Thursday, December 27, 2007

Not as expected

Well. I wanted to paint a vampire to practice (undead) skin tones. But it looks like I got Hermione from Harry Potter. This seems like a really bad bargain.



Maybe better luck next time.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas

Here are the remaining two sculptures. I guess the people who got them are less recognisable, but they liked them, and that's all that's important.



(Hmm, maybe I should get people presents that are useful instead of stuff that will clutter up their flats...)


I wish you all a Merry Christmas, if you celebrate it, and a stressless, quiet, enjoyable rest of the day if not. Hope you all get the calm, rest and affection that you wish for and that your evening is as you want it to be.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Looking Back

Yesterday was the end of a 9-successive-days-of-Kendo-period, thanks to the seminar we had this week (and it really should have been 10 days). The seminar went pretty well, considering that I had to hop through the flat on one leg last Wednesday because the other hurt just a little too for me to bother with walking properly. Interesting experience.
It was fun (just too short), and I learned loads - more than on the last one, I think. Made me realize again how much I still have to learn about the very basic techniques. It's great to have so many people who give you helpful criticism.
And good that you only feel how tired you are when everything's over.

***

Less than two weeks till new year, so I think it's time to reflect a bit on 2007. Chronologically:

January: First discussions with my supervisor concerning my thesis topic. Broke up all contact with my ex. Turned out to be an excellent decision, letting me move on with my life without draging old baggage behind.
February: The DAF community project Zoomquilt II, to which I contributed, was released.
March: Did some radical food experiments in my first week of the new semester, which caused my immune system to break down and left me first "only" ill, then with high fever and finally with an infection of my middle ear for two weeks. Wrote a short story containing talking food (Fairtrade milk and organic milk argued with each other about which is better) during that fever at 2am (I submitted that story to a writer's contest. Surprisingly, it didn't win). Decided to not ever repeat that food experiment. Found a second roleplaying group to DM. Started Kendo in Salzburg.
May: Went to Graz to for the Schandmaul concert, visited the Riegersburg and Zotter chocolate factory. Lots of fun. Also went to two medieval fairs on my birthday weekend, which was the best present Markus and Christine could have given me.
June: Determined my thesis topic after lots of reading during the semester.
July: Got to know an almost completely different kind of Kendo in Linz. Sticked with it. Began my daily holiday schedule of staying in the garden during the day, swimming 1-2h per day and reading books for my thesis the rest of the time. Figured that combining physical with mental work is really the most enjoyable way to get work done.
August: Went to my first Kendo seminar. Also went to several medieval fairs and visited the Turba Ferox in Vienna.
September: One week Lesereise of the Germanistik. Ate the best organic apples I've ever tasted there. The lack of a computer for a week and the sense of quietude, increased time and heightened achievement made me rething my computer habits (but, alas, still nothing has changed).
October: New semester of uni started. Found out my timetable is even less crowded than I thought. Consequently decided to move out of my flat in Salzburg. Got bogu. Got stressed because a friend who had started working on her thesis at the same time as I did had already begun writing hers.
November: Got even more stressed because said friend reached page 70 of her thesis, while I still wasn't writing. Had a 2-weekend communication workshop at uni, learning a lot about voice and breathing. Started fighting in bogu. Spent a weekend training Kendo in Innsbruck. Went to the Gesundheitsmesse in Wels, catching the wrong train for the first time in my life (resulting in me finding creative ways to spend an hour at a pitch-black, open train station in the cold). Started sculpting. Went to the first research conference in my life.
December: Said friend finished her thesis. Started writing mine. Had my second Kendo seminar.

So, none of my decisions backfired on me, which is great. All in all, it was a really, really good year. Better than 2006, I think. Actually, thinking back, it was probably the best after 2004/05 (simply because it takes a lot to top the year I spent in Oxford). I'll only reluctantly say goodbye.

Plans for 2008: Finish uni, find a job, move into my own flat. Paint more and improve my technique. Continue Kendo. Spend less money (or rather, spend money only when it's really necessary, and more specifically, buy books only when I'm through with the pile of unread books next to my bed).

***

As written above, I started sculpting about a month ago. I always wanted to get into it, but couldn't get Super Sculpey anywhere. When I ran out of patience (or was at a point of too much motivation) I looked a bit around online and found that a few sculptors use Fimo Soft and Green Stuff and have good end results. Since Fimo is much more easily to get, I just tried it. Here, then, are the first two (fairly average) sculptures of my life (and more to follow after Christmas).
The first one's not in it's finished stage, because I painted over some of the stuff on his clothes after having taken the pictures; but it's still 94% finished.


Saturday, December 08, 2007

Easy targets

Just marginally picking up on the topic of aims in talkshows/courtshows again. Here is a YouTube video (German) that points out the false statements the media makes on ego shooters (usually in relation to shootings at schools). Ego shooters are such a nice scapegoat, and TV viewers who don't go hunting for more information by themselves are usually let in the dark about really significant details.
We talked in one of my courses about the media coverage of the shooting at Erfurt. As the video says, they guy who did it didn't play Counterstrike, even though the media keeps repeating it endlessly, and continuously states that it helped him practice his aim and plan the shooting. What the media doesn't say is that he was member of his local shooting association where he had access to real guns (not the ones controlled by a computer mouse) and practice (and from what I remember of the discussion the course, he also was allowed to use a pump gun because he had a "proven need to shoot" or something like that).
So why mention Counterstrike and not the shooting association? The media debate that followed the shooting resulted in stricter laws in Germany concerning computer games to protect the youth - even though, clearly, even if these laws had been in action before the shooting, they wouldn't have changed what happened.
According to my lecturer, the shooting association was not mentioned because playing ego shooters happens in private, so it is easier to stigmatise it (in the worst case people hide and don't admit to playing the games), while being part of an association is far more in the public domain, so it's more obviously damaging. In the end, though, it probably wasn't mentioned because the German government wanted to get that law approved.
I used to think the media targets ego shooters because they're an easy and accessible scapegoat, so people don't have to blame themselves for raising their children poorly or being socially incompetent by ignoring bullying. But maybe there's a more complex agenda behind these media reports.
Ah well. Just another reminder that not all that's in the news is always even remotely true.

***

More experimenting with techniques. I think I'm slowly getting where I want to be.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Many Meetings

Had a nicely busy last week. I'm starting to like these weekends when I'm up and about every day. Time seems to move slower then, and you experience much more.

But first, books I finished and liked.

Humphrey Carpenter - J. R. R. Tolkien, A Biography
Biographies usually don't appeal to me too much. Recently I've been enjoying them, though. You learn a lot about other people's dreams and ideas. Carpenter moves chronologically through the stages of Tolkien's life, from South Africa through the war to Oxford and Tolkien's last years in South England. If you've read the Lord of the Rings, Tolkien's biography is a small treasure chest. It made me realize that all of Tolkien's life echoes in his works (especially in LotR). Every inch of the way the Fellowship travels is an inch on the way of Tolkien's life. I find this quite amazing.
Reading about all the experiences Tolkien had in his early life was also very interesting. It's a bit intimidating to know about all the languages he taught himself even before going to University and the depth of his love for language. Then his experiences in the World War - a very short chapter, but nevertheless very shocking, especially since the book contains letters from Tolkien and his friends which reflect their feelings more authentically than a simple report could. You get a tiny sense of how crushed he must have been when he lost almost all of his close friends to the war. We probably can't even begin to imagine the full extent of what people felt during the wars. Lucky us.
Tolkien must have been a brilliant man. He had his failings (incidentally, they are sometimes described as his strengths ... shows you how subjective certain things are) and made mistakes, but it seems he usually acted with the best intent and purely out of love for his passions - an attitude that is quite inspirational. Maybe that's what biographies are for; to inspire you and give you an idea of how much can be achieved in a lifetime.

Peter S. Beagle - Tamsin
My sentiments towards Peter S. Beagle are a bit split. Watching the Last Unicorn has become a personal Christmas tradition through the years (even now that I have it on DVD and don't have to wait for December 24th to see it on TV). I probably love the film more than any other animation, simply for its underlying concepts that are hinted at, but not told, and for the ideas these concepts gave me in my childhood. And Christopher Lee's voice as King Haggard is simply wonderful.
The book, however, and other books I'd read so far by Peter S. Beagle, is a different matter. I could never fully take to the writing style. The thing I liked most about it was that it explained some of the concepts the film had hinted at further. But my heart was always with the film, not with the book. Beagle got a second chance when I read The Innkeeper's Song, which was even worse (stylistically). Good story, ideas and concepts, but the style made it very tedious for me. Then I tried his short story collection, The Line Between, of which I remember absolutely nothing.
Still, I didn't give up at that point. I just loved the film too much, and this made me want to love the author and his other books, too. So I let some months pass and gave it a fourth try. Fourth time's the charm, eh?
Tamsin tells the story of a girl, Jenny, who is forced to move from America to England upon her mother's second marriage. The family moves to a rural area into a farm house. Here Jenny begins to see the ghost of a girl, Tamsin, who she befriends. And slowly the story on the history of the farm, Tamsin's life and death and Jenny's coping with her new surroundings and family unravel.
It's the strong voice of the protagonist that made this book so appealing. From the beginning her teenage emotions draw you in and carry you through the story - from the sulkiness due to the unfairness of life up to the utter and overwhelming curiosity she displays at everything and everyone in the world, so you begin to share her interest in the farm and its history. I guess this shows you again how important appealing protagonists are (at least for me). They can kill the story or bring it to life.
Fourth chances are good. You just need to search for long enough and at some point it will click. I only needed to go through four average books to get to a sweet one ("sweet" is probably the right category. I assume the target group are children and teenagers, but I can easily enjoy it even though I'm slightly older ;)

***

That's it concerning books for now. On to last week's business. There was a conference on Popular Culture vs. High Culture in Salzburg from Thursday to Saturday, which I attended on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning. Special guest was John Storey, professor of cultural studies. He specialises, among other things, in popular culture, identity, consumption and globalisation. In my Pop Culture lecture in Oxford three years ago we read one of his books (I still remember most of what he wrote in it, which tells you how accessible he can make his research topics).
It was my first conference and I enjoyed it thoroughly. The topics were great. John Storey talked about the concepts of pop and high culture; another talk was on Doctor Who and its intertextuality and relation to British Culture (comparisions with Buffy, the Vampire Slayer were thrown in occasionally), and my favourite talk was on TV Judges and the Law. The talk analysed the success of courtroom shows. In one of my lecture we had discussed talkshows and their aims the week before, so I constantly compared the talkshows with the court shows. Basically, it was said that talkshows aim at establishing borders and boundaries for social behaviour. They are manufacture for consensus (Konsensmanufakturen), shown by the fact that according to surveys most of the audience (in the studio and in front of the TV) is under the impression that the show host "always agrees with me". People don't primarily watch talkshows to make fun of people's behaviour, but to be told which behaviour is acceptable and which isn't. The host is the one who established these boundaries - if one of the guests breaks through the boundaries that the show aims at building, s/he gets sent off the stage (sometimes even without applause, which tells the audience that his behaviour was utterly inacceptable and out of the norm).
In court shows, not the host but the law sets the boundaries. So in the end court shows aim at reassuring the audience that the country's law system works and is reliable. Unlike talkshows, court shows don't work in all countries, because the court system is very different in some parts. British audience never took a liking to the court shows, so they are virtually unknown in Britain. Allegedly the reason for this is that the law is always portrayed negatively on regular TV (in films, series, etc.), so the British audience rejects a TV format that is affirmative towards the law. Quite fascinating. I wonder what this tells you about the countries that broadcast court shows successfully. It seems we need (or are pressured to find) reassurance in everything - social behavour through talkshows, the law through court shows. What's next? People used to live by trial and error and the experiences of their elders for centuries, but now we need how-to's, workshops and TV shows for everything.

***

Friday afternoon/evening and Saturday was spent in Innsbruck, practicing Kendo, meeting many new people, learning lots and having tons of fun. Warm-ups with 18 people are just great. There's so much more energy present right from the beginning.
Sunday went by with moving stuff from Salzburg to Linz ... not fun. You realize how much stuff you've accumulated when you need to move. And the next time I move there'll be even more stuff to take care of (e.g. all the stuff that's towering up left and right of me and that I have to step over at the moment when I want to walk through my room).

And now it's snowtime! By far not as beautiful as the awesome view we had in Innsbruck on Saturday morning from our sleepingplace (somewhere between mountains, mountains and rocks), but nevertheless I love the sight of the first significant snow on Linz.


Saturday, November 10, 2007

Stardust and Hyperion

Finally watched Stardust (in German, reluctantly). The book is based on, by Neil Gaiman, is one of my favourites - it's a beautiful fairytale that you wish would never end. So my expectations for the film were quite high, although I lowered them, partly because it has been ages since I read the book and also because I realize that, yes, a film is different to a book.
All in all I liked the film. It's not perfect. It has weaknesses (as do most films). There's a bit too much Hollywood kitsch and melodrama in it. The first part is a bit tedious, but the nice bits increase in quantity after some time and by the middle the film is quite enjoyable. I even like some of the changes that were made when translating the book to the screen. Captain Shakespeare is a very nice character and the dancing scene on his ship emphasized the glow of the star/Yvaine in a really nice way.
I also liked the camerawork and the effects. The aforementioned glow was fabulous and the green fire effects impressed me, too (and made me wonder when green fire effects in films became a fashion). They seemed appropriate for the kind of film it is and not over the top.
Also, Claire Danes surprised me with her performance. I was not sure she would fit the role of Yvaine, because I always imagined the star as a quite young girl in the book (appearance of a 13-year-old, but wisdom of the ages, that kind of thing). For the film-Yvaine, though, Claire Danes was very fitting and convincing. I also loved her monologue when Tristan's a mouse.
So Stardust turned out to be a nice and very sweet film; special in its own way, as it does not try to copy a film that has been here before and instead sets its own atmosphere.

***

I also finished reading Dan Simmon's Hyperion. It's a nicely different Science Fiction; almost completely character-driven, and very little actually happens in the book. You basically just get to know the characters' background stories (what a clever way to make the reader buy the sequel) as a set-up for the plot development that is to come. I like that. The little emphasis on character is what usually puts me off SciFi. You even have some of the social criticism that's typical for SciFi. I really enjoyed the religious discourse that worked its way through the book - the novel presents a wealth of world religions (in their futuristic variety) like Judaism, Zen Buddhism and Christianity, competing with each other through the characters (most characters have an emphasis on one religion).
It seems to me that Science Fiction that uses religion as a driving force for the plot or the characters is rare. If religion is present in SciFi, it's only visible as fanaticism (and even then mostly just in end-of-world-scenarios). I guess that's because a futuristic, science- and technology-based world is bound to lose its faith and searches for new gods (e.g. computers, or - as it is probably at least partly the case in the present - Fantasy literature as replacement for the loss of past mysticism, which was greatly based in religious texts).
True enough, Hyperion has an Armageddon-scenario. But it seems to me the religious discourse is still more focused compared to other novels. Moreover, Simmons seems to have researched the religions very thoroughly and developed quite a detailed futuristic version of each, making them more believable. Now I'm very curious how this discourse will resolve itself in The Fall of Hyperion and whether Simmons will actually give one religion a preference (which, I imagine, could be quite tricky).

***

More experimenting with techniques. I used the same technique as in the last painting, but somehow it didn't work so well this time. Apparently some techniques are better for certain subject matters than others (doh). I'm just surprised because I'd have thought this technique would be better for the pretty-girl-paintings than my normal working habit. Gotta experiment a bit more with it.
(Or maybe it's the colour ... it seems I can get the values alright with this technique, but it messes up the colours so much that I have to do a lot of post-painting editing.)
(And the composition is by far less than perfect...)

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Last Lecture

Here is the video of a lecture by Randy Pausch, in which he talks about achieving his dreams and helping others to achieve theirs. It's a bit long, but definitely worth watching. The lecture is funny and insightful, and above all inspiring.
(I love listening to people talk about something they're passionate about. Working all the time just isn't worth anything if you don't have a dream you can work towards to. "If you aim for nothing you will hit every time, but if you aim for the stars at the very least you'll touch the sky.")

***

Some more late night scribbling:

Friday, October 26, 2007

Walk the Walk

Scientists have a tendency to prove what common sense and life experience made you suspect even before it was researched. This seems to happen every couple of months. October's revelation is that Lack of sleep is a lot like mental illness. It is. I know that I feel a little bit crazy when I didn't get enough sleep. Although I'd also say that I feel more drunk than insane when I'm sleep-deprived - with shorter attention spans and less concentration, feeling like I'm walking through mist and am less connected to the real world.

***

I read That Very Mab, a fairy story by folklorist Andrew Lang and May Kendall for my diploma thesis. It's delightful and very "Victorian". It tells how the fairies left England because of the Puritans and moved to Polynesia. When this country gets conquered by the English, too, Fairy Queen Mab decides to go back to England, which she finds profoundly changed. An owl shows Queen Mab all these changes and you can't help but enjoy the critical comments the authors make on late Victorian life through the characters of Mab and the owl. Some of it is distinctly applicable to the 19th century, but a lot of it seems universal, like the owl's explanation on education:

"We are being educated up to a very high point. It saves people the trouble of thinking for themselves, certainly; they can always get all their thoughts now, ready made, on every kind of subject, and at extremely low prices. They only have to make up their minds what to take, and generally they take the cheapest. There is a great demand for cheap thought just now, especially when it is advertised as being of superior quality."

Which reminded me very much of an Austrian newspaper, which advertises by saying that through buying and reading the newspaper, you will quickly and easily gain an (/their) opinion (causing me to wonder why I would want that, as opposed to being able to make up my own mind).

Or this wonderful paragraph about "dynamiters":

It is one of the problems of the nineteenth century. Even the dynamiters themselves don't appear to have gone into the whole logic of it. I suppose that they are tired of only blowing things up on paper, and they are people who have a great objection to things in general. They complain that they can't get justice from the universe in its present state of preservation, and therefore they are going to blow as much of it as possible into what they call smithereens, and try to get justice from the smithereens. It is a new scheme they have hit upon, a kind of scientific experiment. The theory appears to be, that justice is the product of Nihilism plus public buildings blown up by dynamite, and that the more public buildings they blow up the more justice they will obtain. [...] It is reported, also, that if the Nihilists can't obtain justice enough by any less extensive measures, they will lower a great many kegs of nitro-glycerine to the molten nucleus of the globe and then [...] the globe will explode, and all the inhabitants, even the dynamiters themselves; but justice will remain; according to the theory, that is. But it is rather an expensive experiment."

When I first came across older texts that showed people's fears of terrorists I was surprised that they pretty much showed the same attitudes and emotions concerning the topic that are spread in the world now. And this text tells me to a degree that it's not just something that was present in the mid- and late 20th century, but also already appeared in the 19th century.
I guess that's how we are; we like to think we're so high and mighty, and above all special, that we are the first to go through certain troubles and feelings. But the more I read the more I feel that everything we experience has been here long before us. We're just recycling thoughts, mindsets and emotions of our ancestors.
Looking at it logically, it's not so much of a surprise. Everyone lives their average 70+ years and uses this time to develop their thoughts. We start when we are born and don't stop until the end. We don't have much more to help us on this journey that people 100 or 200 years ago didn't have. Makes you realize how little we really learn from the past, as every generation goes through the same development again and again.
Could we accelerate our individual development? We read the books that people who made these experiences wrote, which pushes us into a certain direction. But often we don't fully understand their deeper intent and insights, especially when it comes to philosophy. I imagine this means that you need life experience to really understand it - walk down the road to see and understand what you previously only read about.
That's demotivating and exciting at the same time. It makes you realize that there are many experiences ahead of you that are just waiting there to be discovered, but you also get a glimpse of how much life experience is lost with every human being and that when you're old and dying you'll know that those who come after you will make the same darn mistakes that you made. Sweet circle of life.

So - Carpe Diem, and put your foot on the road.

***

And, as always and lastly, today's painting results. I actually wanted to do the fairies, but then didn't feel like tackling a bigger painting. So I just ended up scribbling away. The character turned out more androgynous than intended.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Do one thing every day that scares you

Click here to view an absolutely wonderful video that simply fills me with a warm, happy feeling and contains a lot of truth.
(Although I disagree about the sunscreen to a degree. Sunscreen has INCIs which are partly bad for you. But I'll admit that sunscreen is still preferable to skin cancer.)
(And: Heh, how apt. My current worries never crossed my worried mind, until it blindsided me at 3pm on this idle Wednesday. Nice...)

***

Sketches for a painting I might do. Might, because my day just hasn't enough hours at the moment (well, maybe I can squeeze something into that additional hour on Sunday ;).

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Painting = Stress Therapy Deluxe

Boy, I cannot even begin to tell you how much is needed this painting. Listening to other diploma students worrying and stressing over their theses is not good for your own stress level. It pretty much does all it needs to make you freak out, too.
So my mind told me to paint, and I did, resulting in another painting session from midnight till dawn. Joy :)



***

I also figured that long-term planning is absolutely no use and just a waste of time. People walk into and away from your life all the time, and all the big, life-changing stuff happens spontaneously and without you being prepared for it. So no need to get all worked up about what'll be in a year from now. Carpe diem, live in the present and do what you enjoy.
(Or maybe that's only the case until you get a job and have the same daily schedule for 40 years and all the life-changing stuff is already past, hmm.)

***

John Howe wrote a nice and interesting statement on Fantasy art in the age of science on his website. Well worth reading.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Tread Soflty

Since I couldn't go to one Kendo practice this week, I decided to instead raid the university library for interesting books (as long as I still can, which won't be long, as I now, err, rather spontaneously decided to fully move back to Linz; still can't believe I'm practically finished with my studies - it happened so fast and just when I was getting comfortable with everything).
So I read Musashi's Book of Five Rings the last days. I really liked the Ground Book. It contains some very, very nice analogies (even though it sort of told me with every word that Kendo isn't what I should do, hmmm). The other Books had some interesting tidbits, too - I particularly liked "Always keep in mind that you can clench your left hand into a fist and thrust it at your enemy's face" - but seemed less informative for me compared to the Ground Book. Maybe you need to do ji-geiko to get more out of them. I also liked the introduction and the notes (which were very helpful!). They made me look forward to reading Hagakure and Bushido.
All in all an interesting and quick read, although I'm not fully convinced by the translation. I have the feeling that it's a secondary translation based on an English translation.
The book also gave me lots of inspiration for new paintings, which is always a big plus!

This painting began with one sentence from Musashi, but then quickly went into the direction of William Butler Yeats:

He Wishes For the Cloths of Heaven
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.


Which is an absolutely beautiful poem. Not for the love-poem-part, but for the last line. It's the purest expression of caritas. When I end up in an embarrassing situation, I usually just say or do anything to get the situation over with as quickly as possible. The problem is that this is sometimes, unintentionally, done at the expense of others. So this is a reminder to myself that other people have feelings too and that I should think twice (or five times or ten) before saying or doing something rashly to get out of a situation - because in the long run it's much more satisfactory for both to be careful in expressing yourself, so you say exactly what you mean and nothing else.



And here's probably the first environmental painting I've ever done. Created for the weekly challenge over at DAF.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Slaughtering Stories

If one-and-a-half chicken produce one-and-a-half eggs in one-and-a-half days, how many eggs do nine chicken produce in nine days?

Many months ago I saw I, Robot on TV and liked it enough to eventually buy the book, which I finished reading yesterday. Plot-wise, it was probably the most surprising book I have ever read. If you have a film fashioned after a book, you expect them to have roughly the same plot (with many cuts and edits, granted, but essentially similar). This is not the case here. What I, Robot the film and I, Robot the book have in common are an Earth that has managed to manufacture robots and the three Laws of Robotics - nothing else. My distant memory of the film tells me its plot was altogether different to what I have just finished reading.
Which is unexpected, surprising, but not necessarily bad. (It means you definitely get more plot than you could ever have expected.)
Isaac Asimov's novel is different to the books I usually read, because it does not build up suspense through character interaction and character development, which are my main interests. I normally find it hard to enjoy a novel if it has no appealing characters. That's probably why I don't read so much Hard Science Fiction - it often evolves more about the future scenario than about single people (here is, to my understanding, the essential difference between Fantasy and SciFi; Fantasy uses a world's destiny and future to build up a story around people, and SciFi uses people to visualise a possible future of our world). Surprisingly enough, I enjoyed I, Robot nevertheless and read through it quite quickly. It's a bit like a short story collection on a common theme and tells about the different stages of robot "evolution" on Asimov's Earth. It's interesting to read about these Laws of Robotics that Asimov invented and at the same time (/in the same book) he pointed out the mistakes and possible fallacies in them; an exemplary thought experiment.

***

Plot discrepancies till the end weren't the only surprise yesterday. I read that Hayao Miyazaki is a feminist, which is a term I'd never have associated with him. I guess it makes sense - the strong female characters are distinctive for his films. Still, I wouldn't have classfied the working women in Mononoke Hime as a sign for feminism; rather as an analogy to the women who had to work during war times - that's probably part of what you miss out on when you watch films from a different culture; you tend to put the situations in them into your own mindframe. Makes me wonder how many more layers foreign films have that I have no access to.

***

Lastly, I came across a great song by the comedy act Tripod. Both their song and their website make my geek heart beat a bit louder.
(Ghost Ship is quite good, too.)

***

Sketches for poses, movements, (weird) anatomy, etc.:

Monday, September 24, 2007

Lady Grey

I just read a bit through my old blog. It's interesting to see the change over the years. January 06 says:

I'm reading Naomi Klein's "No Logo" at the moment. It's a wonderful book. It was recommended to us in my lecture on Popular Culture in Oxford, and I finally got around to buying it. Klein shows a nicely critical view on how branding works and how brands influence our society. I didn't think I could get really interested in such a topic, but the book has really been an eye-opener (not that it's any likely I'll change my consumer habits, but at least I'm aware of certain things now).

20 months later my consumer habits have changed dramatically (and quite a lot of other stuff too, i.e. my relationship with sports). I still hold Naomi Klein's book in the highest regard. I guess it's my personal bible of sorts, if you define bible as "book that carries an ideology which causes people who read it to take over that ideology and maybe even go a step further".
And what we can learn from that is to never say never and that change is often unsuspected and good.

***

I put some colour on the lady:



(Now I wish I had a dress like that ... or at least the top.)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

You violate the ninja code by falling in love

There's now a Black Google. If you're on a CRT, you're saving energy by using it. There seems to be a dispute over whether black on white is easier to read than white on black. But it's easier on the eyes to look at a screen (/TV/etc.) with a brightness adapted to your surroundings (which is why you should generally have a small light on at night to reduce the contrast). So if you do a lot of web-surfing at night, Blackle is probably closer to your surrounding brightness than Google.

***

I stumbled upon some brilliant Japanese Tradition videos on sushi, chopsticks and, best of all, apologizing.

***

Aaand, a character sketch:

Monday, September 17, 2007

RIP Robert Jordan

I've followed Robert Jordan's blog, in which he wrote about the progress of his disease, since I found out that he suffered from amyloidosis. His updates showed so much strength and determination that I believed he would live forever. Reading that he died yesterday came as a surprise and was followed shortly by disbelief. Although I stopped reading his books some years ago, his blog entries made me look up to his courage and optimism. The world has lost a great man.

***

In remembrance of Robert Jordan: Lady Moiraine, the WoT character that appealed to me artistically from the beginning.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Incest Reading in a Castle

The whole last seven days were spent by me and several other students reading at the castle Alt-Pernstein. Some of the students had organized a reading trip to this idyllic place so we could get some of the compulsory reading for our reading list done and discuss the books (which were themed around incest).
I spent a week reading, walking around in the massive forest that surrounds the castle and talking and listening to these highly intelligent people sharing their ideas. There was no TV and no computer. The serene silence was only interrupted whenever one of the students took his viola to play for us (and although I'm not into classic music, I found that it served quite well to order your thoughts and ponder on all sorts of stuff). It's amazing how many hours a day can have when you don't spend it among technology.
Coming back from the castle was almost like a culture shock. You're among these highly educated and thoroughly kind and pleasant people all the time. There are no arguments, only focused discussions on a civilized level (friendly, productive arguments, so to say). When you come home from such a trip, even a not-so-serious argument seems quite harsh. You realize how uncommunicative it is to sit in front of the TV while talking (because suddenly people don't even seem to hear your questions, when you got used to having even a hint of an attempt to say something recognized).

This made me once again realize how much influence the people who you surround yourself with make on you and your sense of happiness and satisfaction. As the article from my last posting says: "True satisfaction comes only through direct relationships with living realities. A good conversation with dear friends is far and away a greater source of joy than viewing a DVD."
It makes such a big difference to be among people who are not trying to be better than you or put you (or others) down, or who have so much anger inside that they forget to enjoy the small pleasures life offers. But within a few days, I'll probably go back to my old ways without realizing how harsh parts of it are. It's a shame you can't bottle feelings in small vessels to preserve them.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Non-attachment

I took a walk in the nearby forest yesterday. At some point, while I was enjoying nature around me, I thought "If I was mistress of this forest, if I owned it, I would be happy walking here all the time." Of course, a split second later I realized that how I feel while taking a walk is not related to whether I own the ground I walk on or not. I wonder why our first impulse is always to connect happiness with property, when usually it's the other way round. Owning property makes you afraid of losing it. On the other hand, you need to own enough to have a certain minimum living standard (which varies from person to person) to fulfil the basic human needs.
But since we're living in the Western world, I can assume that most people have more than they need. We could all do with less.
I'm guessing that it's a cultural thing. Buddhism seems to be strong on simplicity and non-attachment. As the article says, we're living in a culture that values property and urges people to consume. So we don't usually think in terms of getting rid of our property.
Later, when I came home in the evening, I discovered that about half of my internet bookmarks had somehow disappeared. I was annoyed at first, then wondered which bookmarks had actually gone - the ones I use on a daily basis were still there. It took me some time to remember that they were my reference bookmarks that I use occasionally to look something up (quite a lot for online shops, Fairtrade websites and living history pages). I was annoyed again, but then somehow relieved and ended up feeling quite positive. It's a bit like starting anew.
Of course, then I found a way to recover the bookmarks and was slightly disappointed at this failed opportunity. But I still remember that sense of relief I felt.
I'll take this as a sign to go through my cupboards, wardrobe and anything else and throw away what I don't need anymore. I used to do this every summer until two years ago. Time to start anew.

***

Sketches:

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Golling

I came across this test in which you can try to distinguish fake smile from real ones. I got 19 out of 20 right, which surprised me. It's amazing how close you can get when you know what to look for.

***

This weekend was our traditional annual medieval fair in Golling. Unfortunately, our friends from Lower Austria with who we usually met up there didn't come, but it was a lot of fun nevertheless.
What I love about the fair in Golling is that it's surrounded by beautiful mountains and forests. Usually a part of the fair was held in the city and the majority just a little outside on a field and, after a short path through the forest, on a big clearing with a lake. This year the part from the city was moved beyond the lake on (again) a big field next to the forest. This enhanced the atmosphere even more. We took some time to just lie on the grass next to the lake and enjoyed the cool air that came from the forest. All in all it was a wonderful fair, lots of fun and I discovered a great music group.

The lake:



Christine and I in the new dresses we made. I also made my brother's trousers. Next I'm planning to make a complete outfit (including underdress) based on medieval drawings. Concerning that one, I want to try to push the authenticity level as much as possible concerning the cut.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Granum

My first Kendo Seminar is over. It was an interesting and fun experience, and I learned a lot (although I only ever realize how much I actually learned when I look at the notes I took every day, which comprise two pages of small, squashed handwriting). While I didn't reach the limits of my bodily energy and felt it could have been more exhausting, I probably did reach the limits of my mental learning capacities with the nine Kihon-waza.
Interestingly enough, as the days went by I got gradually less sleep, which I didn't mind until the last day on which I was walking around like a zombie after midday and fell asleep when I came home. Allegedly you need less sleep when you exercise a lot. I'd believe it if I didn't know that I got up at 6am on Saturday because my brother had said that my strikes suck and I therefore wanted to be in the dojo a bit earlier to practice a bit.
On the one hand I'm sorry it's over, but on the other glad, because I got a few painful do strikes on the hip and a men on my fingers on the last day, and everybody's concentration wouldn't have increased, so such accidents might have happened more often. There's also this huge amount of experiences you get within a few days - I held a Iaido sword in my hands, learned nine Kihon-wazas and a Nihon-kata, consulted Google and YouTube more than ever, needed a tape for my feet for the first time, had my first exam and have now tons of stuff that I know I have to improve on - I'll need some time to process all of that.

Again, I can't help but to see the similarity to drawing. There's always room to improve, and especially as a beginner or amateur you feel overwhelmed and sometimes demotivated at this huge task ahead of you.

***

I finished Not on the Label today. The last chapter on The Ready Meal was very interesting and insightful, although only partly applicable for me, as I don't eat ready meals. The rest of the book was nice, too, but not as useful. The last chapter talked not only about ready meals, but also about the ingredients of yoghurts and how eating habits have changes through the decades (e.g. We now consume many more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids. The ratio should be 1:1, but is now at 10:1 or even 20:1. The chapter also discussed how there may be a link between omega-3 fatty acids and a reduction of violence).

I also quite liked the afterword of the book:
"Food is one of life's great pleasures. Shopping for it, preparing it and eating it has bound people together for centuries. It is in eating together that we are socialized. In the end, it's about what kind of society we want."

***

A quick design I made for a roleplaying game:

Friday, August 10, 2007

Zen and Jedenspeigen

Kendo training on Thursday was great. Afterwards it felt as if endorphins rather than blood and water were flowing through my body. I again realized that I really have to work on my concentration. It seems to have deteriorated over the years, and I'm now much too easily distracted (causing me afterwards to do some research on the philosophy behind it. Wikipedia says it takes many years to be capable of mushin. I think that's an understatement).
I'm trying to apply what I learn from Kendo to drawing/painting. There are similarities. My arm and wrist are tensed up during Kendo; that's probably also what makes my sketches look so unappealing (apart from the anatomy mistakes). Maybe my grip on the pencil should be much more relaxed and not as tight as it is, so the end result won't look forced and I can pay more attention to the lineweight. I probably also should approach drawing more analytically - observe, notice patterns and causes for mistakes and eradicate them. You learn more effectively when you're aware of every step you take, because then you see when you take the wrong path.

***

I spent the weekend in Vienna, buying books and going to a medieval fair. I finished reading one book on the train and came back with five new books. The shelf next to my bed is now officially unable to take more books.
I started reading Not on the Label, which seems to be very similar to We Feed the World, only that it's specific to the British market. The author had a look at products from Sainsbury and Wal-Mart, talked to workers in Birmingham, etc. So in the end it will probably be not as useful to me as it could be, but I got it for 1€, so I won't complain. So far I found out that packaged salad is put into water with chlorine before being packaged, with a chlorine level twenty times higher than in swimming pools. Yummy. Another good reason for me to buy organic food.

The market in Jedenspeigen was nice, although I guess that was mostly because of the people I met there. Rhiannon played quite frequently, but apart from them the program didn't interest me that much. The market was also fairly small and took place on a field (the organizers had lots of hey put on the ground). The earth was extremely dry, there were lots of people, resulting in lots of dirt being whirled up and blown into our faces. I was regularly trying to get the dirt out from under my contact lenses. However, what I really liked about the market was that the people from the craft guild (Handwerksgilde) were there and gave you lengthy explanations when you asked about their work. I learned a lot from listening to them. They were also very friendly and approachable.


A very nice church that we came across while walking to the market. Lovely architecture.


One of the craft guild.


Two "knights" practicing their sword play. That was also a very nice visual image, those two silhouettes moving about in front of the sky.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Weiche, Satan

Finished this painting after what must have been almost a year. I had a looong break in between because I continually did some research on the topic (child abuse) and that dragged me down, so I didn't want to work on it anymore. Also because the topic is important to me, therefore I wanted the picture to be good and I invested more time in it than usually. Now I call it finished/abandoned, although there are several points I'm not happy with. Can't improve them with my current skills, so I need to improve my skills (with more sketches and paintings).



***

Here's something for the "Fantasy readers worship Satan" faction (who are probably not reading this blog):

While this is a topic that I'm not researching, it might have been my topic if my first noe had been rejected and I'm still moving on its borders (in an unplanned sort of way). I may be wrong, but my reading so far suggests otherwise. It seems that Fantasy was initially not written to fulfill all our devilish desires, to oppose the Pope and the Church and to lead unsuspecting children to black masses, so they try cursing each other with wands. Quite the contrary.
Tolkien may be the godfather of Fantasy, but the genre started earlier - that is, in my thesis period, the Victorian age. And it began with writers William Morris and George MacDonald, who were devoutly Christian (isn't that a surprise?). How did this happen? My semi-proved theory says that the Enlightenment caused people to become rational on the one hand, but on the other hand a group of people formed a counter-movement to rationality and fully delved into Victorian sentimentality. With the Enlightenment, people brutally found out that man is fallible and imperfect and that their Eden-esque ideal does not and cannot exist. Imagine how crushed they were. So the crushed people tried to hold up their ideal and their moral standards by writing books of morality. Either realistic novels in which the protagonist is some kind of emotional and social uber-human who is - despite what science had shown - perfect, or Fantasy novels that bring the protagonist into a different world (-> "Otherworld Fantasy"), which resembles Eden, where he/she experiences stuff that improves him/her morally and from whence he/she returns as an improved human being to spread the love.
(Sort of like going out to do a sport that challenges you physically and mentally and returning as a better person.)
So, there you go, book-burners! The original idea of Fantasy was not to make people worship Satan, but to turn them into good Christians. I'll just sit here and cringe for a bit as this insight fully fills my mind.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Harry Potter 7

New Scientist has an article saying that obesity is possibly (socially) contagious. It sounds ridiculous at first, but when you read the article and think about it, it makes sense. I guess it ranges in the same category as peer pressure/soft power. We proclaim our individuality, but simultaneously became more of the same.

***

Finished reading HP7 (so rejoice, this will be the last HP posting for a long while). Overall, I enjoyed it. The first two thirds could have been more interesting. You notice that J.K. Rowling is not used to deviating from the usual Hogwarts school year structure. It was nice that quite a few characters died (could have even been more - I was hoping Harry would die). The last third was absolutely wonderful; very capturing (although I didn't need the heaven-scene and the epilogue). I loved Snape's memories. The book is a good ending to a good series. And, as always, I'm happy to finish off a series so I can start something new.

***

Couple of sketches from the Irish Pub and FNM. It's amazing how you notice that many different people sit in the same position a lot.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Harry Potter 5

There's a nice article on organic farming over at New Scientist.

***

I watched HP5 a couple of days ago. It was nice - dark and moody. The essentials of the book were in it (as far as I could remember), but - of course - a lot was cut, so the film really could have been longer. Despite the 140 minutes it seemed quite short and a little too fast-paced. I don't think cutting Daniel Ratcliffe's hair was a good decision aesthetically and Sirius again looked too elegant and handsome. I'm also not sure if people who haven't read the book understand all that is going on in the film (Tonks' red hair wasn't explained at all, also pretty much her whole appearance; same with Kreacher). Still, as someone who has read the book and who watched the film for a nice visual reminiscence of a known story, it was good and enjoyable. The film has some very amiable characters who partly don't get enough screen time (Tonks, for instance). And some who do get their due screen time - I was looking forward to every appearance of Luna Lovegood and I still love Katie Leung's (Cho Cang) accent. All in all recommendable, even if you don't know the book.
Hm, I do wonder if it's common for British girls to yell "cute" and "awww" whenever a teenage character appears and does something "cute" (I admit, Ron had a nice hero-scene when he defended Harry, but it's nothing that I find culturally justifyable to go vocal about).

***

Started as a sketch to get into the flow, thus the boring content:
Loosely inspired by George MacDonald's At the Back of the North Wind

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Back to Camelot

The fair in Linz was nice. Huge masses of people, which got annoying around midday, but in the evening there were fewer people, the heat cooled down and we had a good time. There was some very good stuff at the fair. Some of my favourite merchants (Windalf, for example) and nice, skilled artists. Frank und Frey did an awesome fireshow with eight people and Discordia, as ever, showed a highly motivated swordfight, which resulted in one of the fighters injuring his knee. The fair was just a bit weak on the music side, which is a shame, since that's my favourite part.

Photos:


Going to the fair in the morning, posing with our mead horns.



This was a fairly young group from Linz. They were nice (although it was obvious they were still inexperienced) and tried to involve the kids, which was good, as the fair was aimed at families.



Angus der Barde, who was the most entertaining musician at the fair (of the two that played). And he was nice enough to keep playing a bit when the artist who was scheduled after him could not come.



Aaaand the jester. He was awesome. At the fairs, the good jesters can be as good as the music (for me), and sometimes even better. He was definitely a good one. Poor him could not speak German and tried to communicate in English with the children (who had no idea what he wanted). Very sweet guy.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Kendo and BBC

Since I have holidays now there's not University Kendo training. So my brother and me contacted the Kendo society in Linz and asked if we could train with them. On Tuesday was our first day.
It needs to be said that the Kendo I do in Salzburg is more free, less perfectionist and less aimed at tournaments, while my brother's society in Graz and the one in Linz (especially the one in Linz) go all the way for tournaments. So I now next to nothing about all the formalities, what the single kata are called, what a big men and a small men is, etc. And, sure enough, this hit me right at the beginning when everybody got into a circle and we did exercises with everybody counting to ten ... in Japanese. Imagine you're standing around with, oh, say twelve people and all of them count perfectly in Japanese, even your own brother (hmpf, what a betrayal). In the end I sort of whinced my numbers and hoped it would be over soon. Oh the shame. I need to learn Japanese till next week.
Apart from that, it was great. The different level of the group in Linz gives me a wonderful chance to improve a lot and to learn massively. Especially because, and this is what I like most about it, every advanced kendoka gives helpful instructions to the novices during the exercises (so in my case, everybody else tells me what I am doing wrong, haha!). I'd probably be scared and intimidated to death if the people weren't so friendly. Well, I'm looking forward to learning and improving. Everybody is a novice of anything at some point of their life.

***

I also seem to have a British Films - phase. I liked Plots with a View from the first time I saw it, then saw Calendar Girls some time last week and watched several of the BBC evening shows the last two days. Granted, most of them I don't find great and kept watching them purely for their accents. I liked Liar though. It's an interesting show, the audience seems involved and I love the parts where the people throw in colloquial English. I also saw Little Britain, which seems to have a fanship among some students of English in Austria. Not sure what to think of it. Some is funny, some is gross, some I just don't understand. Nod and accept, I guess.


So, on Saturday we have the medieval fair (yay!) and in two weeks Alex is visiting me (I'm noticing a peculiar tendancy in my life involving guys who are willing to drive 8-10h to see me ... hmmmm). Ah, yes: Also, one of my paintings is featured in the Ascheherold 6, which is a magazine providing adventures and other materials for the free RPG Darkage. I'm not too familiar with the RPG (although it sounds interesting and fun, from what I've read), but there's also an artist's portrait (of me) in the Ascheherold, and also a part about life, battle and fashion in the Middleages, so it's worth checking out.
(Err. That is, if you speak German. Otherwise you can just look at the pictures

Monday, June 18, 2007

It's getting dark

The program for the medieval fair in Linz was announced (here). It seems the organizers are trying to even top last year's fair. There's again free entry, plus free breakfast (as long as there is food), some kind of prize draw for people in costumes (yay!), a beer tasting and horse-drawn carriage rides. And again, the fire show at night and a concert. I can only repeat my statement from last year: Linz is great and I'm deeply impressed by the cultural program it offers, especially if you compare this fair with some others that you have to pay for.
...like Salzburg's, which was last weekend. The fair was pretty much like last year. Same program and same merchants, just some different musicians (who were as good as last year). It was a nice, little market, nothing overly exciting, but nice. Of course, usually it's the company who makes the market, and I went with two roleplay geeks and enjoyed their company a lot. No photos, because I forgot my camera in my flat.
So far, of the three fairs I've been to this year, I enjoyed Schörfling most. And not just because it caused me to appear on the front page of an online magazine on medieval fairs :)

I'm looking forward to the summer vacation. Then I'll get back into my habit of painting 5+ hours every day. And, of course, there'll be my research trip to England!

Sketches:
(the first pages of my sketchbook-to-go)



Thursday, May 31, 2007

Haul the Colours Up High

I went to see Pirates of the Carribean in English last week. What a pain (the process of getting there, not the film). I missed the bus by two minutes, so I had to get to the cinema in 20 minutes (the bus takes 10 minutes). Miraculously, I managed it and was only five minutes late, wondering if I was in the wrong film since the people on screen were talking (singing) in German. There were lots of language issues in the whole film - German sound, no sound, etc. In the end, we got our money back, because the group of English people complained (they probably didn't understand a word in the German parts).
All in all, though, I liked the film. Definitely better than the first sequel and I liked Jack better as well. Ooooh, his first scene. It was brillliant. I first thought "Hmmm, this is ... kinda abstract" until he appeared on the screen and everything made sense. So, unlike the second film, worth watching.

***

The medieval fairs were good. Lots of fun, lots of nice sellers. On Saturday we got into a thunderstorm and hid in the car for an hour. Tittmoning was the bigger market, more merchants, more visitors, more people in appropriate garment. My brother bought some clay dishes. Schörfling was a quite small town market. Fewer people and merchants and (at the beginning) almost no people in garment except for us. But this meant we had more time to peacefully walk through the area and watch the shows. Surprisingly, we also bought more stuff there. I got myself an amber bracelet and (tam-tam-tam) a leather armguard from AC Atelier (I wanted to have something like that since I saw two friends from Amsterdam wearing them). Markus got a dagger from them. I was very impressed with their work ethics - the normal armguards sold at such markets are for men, so far too big for me. I told the merchant that I'm looking for something smaller, and he said he could custom-make one for me in an hour. We went away so I could think about it (it would have cost 30€), and when we came back some time later to give him the commission, he had one ready and gave it to me for 15€. Awesome! Next my brother is getting a sword from him and I probably a fibula or some buttons.
We also found our favourite mead seller in Schörfling, who renamed her shop, but will be at a lot of the fairs we will be going to this summer (now there's a bottle of hemp mead in our cellar). We also found out that there will again be a fair in Linz this year. With all the nice stuff we got and the information, it was a really good birthday.

***

A quick portrait I made for a dear friend. Alex's character:
(roughly referenced off the mirror in my room)

Friday, May 18, 2007

Aggression and Responsibility

New Scientist has an article about the "quirkier" scientific breakthroughs in the world of science. It's a nice read (yes, I admit I'm interested in some abnormal sciences, including popular anthropology).

The website also has an article on Bipolar Disorder. Most of what it says is common knowledge, but one remark made me hesitate.

"Carlson says many parents and doctors would prefer to have a medical diagnosis rather than accept that a badly behaved child is psychologically normal."

Is this so common nowadays? Do we prefer children with psychological children to badly behaved children (i.e. refuse to take responsibility for their upbringing), as we prefer thinking that violent shooters make teens aggressive rather than considering their upbringing and surroundings? Nobody wants to take responsibility anymore.
Just today, I experienced what was probably the strongest outbreak of aggression in my life so far (thinking back, I really can't remember anyone getting even close to that level of physical violence, the closest being an ex of mine whose aggression was mostly on the verbal level - physical violence seems to be 98% absent from my life). It was at a Magic - The Gathering tournament that's held weekly in one of the local shops. Two guys drank too much and one of them got fed up to the point that he pushed his table hard at the other player (the owner's helper), threw his mobile phone around (hitting me and Christine) and made threats (while ignoring his girlfriend who was in mourning). I heard the other player kicked said helper hard last week when the helper tried to get him out because he was smoking. Responsible, of course, is the alcohol. Really gets you thinking (also in relation to the alcohol anthropologics I've posted about some time ago). I've been wondering for the last few hours if the majority of the world is that aggressive, or has the potential to be.
A part can't help to be fascinated by all the emotional interactions and by seeing how people react to the outbursts. I love watching people interact, observing their gestures and their behaviour. I think it's very beneficial for your creative work, be it painting or writing.

***

Here's the finished version of the WIP painting I showed some months ago. I didn't touch it for several months because I was afraid of painting the guy's pose. It turned out alright, but I had some higher hopes for it. Ah well.
It's an illustration of the medieval story "Lanval". I'd pull out the original text from the Norton Anthology and type it, but after what happened to day I'm not much in the mood for it. It's a beautiful story though, well worth getting a copy of (or looking up online).
Still, medieval painting, here you go. Next weekend I'll be on two medieval markets, in Tittmoning (Germany) on Saturday and in Schörfling am Attersee on Sunday. I've been excited about these two for a long time now. It will be awesome!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Weekend Fun

I'm back from an absolutely fantastic weekend in Graz. I went there Friday afternoon to see the Schandmaul concert and then stayed till today, visiting the Zotter chocolate factory and the Riegersburg with my brother and some friends.

The concert was, in my opinion, the best to date (apart from the fact that I had to throw away my water bottle because it had a cap). Good atmosphere, very good view to the stage and great songs. Schandmaul always manages to connect to the audience really well and interacts a lot. It seems to me that they even became better at that.
On Saturday we first went to the Zotter factory, where we got a short introduction and could then try out a good variety of their chocolate types (100, all in all) and also got some drinking chocolate. I decided that dark Whiskey chocolate tastes better than I'd have thought.
In the afternoon we went to the Riegersburg and had a look at the castle and the museum, and later watched a bird of prey show with hawks, vultures, eagles and Hedwig. The whole castle and the show were breathtaking. We were lucky to have a beautiful weather, so we could enjoy everything to its fullest extent. Allegedly the castle is the biggest in Europe. It's certainly one of the nicest I've ever seen, with a lot of garden space and absolutely beautiful landscape all around. The birds were cooler than expected. I usually prefer hawks over all others, but this time the vulture was my favourite. It was about 2.5m long and made an awful sound when breathing, which really gave you the chills. We were told its favourite place is down in the town at some cafe, where all the tourists go. It ravages the tourists' handbags, because it expects them to contain meat (like their trainers' bags).
And the rest was all good food. In the evening some pubs with lots of billiard playing (among them an Irish Pub in which I confirmed that Irish Coffee tastes a lot better in Ireland and that buying a small sketch to carry around was the best purchase in the last few months), and today we went to my brother's favourite Chinese for lunch, which now is also my favourite Chinese. Chinese food that doesn't all taste the same is good - especially if there are fruits and ginger in it.

The inventor of Zotter chocolate, Mister Zotter.



The chocolate shop with 100 different flavours and some chocoholics. They all left the shop with grins on their faces. I'm guessing everyone was high from the very strong chocolate smell inside.



The Riegersburg. Isn't it beautiful?



The cool vulture who eats tourist handbags.



Hedwig. She didn't like this at all, being thrown among a heap of tourists who want to look at her and take a photo with her. Poor Hedwig screamed all the time.



***

I put a review of Tad William's Rite up on my Website (in German; it's here. More to follow.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Gattaca

Denni, friend and RPG victim, lent me Gattaca, a Science Fiction film from back in the days when I didn't go to the cinema yet and therefore missed some good stuff (that's 1997, the year in which I went to the cinema precisely once to see Titanic). I'm impressed by what the film succesfully tries to communicate. There are so many layers of meaning in it that I probably haven't even glimpsed some of them. It's fantastic, and definitely helps my current thirst for SF-films that are set in a near future and show up possible scenarios.
Moreover, it's not typical SF with lots of action and technology and modern design. It's a quiet and peaceful and intelligent film. Very recommendable.


***

Very rough idea sketch for a painting I want to do:

The Freedom You Desire

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Not Buying It

I finished reading the book. It was okay - some good stuff and some stuff that wasn't interesting for me. The book is divided in chapters, one for each month. The first three months didn't give me much useful/interesting information. After that it got better, as the author got involved with groups and visited people who follow an alternative lifestyle.
Overall, though, the book didn't fullfill the hopes I had in it. Mostly it showed me that compared to some of the Americans described in the book, my own way of living is alright. I raised my eyebrows a few times as I read about kitchens containing at least four types of rice and about people who are proud to have eaten out only under ten times in the last six months.
The insights at the end were interesting, and mostly comply with my own point of view. I was surprised by the impact that year had on the author's relationship with her partner (they did the year without shopping together). For some reason I have the opinion that most guys wouldn't want to break free from the comfort culture (because they see no use in it?). If I did something like that, I wouldn't even consider asking my partner to join me - probably because most people in my surroundings get annoyed whenever I raise the topic ethic living.

I figured there are three behaviour types that are considered to be ethical in respect to consuming:

a. Buying organic goods
b. Buying Fairtrade goods
c. Cosuming less

While you can always do c, you get some problems when you try to combine it with both a and b. Firstly it's hard to find stuff that's both Fairtrade and organic - shops specialise either in organic goods or Fairtrade. Secondly, Fairtrade goods come from very, very far away, which increases the good's environmental footprint. Combine that with the try to buy groceries from local farmers and avoid fruits, vegetables, etc. from far away countries, and you're facing tough decisions.
If you want to buy apples, and have the choice between common apples from Austria/your country and organic apples from Spain or Italy, which is the better choice?
Thing is, every one of the categories I stated above stands for something else. Organic goods are produced with regards to the environment (their impact on your pocket will probably be bigger than their impact on your health, and they probably taste the same). Fairtrade goods center on human rights. Consuming less is a statement against pop culture and consumer culture. I guess you have no other choice than to set priorities (apart from c, which you can do regardless). Which is more important, human rights or protecting the environment? Does the organic-ness of the apples from Spain even out the transport effects on the environment? I have no idea.
(In the end I went for Austrian apples, though.)

***

Kendo training was outside today. What an amazing experience. We're lucky that our dojo is part of a leisure activity centre for children and youths, so there is a big greenspace attached. Not to mention how handsome the guys in the hakama look when they're standing on the grass and the wind moves the garment slightly (ever since I started Kendo and saw the sensai in his hakama for the first time I wanted to make a painting depicting it). Today's training was less exhausting, because we just worked on the zen mindset and practiced cutting techniques involving three enemies. Most of all, I like the constant support of the sensai - improving our techniques without saying what we're doing is wrong, adapting individually to our various needs. Shame I didn't start with it earlier.

***

Rough painting I did for one of the contests over at the ImagineFX website. The face is heavily referenced, obviously, to get the likeness. I still need to go over it again to polish it a bit - which I had intended to do before submitting it, but since I somehow messed up the deadline and had a day less than expected, this is how far it got. Those are the problems you're confronted with when you don't just paint for yourself :)

Saturday, April 14, 2007

What's with all the screaming?

Ah, springtime. All the sun, birds and the warmth put me into a very giggly and playful mood, which I use to the utmost extend. I forgot how much fun teasing everybody around me is.

Now I am really ready for all the medieval fairs.

I went downtown today because I needed an envelope to submit a short story to a writing competition (I wrote the story when I had 38.5 degrees and everything was spinning around me - thankfully I've been more or less healthy again the last few days, after literally weeks of being ill).
"Pure Irony", I thought on the tram to the city. I was reading Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping by Judith Levine while I was on my way to go shopping. When you do that, thoughts about shopping for pleasure roam around in your head all the while you're walking in and out of shops. Not that I bought much (compared to other people), but most of what I got was probably not necessary. I checked out a couple of shops that sell organic clothes, bought envelopes, a small sketchbook to carry around with me, two CDs, an organic Fairtrade shirt and a tiny lipstick box. (If you now think "What the hell?" you're entirely right to do so. That was just my thought the first time I saw the lipstick boxes. It seems ridiculous that a market exists for such a thing. However, the box has the perfect size to put some small pencils and an eraser in, to carry around with the sketchbook.)
70€ total, roughly. 10€ of that are for things that I needed (envelopes and office material). For all the stuff that's not needed, I have excuses. With the shirt I support the local Weltladen, and I'm on an all-time-low for shirts anyway, because I gave away a lot. I want to sketch more, so I needed a sketchbook and the lipstick-soon-to-be-pencil-box. I need new CDs to not go insane, because you tend to listen to a lot of CDs when you paint several hours a day.
I see I'm still quite a bit away from my year without shopping. I'd probably even try it as a project, but I just can't see how I could live without going to the cinema and buying books. I breathe and eat books. The last two weeks, I've been devouring them (seven books in ten days, mostly for uni or my diploma thesis). More, I don't just need books, I need to own the books I read. Books are the one thing that I need to possess and dominate, I reckon (probably for lack of anything else I can dominate, so maybe I can stop buying books once I have a pet).
Ah, books. Source of wisdom, travel companion, burglar stunner; I could not live without your pages of words.

Of course, a month without shopping is on my 101 list. A month is ok. I have enough books to last me a month. I just need to find a month without good films (and looking at most of the recent films, the possibility of such a month arriving gets increasingly likely).

These thoughts crossed my mind while I walked through the streets and shops of Linz, feeling increasingly bad due to the increasing weight of my shopping bag. Back on the tram, on my way home, however, I consoled myself by looking at all the teenage boys and girls with their plastic bags from H&M and all the women with their plastic bags from Kleiderbauer, some of who had more mass in their bags than in and on their bodies (shocking, really), while sitting there with my book and my cloth bag, in which I had conveniently hidden the plastic bag I had got when the shot assistant hadn't asked me whether I even wanted one.

***

I stumbled across musician Jonathan Coulton the other day. His songs are very entertaining. Typical pop tune, but the lyrics are hilarious. I especially like Skullcrusher Mountain. First of May and Chiron Beta Prime are also quite funny. Shame that it seems I can't get his CDs anywhere here.

***

Current insights from my reading of secondary literature for my diploma thesis:

Amazons

Amazons somehow got pregnant (through raping their future victims, I presume) and killed their male babies (instead of bringing one or two up as a baby-making-machine).

They also cut off one of their breasts in order to improve their usage of the bow.

(Makes you wonder if that really works. My bow-shooting skills are quite good even though I have two breasts.)

(What do Amazons have to do with Victorian fairies, you ask? Nothing at all, love, and at the same time everything. Sexual liberation and independence.)

***

Sketches: Some mermaids here, because they've been part of my thesis reading as well, next to Amazons. Nina Auerbach compares them to angels in Woman and the Demon, saying both creatures submerge themselves, but to different means.