# Cooking with Escher: A Practical Solution to a Geometric Problem

This is from my own Facebook post from a few years ago, during the winter holidays, when I had a boatload of gingerbread cookie dough to go through. I’m not always a fan of baking, but I don’t mind the meditative aspects once the kids have gotten over their helping phase (they do fine, it’s just not very relaxing).

Anyway I had some thoughts about women’s work and its devaluation and how simple actions that we learn to do can have complicated underlying rules. I’d either recently bought or recently read a book on Escher with the kids, and so I imagined a book that took the idea of tiling and applied it to baking – a book that analyzes the concepts of positive and negative space and their optimization to get a maximum yield of cookies, given a plane with defined boundaries, and also a known quantity of cookie dough.

Of course, you have to calculate the rate of expansion during the actual baking, because while ordinary problems of tiling require the entire surface to be covered, you don’t want one large mass of cookie (generally speaking – of course there are exceptions). I wrote a short summary for the book jacket:

An exercise in the ancient question of tiling a regular surface with irregular shapes in order to produce a maximum yield with a minimum of fuss, “Cooking with Escher” examines several distinct categories of shapes. Inspired by the enigmatic mathematical genius, this is a purely practical analysis of the unique challenges presented by each individual shape. The categories explored in this edition are: basica, exoticb, roboticc, patrioticd and erotice. Final results are not available due to extreme consumption.

Citos vārdos, dziļi matemātiska nodarbe ar noslieci uz ģeometriju. (In other words, a deeply mathematical activity with an inclination towards geometry.)

I still imagine what this book could be, with diagrams and arrows and lots of calculus formulas.

a – Basic shapes adhere more-or-less to regular geometric shapes, in this case, a square.

c – Robotic shapes are defined by their resemblance to anthropomorphic appearance and yes I know it’s a snowman.

e – Erotic shapes in this case are defined by the jargon term for female genitalia, i.e. squirrel.

d – Patriotic shape, self-explanatory.

b – Exotic shapes are tropical animals not usually met in the wilds of the northern hemisphere.

This is my idea of a fun quiet time with myself.

# What Remains After

Because I have so many links about art saved (>200), I’m trying to group them by themes. Today’s theme is abandoned spaces, and although the title seems a bit dark, it’s not a commentary on current events in the world.

What remains after we are gone? After the life industrial has faded and transformed into its modern, shiny, robotic cousin? (Well, that’s how the moving pictures show it…)

The end of everything? The slow decay of silent things, with no one to witness their passing? The carcasses of once-great buildings, now uncertain in their unstable uselessness and sharp aura of danger? There is potential in these abandoned and lost spaces – but a melancholy potential, the complete opposite of new beginnings, a potential that is meaningless and only full of the possibilities of what could have been, what never was, what never will be. A lot of never will be.

From THE END OF EVERYTHING, by Jan Erik Waider.

Still, what it can be is a whole lot of art.

# The Importance of Having Soft Tissues

Everybody knows dinosaurs are awesome, but it’s also commonly known that scientists and artists are extrapolating heavily from the available fossilized remains – in other words, reconstructing the Jurassic past requires a lot of guesswork. What we think dinosaurs look like is a carefully estimated probability of which muscle attached where, based on the (sometimes very) few bones that are found.

However, from time to time the circumstances align just so and some soft tissues are also preserved – as formerly squishy soft things and also in the bones of dinosaurs.

Anyway, the whole point here is that I like to look at paleoart. But how do we know they are right? (Spoiler: we don’t, not really.) What C.M.Koseman has done is examine some modern day animals and try to reconstruct them from the point of view of a fossil hunter millions of years in the future (personally, I think there might be a multi-leg bias in future interpretations, but Koseman has done his best):

C.M. Kosemen is an Istanbul-based artist and author (along with John Conway and Darren Naish) of the 2012 book, All Yesterdays: Unique and Speculative Views of Dinosaurs and Other Prehistoric Animals. A long-time creature designer, Kosemen had always had an interest in dinosaurs, but he embarked on his book with Conway after they began to realize that something was a bit off. “We were both dinosaur geeks, but the more we looked at these skeletons, and the more we looked at the pictures, we noticed that most mainstream dinosaur art didn’t look at dinosaurs as real creatures,” says Kosemen.

Most serious paleoart bases itself on the detailed findings of paleontologists, who can work for weeks or even years compiling the most accurate descriptions of ancient life they can, based on fossil remains. But Kosemen says that many dinosaur illustrations should take more cues from animals living today. Our world is full of unique animals that have squat fatty bodies, with all kinds of soft tissue features that are unlikely to have survived in fossils, such as pouches, wattles, or skin flaps. “There could even be forms that no one has imagined,” says Kosemen. “For example there could plant-eating dinosaurs that had pangolin or armadillo-like armor that wasn’t preserved in the fossil. There could also be dinosaurs with porcupine-type quills.”

I think he undervalues the vast majority of the artists who do draw prehistoric art, because the process involves a lot of imagination and creativity, with the added pressure of scientific accuracy. Certainly we don’t know the outer shapes of dinosaurs or other prehistoric creatures, so artists must work with what little scientific information they do have, and look at animals existing today, and then add layers of interpretation – not easy by any stretch. If Koseman is just arguing for more flamboyance, though, I’m 100% on board.

Anyway, the Atlas Obscura article has some examples from C.M.Koseman, and they are suitably creepy:

How a baboon skeleton might be interpreted by future paleoartists. via Atlas Obscura

My favourites are the swans, though – not going near those anymore!

Swans imagined as though they were featherless dinosaurs. via Atlas Obscura

Are these overexaggerations? Maybe. But until we see some real dinosaurs (someone invent that time machine and make it back alive, please), there is no way to know how accurate today’s interpretations (which have already changed so much).
The closest we can get, though, are the afore-mentioned paleoartists, and one of my favourites is Mark Witton:
Two main aspects of my life have, for as long as I can remember, been art and palaeontology. I’ve been drawing since I could hold a pencil and have stubbornly refused to grow out of the dinosaur/palaeontology craze that afflicts most children. The latter proved so hard to shake that I studied for a degree in Palaeobiology and Evolution between 2002 – 2005 at the University of Portsmouth, UK and stayed there for my PhD studies between 2005 – 2008. I have since held a research position at Portsmouth. In 2010 I was honoured to be part of a joint University of Portmsouth/Royal Society exhibition which installed several models of giant flying reptiles in the centre of London (image of me and Bamofo, one of our giant azhdarchid models, right). In 2013 my book, Pterosaurs: Natural History, Evolution, Anatomy was published by Princeton University Press to critical acclaim. I now make a living as a technical consultant on palaeontological documentaries, palaeoartist, graphic designer and author.
He’s got a great collection of prints and books, and… household products. There’s a certain appeal to hiding behind a large T.Rex while enjoying a hot shower, I have to say.
Do check out his gallery, I will end with a small sample here:

# Mountains and Dreams

This is a small piece (finished painting 10x15cm) for a colleague-friend, who I have now known for a couple of years but who only recently asked for a painting. Since I used his expertise to find out interesting information about my mitochondrial DNA at no cost, I figured it’s a fair trade.

Now before anyone comments on the fact that this scene is astronomically impossible, I would like to say that this scene is astronomically impossible. The mountain is a real mountain, but in real life its orientation is such that the constellation Orion would probably not appear above it at that angle. I think the same about the full moon.

The main reason for drawing a scientifically inaccurate scene, however, is because the original sketch idea is based on Mount St Helens, where this astronomical alignment is perfectly possible.  At least, possible enough for my artistic license (except for the full moon again, I think – not both together like that). But since Friend is from some other mountains, it would not do, so I had to substitute in something from the Alps.

First, a teaser – a by-product of the process, the process below the fold.

# Segmented Glass

After that delicious cheese interlude, here’s something a little different via This Is Colossal:

Driven by an interest in the biological process of cell division, artist Jiyong Lee (previously) fabricates translucent sculptural works of segmented glass components fused through coldworking techniques. Some pieces purposefully take the form of organic life with titles such as “White-orange Chromosome Segmentation” or “Geometric cell membrane segmentation” while others are decidedly more geometric in nature. Born and raised in South Korea, Lee has helmed the glass program at Southern Illinois University since 2005. He most recently had a solo exhibition with Clara Scremini Gallery in Paris, and you can see many more of his pieces on Artsy.

They’ve got a lovely soft feel to them – knowing they’re made of glass just adds to the compulsion to touch them and run my fingers over all the surfaces and the edges and the lines.

I think this one’s my favourite:

white Drosophila embryo segmentation, 6.5h x 14.5w x 5.75d (inch), 2014, from This Is Colossal

There’s plenty more examples from Jiyong Lee’s website:

white segmentation-construction, 9.25h x 11.25w x 11.25d (inch), 2013

Green cosmarium segmentation, 7.25 x 10 x 7.25 inch, 2018

Blue-Yellow cuboid segmentation, 10.5 x 9 x 5 inch, 2015

Go look! With other interesting stuff, too.

# Musical Cheese

This story has aged well in my archives, like a good, sharp cheddar (or perhaps flat?).

Last September, Swiss cheesemaker Beat Wampfler and a team of researchers from the Bern University of Arts placed nine 22-pound wheels of Emmental cheese in individual wooden crates in Wampfler’s cheese cellar. Then, for the next six months each cheese was exposed to an endless, 24-hour loop of one song using a mini-transducer, which directed the sound waves directly into the cheese wheels.

So, what kind of music does cheese enjoy?

The “classical” cheese mellowed to the sounds of Mozart’s The Magic FluteThe “rock” cheese listened to Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” An ambient cheese listened to Yello’s “Monolith,” the hip-hop cheese was exposed to A Tribe Called Quest’s “Jazz (We’ve Got)” and the techno fromage raved to Vril’s “UV.” A control cheese aged in silence, while three other wheels were exposed to simple high, medium and low frequency tones.

Well, that’s not a huge range of choices, plus six months of the same song, over and over? It’s enough to curdle the blood in my musical ear, that’s for sure.

Ah, you say – cheese doesn’t have ears! True. This issue was resolved by applying music directly to cheese:

The wheels were stored in wooden crates and played 24 consecutive hours of either classical, hip-hop, techno, ambient, or rock and roll. Rather than speakers, the researchers attached small transmitters to the wheels to relay the sound waves directly into the cheese.

Bern University of the Arts

I have my doubts, of course, but until I have my own dairy farm and cheese making equipment to attempt a reproduction of this experimental method, it sounds pretty good to me.

In anticipation of the annual celebration of, among other things, cheese, here’s an indirectly thematic song:

# Tales from the Loop!

Simon Stålenhag was featured by Caine back in 2016, and there is some interesting news out: a TV series based on his Tales from the Loop is coming out April 3! I’m a little bit excited because I had no idea this was in the works, and also I just bought his book The Electric State. Soundtrack composed by Philip Glass and Paul Leonard-Morgan.

Here’s the trailer, it looks suitably unfathomable and weird and slightly creepy to me:

Looking forward to this very much!

# Bricks and Mortar and Water – Part 2

This is Part 2 (Part 1 here), which may or may not extend into Part 3 (spoiler: it will! (spoiler: most likely but no promises)).

Anyway, I arrived at the aqueduct, and was duly impressed:

Here’s an attempt to get the full length in one photo.

Getting closer to the brick texture here.

View from the other end – it was definitely a shifting light kind of day.

Of course, where possible, I have to climb onto things, so here’s a view back towards the mountains. I walked quite a distance across the top, but not all the way – some few metres along, the arches seemed slightly too damaged to risk (that mossy-grassy patch in the photo, actually), and my formerly brick-laying Lithuanian colleague agreed.

There were also figs.

Now I don’t actually remember what I was going for in this photo…

… but my Lithuanian colleague was kind enough to take a photo of what I looked like taking it.

A window into the world.

That’s all for Part 2, then – Part 3 will take a closer look at the decrepit brickwork and the arches, because there’s a few interesting things, if you like that sort of thing. :)

# Maps

This post has been planned since late last summer, before I fell off the map (har har) for a while. It’s slightly out of date, as it were, but here goes – before posting the new content, I’ll clear up all the (two!) posts I had planned previously.

Anyway.

Not a new story, but (via the CBC):

Canadian Geographic has created a giant floor map, and an accompanying Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada, to change the way kids — and adults — look at this country.

“We hear so much about truth and reconciliation and what does it mean in reconciling our understanding and knowledge,” said Charlene Bearhead, an education advisor for the map and the Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada.

Unreserved host Rosanna Deerchild sits on the Indigenous Peoples Atlas of Canada floor map, which is the size of a gymnasium. (Stephanie Cram/CBC)

The map does not contain provincial boundaries, names of provinces, or many of the current names of cities and towns. Instead, it outlines the different Indigenous communities found across the country, the languages spoken, and the treaties signed with the Crown.

[…]

“For the most part Indigenous people walk on the map and it makes sense and they are like, ‘I know where this is, I know the story of this place for my people,'” said Bearhead.

“Non-Indigenous people walk onto the map and have this blank look on their faces,” a reaction Bearhead recognizes once they realize there are no provincial boundaries drawn on the map.

After a bit of confusion, Bearhead said what often follows are lengthy discussions of Indigenous histories and experiences.
Story in full at the link.
And in addition to that, here’s another one:

“People always say that mapping is a colonial tool, or a tool of colonialism, and it certainly has been used in that way, but I think the power of mapping is that there is so much power in it. It doesn’t necessarily have to be oppressive,” said Annita Lucchesi, a doctoral student in the cultural, social, and political thought program at the University of Lethbridge.

“It can be liberating. It can be healing. It can be empowering, especially when it’s being used by people who have been historically oppressed.”

The Southern Cheyenne cartographer is creating an atlas of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls across Canada and the U.S. So far, Lucchesi has helped document over 3,000 cases, some reaching as far back as 1900.

[…]

“The beauty of maps is we can share as much or as little as we like and it still makes sense. We get to decide where those boundaries are. We get to decide what colours to use, what symbols to use, we can put cultural ideas on them. They’re so flexible and there’s so much freedom in that that it’s really a liberating form of storytelling.”

Lucchesi said she hopes that through her work with Indigenous mapping, new relationships between Canada and Indigenous peoples can be created.

“Through mapping we’re able to tell stories to each other that help us to build better relationships, help us to understand one another a little bit better so that we can respect the sovereignty of Indigenous peoples.”

For more maps of Turtle Island, see here, with other links, too:

Native Land is a Google Map of the territories and languages of the indigenous peoples of the United States and Canada. The map consists of two main layers, one showing the ‘territory’ of First Nation and Native American tribes and the other showing the geographical spread of indigenous languages.

[…]

Natives of North America is another interactive map of the Native American Nations. Obviously one of the biggest problems in mapping Native American territories is that official boundaries between the Nations did not exist and these territories were constantly shifting.

[…]

The Invasion of America is a fascinating map of Native American land cession between 1776 and 1887. During this period the United States seized over 1.5 billion acres from the Native Americans.

# Hi Again

Well hello there strangers and not-so-strangers. It’s a new world out there, or so I’ve been told – who really knows what’s actually going on out there?

It’s been a while, and I apologize for that (but in a ‘sorry to inconvenience everyone because I’m a polite Canadian’ way, not because there’s anything I should be apologizing for). The past several months have been a whirlwind of personal issues and deaths in the family and a few other things I could think of if I bothered, but long story short, I’m healthy, the kids are healthy, I’m still in a relationship, and work is hell. I’ve actually talked about quitting out loud a few times by now, which is a pretty big thing because of how much I (usually) love what I’m doing, but after being thrown under the bus a couple of times, the shiny parts ain’t so shiny no more. I feel a bit like:

Plus now the state of emergency means I could become a frontline worker at any time (depending on how things go down). Life, eh?

In the meantime, I’ve collected like a bajillion (no exaggeration) links about art and other things that I’d like to clear out of my gmail drafts, so in this time of quiet contemplation and creative inspiration that working from home provides us with (please, I’m looking on the bright side), I will try to get some of that content out to you. Plus maybe some photos of my own from time to time.

I am a bit more active on twitter these days (@andtheunicorn, if anyone’s interested), where I try to post a different photo every day or three, plus I like to pretend I’m interacting with the world.

So, today is a ‘hello again’, next two posts are two I’ve had lined up since last August, and we’ll see what happens after that.

Stay healthy, everyone, wash your hands, and best wishes to you all! Special shout-out to all you teachers, shop workers, delivery people, mail persons, and others previously not appreciated but now deemed essential services – most especially to all those in the medical field. &hearts; like crazy for you all.

# Bricks and Mortar and Water – Part 1

It’s been a while since I put up some pictures of Macedonia – I did promise the aqueduct, and I’d hoped to pull myself together before my final trip to Skopje in June, but alas! It is July and here is the aqueduct.

First, a short background:

The Aqueduct is located in the village of Vizbegovo in the northwestern part of Skopje, about 2.5 km to the right of the Skopje-Kachanik road. It is a part of a water-supply system with a length of about 10.0-10.5km from the piping at the Lavovac spring, between the villages Gluovo and Brazda, all the way to the Upper Town of Skopje Fortress-Kale.The Skopje Aqueduct is the only aqueduct in Macedonia, and one of three largest and well preserved in the former Yugoslavia along with Diocletianus Aqueduct near Split, Croatia and Bar Aqueduct in Montenegro.

What’s interesting is that nobody seems entirely sure on when it was constructed:

Considering the period of its construction there are several hypotheses:

-during the reign of Rome (1st century), according to this theory Aqueduct has led the water to Legionary settlement Scupi

-during the reign of Byzantine Empire (reign of Emperor Justinian I), according to this theory, Aqueduct shipping water to new settlement Justiniana Prima.

-during the reign of Ottoman Empire, according to this theory Aqueduct is built in 16th century for a large number of Turkish public hamams.

Wikipedia concurs (for what it’s worth), while other sites push the Roman angle.

In numbers, we get:

The Aqueduct has 2 access ramparts, 53 pillars, 54 base vaults and 42 smaller vaults on the closed and open discharging openings above the pillars. The overall length of the Aqueduct is 387.98m, at an elevation of 279.46m of the southern rampart and 280.48m of the northern rampart, or a delevelling of 1,025m.

… which all sounds impressive enough, and the minimum of info was enough to get me interested (also considering it is reasonably close to Skopje itself, and my Lithuanian colleague and I were up for the walk – 5km in early March is quite nice).

Well, it was an interesting walk, as the straightest route goes through a military facility and thus was closed to members of the interested public, and the circuitous route has… no sidewalks along heavily trafficked roads.

This is actually on the way back, we took a slightly different route, but looking across the river Vardar, you can see the road along which we walked – up top is the militarized territory, and yeah, that road has no sidewalks. It looks quite a bit more daunting from here.

Towards the end of the walk, we got some traffic relief, as there was an older parallel road for a few hundred metres.

The aqueduct curves to the left, the gated road is the exit we would have taken had we walked straight through the militarized territory. At this point of the walk, I was quite angry with Google Maps, though I can only blame myself for searching “shortest route”.

The final piece of our route took us through one of the poorer areas in or near Skopje. Afterwards the locals told us this is not an area foreigners should walk through, but besides some rather suspicious stares and wondering faces, I didn’t feel too bothered.

And there it is in the distance, the first real glimpse of the aqueduct!

I’m going to stop there for now, because the rest is the actual bricks and mortar (very little water) and I still have to decide if the number of photos I took counts as over-abundant or not. The risk of going somewhere interesting, I suppose. :)

# How To Travel With Grown-Ups

Actually, I’m looking for the opposite in advice, but now I’m reminded of this book (cover illustration here, for some reason doesn’t show up at the link), which was a regular childhood read – less for the text (which, if I remember, was quite sensible), more for the illustrations, which contained a lot of shenanigans and annoyed parents.

Anyway, I was going to make a request to the readership here on ideas on travelling by car in Finland with three children and a tent, but I’ve been outvoted, and it looks like we’re going to try for Poland (the Tatra Mountains, to be precise!) sometime in August. It’s much farther but also much cheaper (so I’ve been explained to).

But what the hell, I’m curious now and I still want some answers for future planning: what is worth seeing in Finland? How might you plan a(n affordable) trip with a timeline of 3 – 4 days? With a small flock of children that need (a) entertainment (castles, animals, food and such are good) and (b) activity (anything that can be climbed is a bonus, this category includes trees, mountains, large rocks, etc.)? Google insists on showing me All the Interesting Things and I don’t have a good grasp of distance and travel time way up North.

(Also any advice on Poland is great, too, although we have a few experts available on location here.)