General updates 2011: July (with Renaissance coffee mug for sale)

Everything’s going well in preparation for my upcoming holiday and computer upgrade.

The last time I mentioned the upgrade plans was in May, when I’d just started getting prepared. Back then I was cleaning up old files and emails. Since then I’ve made sure that customisation settings for various programs are backed up, and compiled a two-page document with notes about all the software I have installed. It’s a kind of checklist to make sure everything is upgraded correctly.

Working on all this has been slow, tedious and careful, on the theory that it’s best to put all the effort in before things have a chance to go terribly wrong (i.e. nothing works and you can’t remember how it’s supposed to). But I finished that last night, and the next stage is to get in touch with the supplier.

I’m also planning to buy a laptop to take on our August/September holiday to Germany and England. Mum will be staying home while Dad, my sister, her husband and myself go overseas, and the plan is to communicate via Skype — except that none of us have actually got Skype yet, so that’s the next thing to look at after I get the upgrade done. The plan has always been to upgrade sufficiently in advance of the holiday to make time to practice in between.

Renaissance coffee mug

I recently published a new product on Zazzle: a renaissance mug! [Update: here’s an improved version.] Here is the story behind it.

One of the periodic jobs at the graphic design place where I work is to design a flyer and poster advertising the Fridays at the Library series of public lectures at Flinders University. The next talk upcoming is on the topic “Aspiring after the Renaissance Man — Difficulties for the Doctor“, for which I created the double-sided flyer you can see by clicking on that link. The background painting is not actually Renaissance (it’s Florence – The Boboli Gardens by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot), but Renaissance artists didn’t really do landscapes for their own sake, and it is, after all, a painting of Florence, so close enough. Evidently the client agreed.

Anyway, while I was browsing the web for images and ideas I came across this book of Renaissance collages. My production supervisor thought it would be worth me creating a similar collage of my own, if not for the flyer/poster then at least as an exercise, and this is what I came up with:

I made this by grabbing images from Google, printing them, tearing them, sticking the pieces together and scanning the result. It was easier than I expected to make it look good. At this point, the thought struck me that it would look good on a coffee mug, so I made it on Zazzle, doing a little research to find out the names and lifespans of the artists.

If this were a serious academic work, of course, I would have done the research first, before selecting the images. The selection would have been carefully made to make sure I represented the various styles within Renaissance art as well as its geographical and historical span. However, I did no such thing, and the images were simply grabbed from the highest-ranking Google Images results based on what I liked and what looked good together (though I did check they were all genuinely Renaissance).

[Update: again, here’s the link to the improved version of the mug.]


I have been playing on IceHunters lately, scanning about 25 images per session. My search pattern consists of concentric squares: first I scan the edges, then the intermediate zone, and finally the centre of each image. One gripe: the site seems to have difficulty detecting that I’m already logged in.

On Skepticblog, Steven Novella published a great article on sleep paralysis, which is the scientific explanation behind alien abductions.

In another great article, Eric Michael Johnson interviews Frans de Waal about apes, including those apes who write books and study science. Make sure you check out the links mentioned in the article too, because many of them are well worth reading.

On Language Log, Mark Liberman conducted a survey asking people to give scores for valence and intensity to ten recorded instances of the word “wow“, in order to investigate both the accuracy and consistency of people’s context-free interpretations. I’ve linked to the results.

Mathematical basis of the Apple logo. Huh. I think the mythology around the Golden Ratio is mostly mythology, but still cool.

Pluto has a fourth moon. This is interesting, but rotten timing, because in my upcoming 365 Days of Astronomy episode I mention that pluto has three moons. Dammit, universe; stop messing with me!


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