro?”

Jason: Well, it’s possible that calling that ‘Lutheran’ is a ridiculous. I have a tendency to be ridiculous and wrong.

Yes, that’s what I mean by ‘micro’. I like to think that a lot of ‘micro’ effort is the only way to produce ‘macro’ results. Maybe it’s a matter of improving the morale of your workplace. Maybe it’s a simple matter of providing assistance to those that need it.

But back to the main topic: it’s problem solving that’s important for having job satisfaction. At least for me. And problem solving in a design-y environment involves a lot more than putting polish on a crappy idea. I’m in agreement with you there. I don’t know if it’s insulting, but thinking that designers merely ‘make things pretty’ is certainly a misguided concept about what designers do. Okay, maybe that misguided concept IS insulting.

Sauvignon Blanc 2010-05-02

This batch made from a 96 oz. can of Vintner’s Harvest Gooseberry Fruit Wine Base ($45) and a Vintner’s Reserve World Vineyard Collection: French Sauvignon Blanc 6-gallon kit ($68). I am basically following the kit’s instructions while borrowing a few elements from the recipe on the back of the Gooseberry can. A bit of an experiment, but to my thinking the use of actual fruit can only improve the kit. Continue reading “Sauvignon Blanc 2010-05-02”

Gooseberry Port 2010-03-26

This batch made from a 96 oz. can of Vintner’s Harvest Gooseberry Fruit Wine Base. The recipe I chose/created will produce 3 gallons of wine. I will then mix 1.5 liters of Paul Masson VSOP Brandy with the wine, sweeten to taste and bottle to make a port-style wine with a little more than 15% alcohol. Continue reading “Gooseberry Port 2010-03-26”