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I post stuff here, on fetlife, and on tumblr. Well, I used to - now I hardly do at all.

Not because of copyright. I understand that when you post something on the internet, you're posting it for everyone to look at, and it's going to get shared around. But the comped-up piece of shit you see above (minus my commentary) is all over the internet - it's far more widely distributed than my original version. Back when I used to read my messages here and on Fetlife, I had 12-20 messages per day about stuff like this. Mostly it was people trying to be helpful and telling me "HEY! Look over here, there's another person who smeared shit all over your art!"  And it used to take me an hour every morning to cut and paste URLs into DMCA requests to get this kind of crap taken down.

Welcome to the Internet - 1 by mjranum

But that's really only the tip of the emotional iceberg for me. About 1 in 10 times that I post a DMCA I'd get a message from the person who had posted it. So not only would my inbox be filled with woe from all the copyright violations, I'd get a breakdown approximately as follows:
10% You #*!@&^!ing @#*&!@! I hope your !&*!&^# falls off and you die of cancer!!!
30% By posting an image on the internet it's in the public domain (followed by 3 pages of complete wrongness about copyright)
30% You can't make me stop! Nyaa nyaa nyaa fuck you nyaa nyaa!
20% A lecture about how mean and rude I am
5% A genuine apology
5% Well, I like it anyway, so in spite of your having complained to me and explained why you don't like it, is it OK if I keep it up? (completely clueless in other words)

Understand, as I do, that that's a small percentage of a small percentage of all the people who share my images around. But with the size of the population on the internet, it's a large number in total. On a site like Fetlife, that equates to about 100 threatening or angry emails a year. Yeah, it really makes me feel appreciated.

I set that against the times when someone comes up to me at a conference and says "dude, I love your photography!" or I get an email from someone asking please please please for a high resolution version of the file because they want to make a big print of it and frame it for their sweetie. Or, the occasional emails where someone thanks me for my stock photography helping them get a cover gig for their first book cover. Those are great. I love those moments. But they sure as hell aren't as often as the angry, petulant, bratty, or downright snotty lectures I get from ignoramuses who want to hide behind their personal interpretation of copyright law (which, by the way, is universally wrong) or who are incapable of saying "I'm sorry."

Welcome to the Internet - 2 by mjranum

Let me tell you a true story: one of the better online friends I made on Deviantart is someone I got to know because they ripped off one of my artworks and photoshopped on it (brilliantly) to turn it into a photocomposite. I told them they couldn't do that, and they said they loved my stuff, and I suggested they use a different image - here - ... and we were off to the races. We've been swapping ideas and I've been shooting custom stock for them ever since; It's a positive and nurturing creative collaboration.

You see, I'm not some ogre. I want to get my art on just like you. But I am increasingly feeling backed into a corner. I got into doing the wet plates because a) it's cool  b) I get to work with nasty dangerous stuff  c) it looks awesome   d) you cannot duplicate a plate; it's a unique artwork. I started doing wet plates in order to protect myself emotionally and to protect my art. Oh, want to know how that turned out? Some cheese-brain was taking the scans I post of my wet plates and removing my art from them, so he could use the edges in his images because, yeah, they look cool!! He. Threw. My. Art. Away. Because. The. Only. Part. That. Was. Useable. Was. The. Edges. I almost offered him a wet plate so I could get his address and go talk to him about it face to face.

These are the emotional trade-offs I'm up against. I've finally had to confront the fact that if I want to keep posting stuff on the internet, I'm going to have to utterly concede to the faceless horde out there. I will have to either stop altogether or give it all away. Not just give it away technically, give it away emotionally. And that's the problem: if I don't care, it's not going to be any good.

Submission - 1 by mjranum

If I didn't give a shit how my photography looked, I wouldn't give a shit about someone photoshopping their bad high school poetry over top of it. I wouldn't argue with them. I'd just have to lie there and take it, and I know that eventually it's going to mean creative death for me. Perhaps where I am headed is toward making photos just for myself, and not sharing them with anyone. That's sort of where I am, already. I have boxes and boxes of wet plates on a shelf over at my studio. There, they sit. I have tens of thousands of digital images on my hard drive(s). There, they sit. I am frozen at the perfect apex between anger, disgust, and the desire to quit.
  • Listening to: My computer fan
  • Watching: my laptop
  • Playing: at being human
  • Eating: as little as possible
  • Drinking: tea
.... why I try not to comment about people's weight.

I used to attend a particular conference on an annual basis, and so I got to (casually) know the other "regulars" who also used to be there. Every year, more or less, I'd see the same group of people at the speakers' dinner, and we could catch up on the usual "what are you up to these days?" kind of stuff. One of the guys I used to see fairly often was a tall heavy-set fellow (some might call him "fat" or "obese") he'd always been tall, bearded, and big, to me. But one year, he showed up and he had lost a lot of weight. It took me a second to recognize him, and I said, "Hey, Rich! You look great! You've lost a lot of weight!" and he looked at me and deadpanned, "Yeah, pancreatic cancer will do that."

Do I need to belabor the point? I will. First off, I set myself up for a massive head-fuck, by making assumptions about what was going on in someone else's life, and - even though I was being friendly about it - I was horribly wrong. He later mentioned that he wouldn't have replied the way he did if there had been anyone else standing around, because then it would have been potentially publicly embarrassing for me. He'd known me for years and knew I had a pretty "take no prisoners" attitude, and thought he'd reply the way he did, just to see how I reacted.

In fact, I responded, "I'm sorry; that was terribly rude of me, wasn't it?"

I mention all of this because I recently posted a few shots which (predictably) garnered a few comments about the model's weight and appearance.

Mature Content

#304 - Holding a Fall by mjranum

And, as usual, I had to issue a few gentle slappings.

Here's another photo of mine:

Mature Content

Falling Angel by mjranum

Someone who reads the caption under the photo might make the mistake of thinking I was referring to the model's weight. Actually, it's got nothing to do with that - it has to do with some other things the model told me about her health and some other body-related stuff. I was impressed by her even coming out to pose for me, all things considered.

I'm constantly fascinated by how the internet era has encouraged people to leap to all kinds of assumptions about other people, and to jam their feet into their own mouths on a regular basis. Sometimes when they're called on it, they apologize, but often they retreat into postmodernism by claiming it's "merely" a matter of opinion. I've said all I need to say about that, here:

Just My Opinion by mjranum

It seems to me that secular humanist notions of "morality" rely on positive arguments for why people should do the "right" thing but ignore far too much the social value of retaliation. The internet, in a sense, is a great big experiment in what kind of society you wind up with when there is virtually no chance that someone you annoy can bring that annoyance back home to you. That, by the way, is one of the reasons I am pretty careful to always "internet" in my true name, and publish my home address and GPS coordinates - for those who have JDAMs - so that I cannot be accused of running away from my own words. If I ever offend someone so much that they want to show up on my doorstep, I'll deal with the consequences at that time. I used to wonder if the people who made derisive or rude comments about some of the models in my photos would deal with it if the model's husband/boyfriend/girlfriend were to call them to account for their words. I admit there are times I think "I'd pay for tickets to see that."

I don't like to lie to make someone feel bad. (Usually the truth serves better!) But I wonder what kind of reactions I'd have gotten on some of the comments about Jenna's body if I had replied, "she looks that way because she's undergoing chemotherapy and wanted to do one final photo-shoot before she dies!"  After my gaffe with Rich I'm a lot more careful and tend to stick to "what's up with you?"
  • Listening to: LAX airport loudspeaker
  • Watching: my laptop
  • Playing: at being human
  • Eating: as little as possible
  • Drinking: tea
Prequel: The Rolling Blunder -2Prequel:
It's been pretty hot up here in north central middle of noplace, so I've been a bit reluctant to crawl around in a parking lot under a sun-smouldering-hot van. Every operation pretty much seems to require it, unfortunately. Since all the components need to be shock-mounted and vibration-proof that means a lot of drilling holes, positioning bolts, and tightening them.
(battery box and pumps)
I finally completed the mounting for the battery box, battery, and filling pump. Inside the battery box is a 40# trolling motor deep cycle battery and a bunch of vibration-damping padding. Did you know that batteries wear out very quickly when exposed to constant vibration? Neither did I. I nestled the battery box up against the side of the wheel well, so in case of an accident it will be braced by the solid metal. The retaining strap is bolted through the undercarriage with stainless st

Final Push
Last year I published a journal entry about my project van (AKA "The Rolling Blunder") - an old Verizon phone company step-van that I got for not-a-whole-lot-of-money with the brilliant idea of turning it into a rolling darkroom/camper so I could take my wet-plate photography out onto the highway. My secret master plan was to run down to New Orleans, then hang a right across Texas and to California, taking wet-plate photos of vintage diners and laundromats (what, don't you like diners and laundromats?) eventually making the loop up across California then to Seattle, down across Oklahoma, toward home.

I figured this would be an awesome trip and, because I'd be hauling all my wet-plate gear, it'd need to be very carefully kitted out. The idea of having to stop suddenly and getting hit in the back by a 400lb water-tank or a bottle of cyanide didn't thrill me much; everything was bolted and shock-mounted through the floor-plates. Since this was a project undertaken for my own enjoyment, I pulled out all the stops and did everything right: shag carpets on the interior walls to deaden sound, acoustic mats on the floor covered with vinyl tile flooring, dual electrical system with a huge inverter and solar panel charging circuits on the van roof, gooseneck LED lamps in the driver's compartment, futon-bunk bed in the back (with a cargo compartment underneath to hold glass plates, scanner, and light panels, custom captain's chairs (with hot rod flames) for long-distance comfort, etc, etc. There are some pictures of some of the modifications in the previous journal entry on the van, but I never got around to doing a photo-set of its interior before I set out on the road.

All told I suppose I put a couple hundred hours of work into it, including some really painfully gnarly details like fabricating custom seat-mounts, completely re-wiring the dashboard electrical system, and replacing all the door latches/locks and windows. I spent some money on parts, too, probably a couple thousand dollars.

Obviously, it'd be sheer foolhardiness to just hop in and take off - I figured I'd do a couple of shakedown cruises in the near distance (mostly so I wouldn't wind up in New Orleans and realize I hadn't brought my Cadmium Bromide, or something) so I came up with a nice local project: I was going to ride down to my buddy Gary McGraw's and do wet-plates of him and his family and their guest-house, drink a bunch of Gary's bourbon, throw up, and drive home.

There was a last-minute "push" in which I had to make cut-foam inserts for the wall-mounted chemical cabinets, so I could store my chemical bottles without them flying around inside, and a few things like that. But Aug 26, I was ready to hit the road bright and early, downed a preparatory mug of coffee, fired up the van and hit the road. Gary's place is about 3hr from my house, and I'd be there by noon and photographing by 1:00pm.

On The Road
I stopped for fuel and more coffee in Altoona, about an hour south of my house, and noticed that the van was pretty loud and rattly at highway speeds (I'd mostly driven it slowly around local roads) but nothing too unusual. It had a stiff suspension and concrete highways are generally noisy. No problem.

The view from up here, just leaving Altoona: Aug 26 2012

About 1/2 hour south of Altoona (about 1/2 north of Bedford, in the middle of noplace near a place called Claysburg) I noticed the rattling was getting worse - lots worse. In fact it was getting so "worse" I began to worry and got off at the next exit, and stopped at the mechanic's/gas station there. And that was the end of my trip, though I didn't know it yet.

When I stopped, I could tell immediately that the problem was the left/front wheel bearing, because the hub was steaming. I walked around front and took this picture of the wheel:
Not the correct wheel angle

That's nothing you ever want to see. Usually it means, at the very least, that the bearing race has collapsed and there may be damage to the spindle that the bearings mount on, or the wheel hub itself. The mechanic jacked the front up and unbolted the wheel, then dismounted it. The whole hub interior was munched out - the bearing surfaces were completely gone - and all that was keeping the hub/wheel on was the disc brake. It was a good call on my part to stop when I did, because, if I had gone too much farther, the brake would have eventually seized and I'd have wound up in a ditch at 55mph, or worse - the wheel could have locked and spun me into another vehicle or something unimaginably ugly.

Powdered bearing: just add water!

I figured that I was looking at $250 in parts and another $250 in labor.


The mechanic and I spent the rest of the day on the phone, searching the internet, calling every junk yard in Pennsylvania, calling parts suppliers and vintage parts brokers/collectors. No dice. It turns out that Chevy made changes to the hub assembly every model year and I didn't just need a hub for a chevy step-van, it had to be a specific year and sub-model. It turns out that fleet vehicles like step-vans are usually purchased in a block and driven into the ground, with vehicles becoming parts-donors for the others in the block, until finally they're all worn out at which point the survivors are sold at auction and get bought by idiots like me! I talked to a fleet vehicle mechanic for a uniform rental company in Altoona, who explained that what they'd normally do in my situation would be to replace the whole front end (i-beam axle and all) then re-mate the steering system and it'd be good for another 200,000 miles. That'd only cost me - about as much, again, as I'd already sunk into the truck.
So I decided to cut my losses then and there, unloaded the van, paid a kid from the garage $150 to haul me and my stuff home in his pickup truck, and told the junkyard near the mechanic that I'd mail them the title if they wanted to tow it away.

I was not my usual sunny self on the ride home, I must say.

Here's the thing: halfway through the long afternoon of calling parts stores, I realized that the whole idea was stupid to begin with. When I hit the road, I had packed about 500lbs of gear (including my 8x10 camera, which weighs about 65lbs on its tripod) including some stuff that's basically unshippable (postal service: frowns on cyanide in the mail) - what would have happened if I'd been in the desert east of Albuquerque, NM and I'd munched the wheel bearing there? I'd have had to rent a U-haul or spend a small fortune shipping my stuff home.

Then, a couple days later, I realized "there are these things called 'RVs' that are already perfect for this purpose!"  For what I spent on the Rolling Blunder I could have bought a pretty decent used trailer-home and then all I'd have needed is a 4x4-capable pickup truck rigged for towing, with a bed-cap, or a Suburban, and I could have put all the camera stuff in the back of the truck, lived, slept, and processed plates in the trailer-home, and done basically no prep-work, at all. An RV would even have a shower and toilet and a bed larger than the 6' x 3' futon-bunk-bench thing I had made in the back of the Blunder. Sure, it wouldn't have been as cool, except the Rolling Blunder turned out to be a whole lot less cool than I expected.

A couple of days after that realization, I realized that there are probably places that rent RV's, and looked on the internet, and - sure enough - I could have just rented someone else's RV for a month, for less than I paid for the Rolling Blunder and then I wouldn't have even needed a pickup truck and - best of all - someone else would have gotten to empty the sewage tank when I was done with it.

Lesson: a cool plan, insufficiently well thought-through, is not a cool plan.

I'm a bit sheepish about the whole idea, at this point, but if my winter schedule turns out to be light, I may rent an RV for a week and a half and just do the New Orleans run. The south is nice in the winter. If it turns out that making wet-plates on the road is fun, maybe I'll make a longer trip in 2013. Or maybe I'll discover that taking pictures of diners and laundromats and angry highway cops is no fun at all, in which case I'll stay home and take pictures of pretty women with their clothes off, which is what I normally do. It's possible that might be more interesting and fun and less stressful than diners, anyway.

Lemonade From Lemons
The only part of this whole project that still stings is the wasted effort. I sunk assloads of hard, sometimes nasty, often painful, and frequently sweaty work into the Rolling Blunder. I suffered the worst tool-related injury I've had in a decade, while drilling a bolt-hole in one of the cabinets (drill kicked and sent a 1/4" drill-bit spinning at full speed up the back of my left index finger and ripped it open bone-deep from fingernail to second knuckle) I got urethane glue in my hair, burned myself, and - generally had a wonderful time! Because, see, I was able to do it. I made myself a vehicle of awesomeness and was successful at rewiring a van, mounting chairs, making pimpin' red velvet curtains, fixing locks, mounting solar panels, wiring in tricky switches with LEDs and military covers, etc, etc - I did a whole lot of bad-ass work and I did it beautifully and with love and attention to detail. That's not a failure.

The only failure is that I didn't have a couple of awesome adventures with the thing; the final (and only) adventure was a bit of a bummer.

All in all, I'd rate the project as follows:
- Awesomeness axis: 95% Awesome 5% Suck
- Quality of work axis: 99%  Good 1% Should have repacked the bearings

Shit happens. I'm not sure what my next project will be, but I'll make sure I think it through a little bit harder before I jump into it.
  • Listening to: The Hotel Room's A/C
  • Reading: Hitchens'
  • Watching: my laptop
  • Playing: at being human
  • Eating: as little as possible
  • Drinking: tea
Religion, Respect, and Responsibility: A Letter to the Hotel Industry
by Marcus J. Ranum
July 29, 2012

A letter on religion, pornography, and business ethics written by an opinionated individual, inspired by a letter written by "two prominent public intellectuals - one a Christian, one a Muslim"  - sent to hotel industry executives last week. ( See: The Public Discourse )

I write to ask you to stop offering religious programming on your in-room televisions and hosting religious texts (such as the Gideon's bible) in your company's hotels. I make no proposal here to limit your legal freedom, nor do I threaten protests, boycotts, or anything of the sort. I simply ask you to do what is right as a matter of conscience.

I am nobody of importance – a private individual with my own opinion. I appeal on the basis of a commitment that should be shared by all people of reason and goodwill: a commitment to human dignity and the common good. As autonomous individuals, we all seek a society in which young people are encouraged to respect others and themselves - treating no one as a lesser object or despised thing. I hope that you share my desire to build such a society.

Religion is degrading, dehumanizing, and corrupting. It undermines self-respect and respect for others. It reduces persons - creatures bearing profound, inherent, and equal dignity - to the status of objects that are little more than the playthings of cruel and capricious supreme beings. It robs a central aspect of our humanity - our self-worth - of its dignity and beauty. It ensnares some in addiction. It deprives others of their sexuality and encourages paternalism and misogyny. It teaches our young people to settle for the cheap satisfactions of lies, rather than to do the hard, yet ultimately liberating and fulfilling, work of establishing one's own understanding of our lives and values – replacing introspection and choice with lies based on bronze-age myths.

I recognize that I am asking you to confront a profitable set of of your customer-base, but I hope that you will muster the conviction and commitment to rationality to make that decision and to explain it to your stockholders. I urge you to do away with religion in your hotels because it is morally wrong to seek to profit from the lies, degradation, or subjugation of others. Some might say that you are simply honoring the free choices of your customers. However, you are doing much more than that. You are propagating the lies of religion - lies for the sake of profit. That is unjust. Moreover, the fact that religion is sometimes is chosen freely does not make it right; nor does it ensure that the choice will not be damaging to those who make it or to the larger community where the lies, patriarchy, and misogyny of religion flourish.

I beg you to consider the young person who is depicted as plaything of these capricious and irrational gods, as nothing but a bundle of guilty, inferior meat whose entire purpose in the universe is to be "born into sin" - according to hypocritical bronze-age mountebanks. Today, the intellectual and financial heirs of those mountebanks attempt to continue to propagate their wicked lies, by attacking people's sense of self-worth, treating women as a second-class gender and belittling those who have found love with the same sex. Surely we should regard those women oppressed by religion – taught that they are lesser beings – as if they were our own mothers or daughters; religion still tries to teach that half our population is lesser because of an accident of their birth. Every woman is a precious member of the human family, as is every homosexual, yet religion fights ferocious rear-guard battles on every front as it attempts to influence public policy so as to deny basic human rights based on people's sex or sexual orientation. You may say that the religious freely choose to compromise their dignity in this way, and in some cases that would be true, but that gives you no right to encourage their self-deception for the sake of financial gain. Would you be willing to profit from someone being subjected to religious indoctrination if she were your sister? Would you be willing to profit from someone being told they were a second-class citizen of the world if they were your own beloved daughter or gay/lesbian child?

Furthermore, I trust that you need no reminding of the fact that something's being legal does not make it right. For example, imprisoning homosexual men and women – "hating the sin but pitying the sinner" - was, for countless shameful years, perfectly legal. As was institutionalized economic abuse of women. In some circumstances, it even made financial sense for hotel owners and operators in religious cultures to engage in segregationist practices even when not compelled by law to do so. In some islamic countries, of course, gender segregation (based on religion) continues to carry the force of law. However, this was deeply morally wrong. Shame on those who denied their brothers and sisters the equal treatment to which they were morally entitled. Shame on you if you hide behind legality to encourage religious bigotry and villainy in the pursuit of money.

My purpose is not to condemn you and your company but to call you to your highest and best self. I have no desire to hurt your business. On the contrary, I want you and your business to succeed financially - for your sake; for the sake of your stockholders, employees, and contract partners; and for the sake of the communities that your hotels serve. I believe that the properly regulated market economy serves the good of all by providing products and services at reasonable prices and by generating prosperity and social mobility (Except for where it applies to women and homosexuals). But the market itself cannot provide the moral values that make it a truly humane and just institution. We - owners, managers, employees, customers - must bring those values to the market. There are some things - inhuman things, unjust things, de-humanizing things- that should not be encouraged. There must be some things that, for the sake of human dignity and the common good, we must refuse to encourage - even it if means forgoing profit.

I write this letter as a parody of the original version by Robert P. George and Shaykh Hamza Yusuf.  In their original letter, they make a point of mentioning their religious affiliations and the organizations that they are associated with, while simultaneously disclaiming those relationships as not relevant or unofficial. Unlike them, I feel that my words are sufficient without having to invoke supernatural morality or my (fully supportive) employers.

Marcus J. Ranum, himself.

I recently stumbled across the letter by Robert George and Hamza Yusuf, and it took me several days to decide whether I was amused or disgusted. I'm still unsure, but the answer is probably "both." It's as if the pot wrote an open letter to all kettles explaining that, "while blackness is not bad per se, you really should try to avoid it because it's immoral."  In their letter, they get a few things right and the vast majority horribly wrong. First, let's dispatch the thing that they got right:
We are, respectively, a Christian and a Muslim, but we appeal to you not on the basis of truths revealed in our scriptures but on the basis of a commitment that should be shared by all people of reason and goodwill: a commitment to human dignity and the common good.
While simultaneously claiming religious credentials ("We are, respectively, a Christian and a Muslim") they acknowledge that there is no truth behind their claims other than an appeal based on reason. That is the one thing they got right: their appeal stands or falls based on the strength of the argument that follows.

Or, rather, it would stand on the strength of their argument if one actually did follow. But it doesn't – George and Yusuf proceed to effectively beg the question by assuming from that point forward that we are all already in agreement that porn is bad. I beg to differ.

A Degradingly Bad Argument
There are arguments that can be made against pornography, and generally they fall along an axis that George and Yusuf roughly sketch – namely that porn can be exploitative and can be interpreted as "degrading" to its participants or consumers. The latter is a circular argument because:
Porn can only be "degrading" if you've already decided that it's wrong.
George and Yusuf are, presumably, making that assumption based on their explicitly disclaimed religious beliefs. Certainly, religions teach that pornography is wrong, but – like George and Yusuf – religion avoids the knotty philosophical problem of coming up with an argument for why it is, actually, wrong. A conventional argument for porn's wrongness is – as I implied above – that it could be seen as exploitation. The vast majority of commercially produced pornography is, however, produced as part of an economic transaction between consenting adults. Indeed, pornography in which the parties appearing in it cannot give consent is illegal – the only situation in which that happens is if the party is an animal, a minor, or is non compos mentis. The courts, society, and most moral philosophers would argue that it is wrong to produce pornography in which the subject is coerced because, by definition, it would not be pornography anymore, it would be "rape."

In the 1980s feminists such as Catharine McKinnon and Andrea Dworkin made impassioned arguments that attempted to equate pornography with rape, sexual discrimination, and human-trafficking. In the years since, neither society at large or the courts have agreed with those arguments; it's a tough sell to claim that one can choose to be forced to do something. That whole line of reasoning falls apart when confronted with the fact that there are plenty of sex-workers who feel they are happy and emancipated, who have chosen their career – not the other way around. As I said earlier, society and the law's response to this problem is to clearly delineate pornography made by consenting adults from the products of sexual assault, in which the victim is non compos mentis, drugged, or not of age to consent. We therefore have an effective social standard, not based in intangible religious ideas, that allows us to determine what pornography is consensual and what is illegal, immoral, and criminal. Having seen the fare that's offered in most hotels (generally cropped and edited hard-core movies that are toned-down version of mainstream consensual pornography) I find it unlikely that any hotel would offer criminal pornography, let alone extreme "obscene" pornography or illegal material  such as child pornography.

In other words, George and Yusuf are barking up the wrong tree, and they know it. They're hoping to sway the reader by presupposing agreement with their own underlying religious biases – the very "revealed truth" that they disclaim in the opening of their disingenuous letter. Further, they deliberately use an emotional appeal to the readers' self-interest (disguised as empathy) to try to sway us when the weakness of their argument can't.

From the first paragraph on, George and Yusuf's letter descends into a comedy of errors. There are two main problems with the rest of the letter, which I'd like to address in order. First off, you have the problem of George and Yusuf's own underlying misogyny. Secondly, there is the hypocrisy of wishing to invoke privilege for their carefully-disclaimed religious opinion.

Misogyny For Dummies
George and Yusuf's original letter reads:
We beg you to consider the young woman who is depicted as a sexual object in these movies, as nothing but a bundle of raw animal appetites whose sex organs are displayed to the voyeurs of the world and whose body is used in loveless and utterly depersonalized sex acts. Surely we should regard that young woman as we would regard a sister, daughter, or mother. She is a precious member of the human family. You may say that she freely chooses to compromise her dignity in this way, and in some cases that would be true, but that gives you no right to avail yourself of her self-degradation for the sake of financial gain.

Have you noticed that George and Yusuf apparently only concern themselves with the female involved in the pornography? Thus, George and Yusuf reveal their own sexism! If pornography is degrading, it would be degrading to everyone in it, would it not?

Instead George and Yusuf focus only on the female – "methinks they doth protest too much" – they are the ones who are holding the female porn actress as "degraded" and giving the males a pass. Presumably this is one of those unspoken-of "revealed truths" in their assorted scriptures – that women are the victim, the target, and that the men (as usual) are free to point the finger of blame at the women. It's just icing on the cake that George and Yusuf offer their sanctimonious concern only for the "young woman" – what we're seeing here on public display is the byproduct of the deeply embedded misogyny of the abrahamic faiths.

Abrahamic religions hold women to blame for inspiring lust in the male. It's the young woman in the pornography that is degraded, not the male actors that are fucking her or the person sitting in the hotel room with a hand full of lotion watching the movie. This is the same mind-set that makes it the muslim woman's responsibility to hide herself so that men will not lose their minds with lust in her presence. George and Yusuf complain:
Some might say that you are simply honoring the free choices of your customers. However, you are doing much more than that. You are placing temptation in their path - temptation for the sake of profit. That is unjust.

Got that? It's those horrible women in porn tempting the poor men who simply cannot control themselves and watch ESPN in the hotel room, instead of porn. George and Yusuf save both their "concern" and blame for the women (and apparently only the young women, at that) and, in doing so, reveal that their concern is more prurient than they'd obviously like to admit. Because, indeed, if they were concerned with morals and placing the blame for temptation, they wouldn't try to make it so that only the women are degraded and only the men are tempted. What else but paternalism should we expect from the faithful?

I find the hypocrisy of these men of faith to be jaw-dropping. On one hand, they are members of the two religions in human history that have done more to hold women down, and belittle them, and they're wagging a finger at the world saying "you are so bad!" – while their very notion of "bad" is presupposed by their misogynistic religions!

This is a textbook example of how religion fails to serve as a moral compass. But, as if that wasn't enough, George and Yusuf attempt to argue that "what is legal is not necessarily right" using the example of racism:
Furthermore, we trust that you need no reminding of the fact that something's being legal does not make it right. For example, denying black men and women and their families access to hotel rooms—and tables in restaurants, as well as other amenities and opportunities—was, for countless shameful years, perfectly legal.

Let's ignore for a moment that religion was one of the primary justifications for slavery and racism in human history, and that George and Yusuf's "revealed truths" concern themselves embarrassingly with how to buy and sell people, while encouraging racial genocide and apartheid. Using "what is legal is not necessarily right" is a flat-out bizzare argument coming from two people whose entire argument is little more than "what is the will of the gods is necessarily right."  Ignore that the will of the gods is racist, misogynistic, genocidal, and homophobic. Ignore that Yusuf's religion supports child marriage and polygynous marriage. Ignore that Yusuf's religion grants its martyrs virginal sex-slaves with self-regenerating hymens in the afterlife. Ignore that George's religion promotes the moral example of a man offering his daughters as sex toys for a guest, and recommends slaughtering and enslaving everyone in a town while saving those young women who have not lain with a man as sex slaves. At best, George and Yusuf are not in a position to pose as moral teachers. At worst, one might argue that you're more likely to be on the right side of a moral problem if you do the opposite of what George and Yusuf's "revealed truths" recommend. Only an atheist or an adherent of a non-misogynistic religion can even hope to make a solid argument against pornography.

A Matter of Opinion
Now, let us return to the thing that George and Yusuf got right: their opinion. Initially, they frame their letter as offering their opinion on a moral issue, without an overt appeal to the authority of their "revealed truths" or institutional credentials. As such, their opinion has to win or lose based on how well they argue it. They, correctly, point out that they do not wish to threaten or coerce:
We make no proposal here to limit your legal freedom, nor do we threaten protests, boycotts, or anything of the sort. We simply ask you to do what is right as a matter of conscience.

By doing so, they remain within the realm of civil discourse and implicitly acknowledge that they have entered into the battlefield of opinions and ideas, in which sauce for the goose is equally applicable to the gander. That is why I cast my parody of their letter by simply replacing "pornography" with "religion" and tweaking the text to suit. One of the crucial tests for whether speech or action should be free is to ask yourself, "do I engage in similar speech or action that I enjoy the freedom of?"  and, if the answer is yes, you should consider carefully whether restricting another's action is a good idea. Even in a democratic society, we try to prevent the "tyranny of the majority" from making illegal that which is merely unpopular, because we acknowledge that someday our own actions may be unpopular. Put differently: Rolling Stones' fans should not push for a ban on the music of Justin Beiber, because some day Led Zeppelin fans might ally with Sisters of Mercy fans and ban the music of the Rolling Stones.

At this point I should add, for those who don't think carefully, that I do not actually support any kind of restriction on religion's rights to carry their messages of servility by any means they choose. They're as welcome in my hotel room as CNN, pornography, and Justin Beiber videos. Because, unlike George and Yusuf, apparently, I know where the remote is, and how to use it.

In the battlefield of opinions, it is the best-argued, and best-supported opinions that will carry the day. In a sense, this is the ultimate form of moral relativism, because we're implicitly acknowledging that we are not necessarily right. George and Yusuf fail at this, too, since they presuppose that what they ask is "right" while simultaneously acknowledging that it is a matter of mere opinion. Well, which is it?

I can answer that question for you: it's an opinion that they think is right. Obviously, I don't. I assume that, if they ever happen to stumble upon my parody of their letter, they'll recognize that it's me offering my opinion, as well. All too often when someone speaks out against religion's privileged status in society, we get screechings of indignation from the faithful. Because, you see, the faithful "know" they are right so their opinion is extra-special because they "know" it's a fact. That's what the "revealed truths" bit:
[W]e appeal to you not on the basis of truths revealed in our scriptures
is really saying. Did you catch that? "We're right, but we're not appealing to you based on the fact that we know we're right." They're just some really humble guys offering their opinion as if it's fact.

I wonder, when you tally up the facts, which of these letters is more truthful?

Moral Teachings
Believing that we are put here on Earth for a special purpose by a supreme all-powerful asshole, who monitors our behaviors and punishes us with eternal agony for disobeying is enough to make any moral relativist wince. Speaking of "degradation" and "dehumanizing" – can you imagine anything worse? Because the implication, hidden behind George and Yusuf's letter, is that god is watching over you while you're sitting in that hotel room with a hand full of lotion, and that god is judging the young woman on the television as having been "corrupted" and "degraded."

A humanist argument about hotel room pornography would have been based on the economic privilege men enjoy (largely thanks to religion!) and how it often translates into less-privileged people in society being pressured into taking work that they find unpleasant or degrading. A humanist argument about hotel room pornography might have introduced the comparative wealth at the top of the pornography industry's pyramid, versus the workers at the bottom. Indeed, a humanist argument about hotel room pornography would have resembled a marxist critique or a socialist call for economic equality and equality of opportunity. As an atheist and a humanist, it's my opinion that religion serves as one of the buttresses of social privilege and one of the greatest regressive forces against sexual equality known to man. That's not based on "revealed truths" it's based on an interpretation of recorded history and hard facts about gender-based economic unfairness worldwide. Here's another fact for you: the more secular societies are, the narrower the economic gap between women and men. We also find that the more secular societies are, the better the educational opportunities are for women, and the more available are female-choice-centric contraceptives. If George and Yusuf really wanted to help those young women they would be more concerned with allowing them to get a decent education so they could have better careers, and giving them more choice over when and if they get pregnant.

My hobby is photography and I frequently hire nude models to pose for me. I won't claim to be able to read their minds and say for certain that none of them have ever felt degraded or corrupted. But I know for a fact that many of them are happy to take advantage of their appearance to get paid 4 to 10 times what they'd get paid in a secretarial or retail job. Personally, I'd rather take my clothes off for a living, too, than work at McDonalds' or WAL-MART. But I'm fortunate and privileged (being white, male, and born of parents who could afford my fine education) and that wasn't a decision I had to make. As one of the privileged, the last thing I want to do is tell someone who's lower on the ladder of economic opportunity that it's their own damn fault that they're in the situation that they were born into – I'll leave that kind of belittling abuse to religion. Religion is really fond of making people feel bad and guilty about being as they were born.

George and Yusuf's letter reeks. It reeks, in every sentence, of male privilege, religious privilege, and presuppositional self-righteousness. Reading it made me feel dirtier, and more embarrassed, than any pornography I've ever seen – including "two girls, one cup."
  • Listening to: Fred Eaglesmith,
  • Reading: Ken McLeod
  • Watching: my laptop
  • Playing: at being human
  • Eating: as little as possible
  • Drinking: vitamin water
Same-Sex Marriage
First off, I need to issue a few disclaimers: I don't feel that I have any particular agenda in the conflict over same-sex marriage, above and beyond the normal agenda of any philosopher. That is to say, I'm concerned with reason and truth, but I don't stand to lose or benefit personally from how the issue is resolved - except in the sense that I may end up living in a society that is more or less fair after its resolution. In other words, I consider myself relatively impartial, though I am going to make these comments from (in a few cases) a deeply personal frame of reference.

Secularism and Homophobia
The first thing we have to do is parse apart some of the components of homophobia. First I want to tackle the question of homophobia "in the large" and (at the end of this article) I'll make a few personal observations about an experience that helped me come to grips with my own personal attitudes toward some same-sex 'issues'.

In most of the civilized world, we live in secular societies; i.e.: societies that are based (in principle) on reason, the rule of law, and due process rather than by religious fiat. as you read the preceeding sentence I hope you caught my implication that a society based on religion is not civilized. That is correct, and here is why: since religion relies on humans voicing claims about how they believe a supernatural god (or gods) wants us to behave, those claims cannot by definition be verified adequately. If god were to somehow show up and explain patiently to us, his/her/their views on same-sex marriage, then it would be reasonable for us to factor those views into our politics, but since the various god/gods of our ancestors haven't participated in the same-sex marriage debate, all that we have is various "holy books" which purport to explain the views of the gods. We cannot have a civilized discussion about those "holy books" because treating them as evidence is hearsay at best and nonsensical at worst. One proponent could claim "my diety says same-sex marriage is evil" to which I can rejoin "I just invented 21 dieties that say same-sex marriage is awesome." Unless you're a barbarian, you cannot take seriously the idea of establishing a society around whatever some guy makes up and asserts is the will of the allmighty. Besides, if the allmighty/allmighties had something to say about this matter, they could easily enough notify us, by placing 100 mile-high letters carved in solid diamond, into orbit around the Earth.

In the civilized world, we seek to establish civil societies, founded on reason and law, and consequently we establish a barrier attempting to keep religious opinion - but not the opinions of the religious - out of the public square. You'll note that I acknowledge that the opinions of the religious can and should carry as much weight as any other opinions; that is the only way to make a civil society work. We acknowledge that if you believe the allmighty/allmighties don't like same-sex marriage then, by all means, you shouldn't engage in the practice. But, if your interpretation of the will of the allmighty/allmighties is all you bring to the table as a basis for discussion, then it carries as much weight as my interpretation of the will of The Rolling Stones. Now, I don't actually know what The Rolling Stones' opinion about same-sex marriage is (which makes this example easy) but my interpretation is that since they've collectively been married a whole lot, they're probably in favor of marriage, so, obviously, they must also be in favor of same-sex marriage. Does that make sense to you? It makes about as much sense as my having to listen to someone tell me their interpretation of what some 2,000+ year-old tribal diety's opinion is on the topic. More importantly, it's actually possible to ask The Rolling Stones their opinion and if somehow they decide to share it with me, and I get an authenticated e-mail or voice message from Mick Jagger, I'll pass it along. Meanwhile, if Yaweh, or Odin, or Ra, or Brahma decides to arrange those 100-mile-tall diamond letters, we can deal with that unlikely event when it happens.

In the United States Of America there is a law that says that "Congress shall pass no law establishing a state religion" (in so many words) So we're faced with a simple choice between realities:

  1) The country's existing laws against same-sex marriage are established based on religious principles (i.e.: the state is attempting to comply with the will of Yahweh and all homophobic dieties) The laws are based on divine fiat, in other words.


2) The country's existing laws represent a consensus among the governed at the time when those laws are passed. The laws are based on social consensus, and nothing else.

Obviously, in the first case, such laws would be unconstitutional, since they amount to an implicit acceptance into law of someone's interpretation of the will of Yahweh and other homophobic dieties. If I may make an aside-comment, those who adopt homophobia because of Leviticus' interpretation of Yahweh's will are generally acting inconsistently because they tend to cherry-pick Leviticus. The US has no laws against tattooing (Lev 19:28) or wearing cotton/polyester blend shirts (Lev 19:19) or Justin Beiber's music (Marcus: 1.314)

What the faithful often ignore regarding the constitution and their interpretation of their faith, is that that stuff is generally in there for their own protection against their fellow believers who believe in different gods. Every christian (for example) who is opposed to the idea of having the koran taught to their school-kids ought to support wholeheartedly the laws that prevent their bible from being taught to someone else's school-kids. The history of the US is filled (achingly and painfully) with underdog stories in which the catholics are scared that the protestants are going to teach the evils of papacy in school, and embrace secularism - until they have the chance to teach only their version of reality by creating their own name-brand school system, etc. Without constitutional protections against state establishment of religion, christians would have to worry about whether the buddhists and the muslims might ever be able to out-vote them and put their own laws in, instead, etc. These are not theoretical scenarios: the US was founded by a bunch of politicians steeped in the ideals of The Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was, largely, an intellectual backlash against the horrors of the 30 years' war - christians arguing the details of the doctrine at the cost of countless lives. We atheists would just as soon ignore the entire issue and teach objectively verifiable science and the philosophy of ancient Greece and leave religion completely out of the picture; it's the faithful who need laws to keep eachother from pissing eachother off.

So, consider - if you're a fan of the current laws against same-sex marriage and you want them to stay in place, you're actually asking to live in a world in which if the wheel of religious belief turns, same-sex marriage might be required by whatever religion is the top dog and shouts the loudest, etc. We rationalists and civilized people are trying to protect everyone from that kind of nonsense; it only leads to hair-pulling and tears.

The Social Consensus
So, if we let the allmighty/allmighties voice their own opinions when/if they will, all we're left with is the social consensus. Social consensus and the law has interesting problems of its own. There is really only one primary doctrine that justifies the passage of laws in civil society: harm. If you have a democratic society in which any arbitrary law can be passed by a majority, then you wind up with a majoritarian tyranny. Suppose I can get 51% of the vote to ban Justin Beiber and to only allow radio stations to play music by The Rolling Stones: well, that's that. We've seen in the history of the US that majoritarian tyranny is not a great thing; the Volstead Act prohibiting alcohol amounted to a tyranny of the majority who didn't want their friends and neighbors to drink. In the case of alcohol, the argument was made that it causes harm. That's how that law even got passed at all; my law against Justin Beiber would be an illegal law because I'd have to show (in principle) that Justin Beiber was damaging to society.

There have been several laws passed by majorities against same-sex marriage. Those laws represent a huge waste of the money that was spent lobbying for them, and influencing their passage, because - well, it's hard to show how same-sex marriage harms anyone who's not involved in it. A same-sex couple can embark on a harmful marriage just like a different-sex couple. I ought to know, I've done it twice myself! But my poor choices of brides has not noticeably hurt anyone else's marriage regardless of their sexual orientation. When someone says that "same-sex marriage harms the sanctity of marriage" they need to make an argument for how it harms it. While they're at it, they should include a theory of why my bad marriages didn't do any harm, but a good same-sex marriage would.

What they're really saying is "I don't like it!" Well, you're welcome not to like it. You're also welcome not to like The Rolling Stones. Your opinion is worth exactly as much as mine. I'm glad your opinion isn't worth more than mine, and you'd better be really really glad mine isn't worth more than yours.

In the US we saw similar massive social conflict over a topic that today we recognize as a no-brainer: giving females the right to vote. Until shockingly recently it was the opinion of a controlling interest in society that females shouldn't be allowed to vote. Nowadays, like most civilized societies, we recognize the obvious fact that females are just as capable of having political views and expressing them as males are, and that their opinions should weigh as much as males'. The conflict surrounding this issue was intense and a great deal of important and heavy thinking was wasted over it (I say "wasted" because the outcome should have been obvious) including a wonderful bit of reasoning by the consequentialist philosopher John Stuart Mill. Mill wrote a lengthy argument entitled "The Subjection of Women" which you can get from Project Gutenberg if you wish to further your education. Many of Mills' arguments are specific to the question of gender equality in social representation and the natural abilities of the female. What do women's abilities have to do with anything?

There were three primary arguments presented against women's right to vote. The first was the religious (which I hope I have already dispatched by being dismissive of the allmighty) the second was that women lacked the ability, and the third was that women's participation in the political process was not normal. Mill dispatched the second argument, from ability, by pointing out that females can be observed to be sometimes more competent than men, sometimes less so - therefore we can only conclude that it's the case that women are just as disparately capable as men. For the ability argument to hold water, one would have to show that all females, all the time, were incapable of exercising judgement and that allowing any of them to vote, would cause harm. You can re-cast Mill's argument to today's same-sex marriage discussion and it's just as relevant. If the argument was made that same-sex couples cannot raise children (for example) then we simply observe that there are plenty of different-sex couples that cannot raise children very well, either. And there are same-sex couples that seem to do just fine. In other words, they seem to be all over the landscape of competence, just like any other human beings - which is a profound and simple observation arguing against enforcing any specific preference.

The last of the three arguments against acknowledging females' right to vote was that the "woman's normal place is in the home, not politics" (remember, Margaret Thatcher hadn't been born, yet!) Mill could have shortened his treatise considerably by simply writing "Queen Elizabeth I" and stopping there. Instead, he made a sublimely elegant argument, namely:

If something is "normal" then there's no need to make a law favoring or preventing it, since that's what people are going to tend to want to do, anyway.

In other words, if same-sex couples desiring marriage was an aberration, we wouldn't even be having this discussion. Because there wouldn't be any same-sex couples wanting to get married. But, in fact, that there appear to be plenty of same-sex couples that want to get married indicates that normal includes same-sex marriage. Actually, normal marriage includes multi-way marriage (what, don't a couple billion muslims have a say in what is 'normal'?) of various genders. Indeed, in ancient Ireland there were several references to ceremonial marriages between kings and warriors and horses. "Traditional marriage" is a much broader phenomenon than the followers of Yahweh think it is, apparently. There are references to same-sex marriage in Zhou and Ming period China, as well as in Rome. Emperor Constantius II passed his equivalent of a "Defense of Marriage Act"(DOMA) making same-sex marriage a capital offense. John Stuart Mill would point out that if it was such an abnormal thing to begin with, there's no need to pass a law threatening to kill someone for doing something they wouldn't want to do, anyway.

Putting it all together, then, we can see that the reality of the situation: there's a tyranny of the majority enforcing its opinion, which is based on interpretations of the will of the allmighty/allmighties against a minority that want to do something that is quite normal.

The OMG Factor
Now, I'd like to shift gears and talk about some extremely subjective stuff. This is purely my opinion, and some analysis of my own mental states and reactions at various times. As opinion, I won't try to defend it one way or another, but I'd like to share it because perhaps it'll be useful, somehow, in your process of sorting out your own feelings about same-sex sex.

I'd probably describe myself as a "libertine" except that, among libertines, I'd be pretty conservative. I've got my share of kinks and have enjoyed my fair share of moments in which I've woken up on the bathroom floor wondering if I enjoyed myself last night, or not. There was one memorable incident in which I - uh - well, you don't need to know that. But it involved very detailed dreams of having sex with a woman I know and (briefly and embarrassingly) being unsure whether we were lovers or friends or what.. Anyhow. I consider myself to be fairly open-minded. But for a long time, I worried that I might be at least slightly homophobic.

Like everyone on the internet - including you, since you're reading this - I've seen my fair share of "porn" (whatever that is!) including various combinations of various things. I've certainly enjoyed the guy-on-gal stuff I've seen, and the  girl-on-girl stuff is OK in spite of its generally cheesy falsity. I tend to avoid the guy-on-guy content and I finally had to admit to myself that it made me a bit uncomfortable. It doesn't make me "let's have a stoning!" uncomfortable, to be sure, but my eye does not linger. Why? Am I a homophobe? I used to think that if I were an open-minded person, guy-on-guy stuff would just be neutral to me; it would have as much effect as a picture of a pile of cinder-blocks or something like that. But instead, it made me uncomfortable.

I've spent a lot longer than I want to say, dissecting my reaction to erotic materials that I do not like, and I think I have a conceptual framework that now allows me to understand why. Let's say I accidentally click on some thumbnail and it brings up a picture of some guy bent over the back of a couch getting anally jackhammered by another guy. My first reaction (sexually, I am more than slightly dominant) is to try to cast myself in the role of the guy on top (Mr Jack Hammer, if you will) and it doesn't work because I'm really not that into anal sex and uuuuh - at that point my brain hits a switch and tries to cast me into the other role in the scene. And my next thought as Mr Couch Cushion is "ow! no way! ow!" because I don't like that role, either. I've forced myself to experience this and sometimes the sensation of my mind switching back and forth as it tries to find "me" in the scene is pretty acute.

Because there's nothing in the scene that I immediately relate to, my overall impression is not excitement but rather a sort of second-hand imagined pain and discomfort. The total experience of the picture is negative. Not highly negative, but it doesn't make me want to see more and it doesn't turn me on - because there's no "me" in that picture. When I see something fairly outre, I find I go through the same process, which is why I'm actually pretty comfortable with a lot of fairly crazy stuff. But whenever I run up against imagery in which there's simply noplace I can fit "myself" as an actor, my reaction is to back away from it fairly quickly. For a while I experimented with trying to teach myself to fit myself into every scene as the photographer and I noticed that I was suddenly emotionally open to a much wider range of activity than I otherwise would be interested in. That was kind of cool, and it fit well with my theory, until I started thinking about some of the "damsel in distress" images, particularly the low-quality ones that look like they were trophies shot by a serial killer, and I decided that I am not the camera.

It's fashionable in some circles to imply that those who are virulently anti-gay are "projecting" or "displacing" their own issues and are probably demonstrating self-hatred more than anything else. Anti-gay crusaders such as Ted Haggard and pope Ratzinger certainly do make for schadenfreuede a'plenty, but that may also fit with my theory. Their discomfort is acute because of who they immediately identify with in the erotic situation. If I'm looking at an image which combines sex and violence, it makes me uncomfortable for the exact same reason. Perhaps this is all trivially obvious to you who are wiser than myself.

If we understand that our visceral reactions to other people's sexuality are rooted in our own opinions and not the will of the allmighty/allmighties, then I think it gets a lot easier to deal with the discomfort that our reactions cause us. David Hume famously pointed out that when someone is offended, the "offense" and the experience of being offended is entirely in them; the other party can even be completely oblivious to it. Indeed, Hume points out that outside of the person being offended or insulted, there is nothing happening. In modern terms, there are no offensive "porn" pictures - "2 girls, 1 cup" is only offensive if an offended person is there to watch it. In this part of our lives, a tree can fall soundlessly in the forest.

I'm glad to be living in a time when females' participation in the political process is an accepted norm in civilized societies. I'm happier still that slavery is more-or-less universally acknowledged to be an injustice and those who practice it do it only under threat of punishment or in safe fantasy worlds. I feel happy and slightly proud to see that the tremendous injustice which has resulted from the societal dominance of several homophobic religions is finally being rolled back a little bit, and I hope that these few words I cast out will serve as my own little flag-waving "rah! rah!" gesture of support.

PS - Recently I've noticed I'm reluctant to write here. It's because I'm just too darned busy doing other stuff to spend all my time hanging out on DA arguing/debating/cheering/commenting/etc with other people. My choice is to fall silent entirely or to spend less time talking back. So, if you comment on this and I don't respond, I mean no disrespect. I'm just busy.
My first attempt, Sweep 1.0 is chronicled here. One of the things you'll notice, if you read that article is the section about "things I'd do differently, if I were doing this again."   We call that 'learning.'


This time I've put more effort into preparing my supports, and have included an overhead piece that will support a curved segment of fiberglass/vinyl board. Having ceiling tiles ruin my "looking up the gun barrel" stock has really annoyed me. It'll take a bit of extra paint and a lot of extra work but it'll be worth it.


Here you can see the overhead panel(s) installed. Rather than use  4x8 sheet of 1/2" plywood for the overhead, I used 3 4x4 sheets - when you're doing something like this all by yourself, holding a huge sheet of plywood overhead while driving screws into it: not fun. As it was, I had to sit down and do some thinking before I figured out how to mount them. What I did was clamped a U-channel of aluminum in the correct spot to define the edge of where the panels lined up. Then I slid one edge of the panel into the U-channel and supported it while I screwed it into place. When I was done, I removed the U-channel and not only did I not bust my own ass, everything lined up perfectly.

As I grow older, I learn that I solve problems by thinking more and charging into them a bit more slowly. When I was 20 I'd have balanced a 4x8 foot sheet of 1/2" plywood on my fingertips and just blasted it up there. But not only can I no longer do that kind of thing, I find I no longer want to.


When I laid out the subfloor for the top-boards, I cut a few of the 4x8s lengthwise so I could arrange them where the edges of the upper boards won't align with the subfloor. That way I can put lots of foaming urethane glue in the cracks and there won't be anywhere for it to leak to except to foam up and seal the gaps. I also put a couple of tubes of silicone caulk on the floor under the subfloor to help level the boards and to stabilize them so that a model jumping around won't make the subfloor flex and cause cracks in the top-boards.

Installing the upright 4x8 sheets of 1/2" plywood is something you'd expect to be hard, but it was actually very very easy. All I did was clamp my U-channel along the bottom, level it with a bubble level and lots of measuring, and then stood each piece of plywood up in the channel then screwed them down to the 2x4s (which are bolted into the concrete wall with expansion screws). It took 20 minutes to set that up, and 4 minutes to do it.

One of the things I always find fascinating about projects is the relationship between execution and preparation. For example, making a leather hat: 95% preparation, patterning, cutting, finishing, dyeing - and 5% sewing and it's done. Or making a knife: 5% preparation ("where did I put my ebony?") and 95% shaping and polishing and shaping and finishing the handle. Making the sweep is about 50% preparation and 50% slogging through smearing glue and aligning things.

And Goodbye PelicanH

I got an email from Michael Helms the other night, sounding disgusted and frustrated with Deviantart. I'm generally sympathetic but I'm also suspicious when I see what appears to be a "generation gap" forming between myself and "kids these days" -- it seems like the inevitable endgame there is to be a crotchety old coot waving my cane at kids and screaming "GET OFF MY LAWN!"

The general level of cluelessness on Deviantart seems to match that of other social media sites: in other words, it's full of a wide mix of random people that are pretty typical of their time and place. The difference, if you will, on the internet, is that anonymity encourages some people to say things that they'd never say to another person's face for fear of retaliation. I know Michael was constantly seething at the idiotic and insulting comments that complete strangers make about models - and it bothers me, too - but I figure that handing out the occasional copyright-related spanking or lesson in courtesy is part of the cost of growing older and helping maintain some of society's customs. For example, I remember when I was a kid, there wasn't any WAY that you could insult or be rude to another kid by email. You had to walk over, look them in the face, and call them "fatso" or "skinny" and I learned an important lesson about how that can work out from Andre Locke who gave me a really impressive black eye (he was as surprised as I was!) because of a disagreement about how language should be used. Thank you, Andre, wherever you are - I hope life has been great to you! I also remember Phil, one of the kids who was part of our small gamer-group, who was - awfully big. One day one of the other kids called Phil "fasto" and discovered that you have to have really really strong legs to carry around 300lbs of self, when Phil kicked him halfway across the study hall. "Unsolicited critique" meant "face to face" critique in those days and I am sure that attitudes like Michael's and mine will die out in another generation or so, to be replaced by rude little twerps grown up into rude sociopathic adults who hide behind "aspergers'" attitudes. I hope you all enjoy that world - I'm glad I won't be around to live in it. In fact, as I get older and more curmudgeonly I wish we could bring back duelling. Knowing you could be called to account for your words might have had something to do with the elaborate courtesy of bygone days.*

One of the things Michael said was that he had 52,000 followers (wow! holy moley!) and that they had no value to him at all; they didn't bring him any money and the heartache of dealing with image-rips and nasty comments was higher than the value of having a lot of watchers. My suggestion was that rather than closing his account he should ask all his followers to donate a dollar to a paypal account. I was kidding, mostly - I've found that if you put a cash value on yourself you're often going to be shocked by how little other people actually value you. That's why I've been continuing with offering some of my ambrotypes on Ebay - it's nice when they go for a reasonable price but I got to see images I thought were really good fetch a whopping $5. Ouch. "Why bother?"   Because: what's the alternative?


(* Though I know that was merely another form of social control, generally applied so that the powerful protected eachother from their own kind, but were free to rain metaphorical - and real - shit down on the lower classes with impunity.)
  • Listening to: Joy Division
  • Reading: World of Warcraft Beginner's Guide
  • Watching: nothing
  • Playing: WoW
  • Eating: ham sandwich!!
  • Drinking: apple cider
Missing The Point
I've been disappointed to see the various responses to SOPA, especially the "DEVIATION CENSORED" images. They so completely miss the point that I can only assume the people posting them have absolutely no comprehension of what SOPA means, why it's a problem, and what they're actually protesting against.

First off, SOPA is not about censorship. Unfortunately, many of the opponents of SOPA decided to cast it as being about censorship in order to mobilize public opinion. Why did they do that? Unfortunately, they did that for two reasons: 1) they knew that without mobilizing mass support, the bill would go through and 2) they knew that the masses they wanted to get support from simply don't care/understand the real problem enough to do anything - because the truth is much to complicated for the typical internet user. I have some sympathy for that view, because I've discovered over and over again that copyright is, in fact, too complicated for the typical internet user to grasp. Or, perhaps it's easy to grasp but they just don't want to because they like downloading "free" music and movies and your art and my art too much to be bothered. See, SOPA is not about censorship, it's about copyright and the people mobilizing public opinion against it knew that if they tried to cast it in its true light there would be too much nuance and not enough anger.

So, those who are posting those "STOP SOPA CENSORSHIP" images - they've been played. The fact that SOPA is bad legislation is also true (I'll get to that) but they've still been played. The fact that arguably it was the 'good guys' who played them doesn't change the fact that they were manipulated into publicly voicing an opinion that they aren't qualified to hold because they don't understand it. If you believe that the public should have a voice in public policy (hint: that's why they call it "public" policy) you need to understand what's going on and not just chant slogans that you hear on FOX News or some popular webcomic.

Some History
Hopefully, you remember or have heard of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) of 1996. There were complaints and protests at the time of DMCA, as well - for too many good reasons to go into - but of course it passed anyway. DMCA was unpopular with the online community because of some much-discussed provisions that made it illegal to reverse engineer the security of copy protect systems or to attempt to bypass (or even to describe how to bypass) copy protection. In spite of widespread criticism - and similar screeching about researchers being "censored" - DMCA passed. Unfortunately, DMCA was worse than most people understood it to be, because they were too busy watching the fireworks over copyright research and very few people noticed the razor blade hidden in the apple.

The razor blade in the apple was the safe harbor provisions in DMCA. Basically, what DMCA's safe harbor provision says is that a site that hosts content gets a pass for copyright violations in all user-uploaded content as long as they have a mechanism whereby the copyright holder of a stolen work can submit a takedown request and have their copyrighted work removed. The official terminology for the safe harbor is the "passive conduit" safe harbor - and it seems reasonable enough at first glance. How can a site like Youtube be expected to proactively determine what was violating copyright and take it down? Every video would have to be reviewed; they'd be out of business!  A site like Deviantart couldn't exist! Exactly! Never mind that Youtube is valued at billions of dollars because of the advertising revenue it makes from showing 99.9% pure stolen stuff. So what happens is that a media company that can afford to hire someone to search youtube for material that belongs to them, then turn that over to a lawyer-bot that submits DMCA takedown notices - well, the media company can get justice. Sort of. Because it's not "justice" if it's not fair. And you can realize it's not fair if you think about a small-time copyright holder - like, say, me. I actually first signed up for Deviantart because some weenie had taken a bunch of my images and posted them (unattributed, of course) so I had to make an account in order to submit a complaint. But I'm just one guy; I don't have employees or a posse of lawyers. Unlike Disney, if I wanted to actually protect my copyright online, I'd need to spend 48 hours a day on redbubble, deviantart, fetlife, facebook, myspace, youtube, blah, flip, boo, whatever - a billion websites that exist to re-host content, a huge amount of which is violating copyright. That's not justice; that's "a system designed for the powerful who can afford lawyers." And, on the flip side of that, it's "a system designed to protect sites that host user-provided content from lawsuits." Youtube can make millions selling banner ads on stolen copyrighted material, but the copyright holder can't come along and ask for their slice of the revenues - can they? For Disney, that's no big deal, but if I got the banner ad revenue from my neko-girl pictures that are all over the interwebs, I'd be able to buy a nice shiny toy Ferrari.*  So DMCA allows you to profit from stolen material if you're big, and prevents you from recovering damages if you're not.

It's win-win-win for the powerful and it's a great big "fuck you" to the individual artists who are left with a nearly useless weapon (DMCA takedowns) to protect themselves. So, while Metallica and the music industry can pat themselves on the back for hammering a few file sharing sites what happens to the small independent artists like Ray Wylie Hubbard or Fred Eaglesmith or every single garage band that's just starting out without a big label behind them? Yeah, the US' lawmakers took care of the big companies and the lawyers and the big website and media companies - their paymasters.

Win! Win! Win!
Big business and big media were happy with DMCA because it let them club a few sites into submission and the lawyers were happy with it because they were able to form consortia that do nothing but litigate copyright claims.  Win! Win! Win! In the software industry, we saw the establishment of the Software Publishers Association, which has nothing to do with software publishers other than that it's a warehouse of lawyers who try to make claims against software pirates and, well, they pocket the settlements. So copyright became a "hunting license" for lawyers who can go to the big firms (and media companies) and say, "We'll tell you what - we'll go out there and sue a few of these bastards and really show them who's boss! It'll stop you losing so much money to piracy and it won't cost you anything because we'll pay ourselves out of the proceeds from the lawsuits!" See how that works? And now you understand why the lawyers are seeking damages of $400,000 against some single mom who uploaded a bunch of albums to bittorrent - because they can. Meanwhile, if that small garage band or amateur photographer wants to protect their copyright? There are lawyers who'll help you out, but their fee for sending a generic "cease and desist" letter start at $1,000 and go up. That's why you have someone like deviant artist Laura Jade spending 3 years and who knows how much lawyer money trying to get a porn company to stop using her portrait as the cover illustration of a DVD. Or Harlan Ellison suing American Online to try to get them to take down copies of his writings that one of their users had published in a forum.

Short form: if you steal an image from Disney, you get crushed. If you steal copyrighted work from an individual, you get away with it. Because the law isn't even-handed; it wasn't designed to be. It was designed so that the big guys would win and the little guys... aaaah, fuck the little guys.

More History
Unfortunately for the big media companies, DMCA did not give them the complete domination of the playing field that they wanted. They probably wish they could sue Youtube for damages or hold a site hostage if it didn't beg for mercy quickly enough. It's not enough that they can get the government to shut down a site like I'm not sure what is "enough" but the next step was SOPA and PIPA.

You need to understand, SOPA and PIPA are not about censorship. They are about further tilting the bias of the internet in favor of large corporations and government privilege. Because, make no mistake about it, the government is perfectly happy to see big companies expanding their power over the internet, since that also (by extension) expands the government's power-by-proxy over the internet. If you were awake when the US Government tried desperately to shut down Wikileaks, you would have noticed that the first weapons in their arsenal that they deployed were by getting banks to interfere with Wikileaks' money supply. The government/corporate connection is strong here, and the reason that the government is able to sweet-talk big corporations into helping it out is because the corporations stand to benefit as well from a "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" arrangement.  And that's why, if you were wondering how the US Government could seize a site like Megaupload when Megaupload is in Hong Kong.

On the bright side, Disney hasn't built its own army, yet.
On the not-quite-as-bright side, Disney doesn't need to, because it can use the US' Army whenever it needs one.

(gosh I love photoshop!)

The Scandal
The scandal of SOPA isn't really anything to do with the (admittedly shitty) piece of legislation. The scandal of SOPA is that it's been obvious from the beginning that we, the people, have no interest in this legislation, whatsoever. The people who are strongly supporting it in the US Legislature are in the pocket of lobbyists and, right now, the biggest lobbyist in favor of SOPA is the multi-million-dollar-per-year-salaried Chris Dodd of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) - a former senator. A senator who once, apparently, said he'd never become a lobbyist. The scandal, if you will, is that anyone gives that motherfucker the time of day - but, equally obviously, his former comrades who pushed the legislation, did. It's yet another example of the egregious effect of money on the political process.

The secondary fallout from that scandal is that the media has largely let the real scandal blow by, in favor of talking about what a darned shame it is that SOPA is such a bad piece of legislation - as if it suddenly appeared on the docket after having been left there by space aliens.

Lastly, as a taxpayer, I'm disgusted by watching the lawmakers scurry like cockroaches when the kitchen lights are turned on. Last week they were all in favor of SOPA but this week they're all against it. Because SOPA got attention in the news and a lot of people obviously didn't like it. The subtext message here is "if you hadn't noticed, we'd have fucked you." Just like they did with DMCA. Only harder.

So, I don't give a damn about SOPA. I give a damn about a broken political system in which the people's "representatives" are for sale to the highest bidder. It is why, for the record, I do not think democracy is a good political system - especially not a representative democracy. If you think representative democracy works, ask yourself how accurately those people in Washington "represent" you. Then ask yourself if you woke up last year thinking "copyright needs to be strengthened in order to protect Hollywood!"

Here's the last bit of the scandal, in the form of a prediction: SOPA will pass more or less as it's currently constructed, eventually. In a year or so, key provisions will get tied to a budgetary continuing resolution and the president will wring his hands, blame whichever party he's not from for being obstructionist, point to a different piece of porkbarrel spending (but not a big one) and sign the damn thing. And, by then, all the clueless chumps who are currently putting "STOP SOPA CENSORSHIP" deviations up on DA will be finishing Skyrim2 or - oooh, shiny thing!

Now, the Censorship
That covers the scandal and the hypocrisy. Now let's talk about stupid censorship. Specifically, the silliness of complaining about censorship on Deviantart - a site that has its own draconian and absurd regime of self-censorship that is above and beyond what the law requires, and which maintains a system whereby people can anonymously request images be censored as "inappropriate." We all know that Deviantart's rules, which are already arbitrary, are applied in an arbitrary fashion - if you're going to complain about censorship, kids, delete your Deviantart account.

Under US law, at present, there have been attempts to criminalize making erotic material visible to minors. In the US, out in the real world, those legislative attempts have been universally stomped on by the judiciary, including our fairly conservative Supreme Court. I'm pleased that the justices on The Supreme Court can read The Constitution and are still trying to enforce it. The Department of Justice has stumbled repeatedly (basically, smacking itself down) trying to define explicit content adequately. For more information on that, you may want to read this journal entry I wrote back in 2009:…

I have no problem with Deviantart's saying "it's our site; we can make up our own arbitrary rules." I'm even OK with Deviantart saying "and, we enforce our arbitrary rules, in an arbitrary manner." Yep. That's censorship. If you're going to do it - own it. But once you play the censorship game even a little bit, you forfeit your right to complain if someone ever infringes your freedom of expression. Want to see my head explode? If I ever see one of the people who put DA's censorship rules in place - complain about censorship.

Another form of censorship is the constant comments such as "meh. this picture is only on the front page because it's got boobs in it" or "this is porn not art" etc - the message, again, is that certain forms of expression are inappropriate or lesser than others. When you start applying social pressure in an attempt to get someone not to express themselves in a way that you don't like, you're preparing the ground-work for censorship: the next step is to have a little button that you can click that just makes all the bad stuff you don't like go away.

Got it? Every single deviation on Deviantart has already been censored. If that doesn't bother you, you're on the wrong side of history but you're blowing with the prevailing winds.

(* I don't care about that. Like most small artists I decided when I put my stuff on the web that I was letting it go and that the reward I'd get was maybe a few "nice shot!" emails. But that was a decision that I was forced to make - unless you're lawyered up like Disney you're left with the "if you put it on the web, you gotta expect to get ripped off" argument. That would be a reasonable argument if it applied evenly to everyone. But it doesn't. The little guys can have their case heard in the court of "fuck you" and Disney gets to rewrite legislation for Congress.)
  • Listening to: Teddy Bears - "Cobrastyle"
  • Reading: Gibbon
  • Watching: nothing
  • Playing: skyrim
  • Eating: nothing
  • Drinking: apple cider
Last winter, my winter project was working on my darkroom. I can't believe that was a year ago, already! Time speeds up as you get older, sort of like light crossing the event horizon of a black hole - until eventually it speeds up so much you run completely out....

I did my last shoot for the season with :iconbiancacaito: last weekend, and now it's definitely too cold to have models running around the studio clad only in goose-bumps. Not that that's unattractive, but it's unnecessarily cruel. So I decided to get started on a project I've wanted to do for a while: renovating the studio.

Here you can see GWC studio as it appeared around noon today. Yesterday, the dumpster company delivered the roll-off dumpster I'll be using in this project: the dumpster guy was supposed to call so I could meet him and show him where to leave it, instead he called and left a message "I left it right where you wanted it!"  Of course, he left it on the exact opposite side of the building from where I wanted it. I'm looking forward to having to make innumerable trips up and down the hallway with heavy chunks of stuff. But I can use the exercise. That's what I tell myself.



It's not too bad, but (as you can see) there's a horrible leak-stained dropped ceiling that's a source of endless dust, and an industrial tile floor that is hard on the feet, dirty, and cold. In the center of the room is the sweep that is featured in so many of my photos, as well as my big-ass octodome , overhead pan softbox, and my 8x10 camera. As you can tell, I have a tendency to just packrat stuff up against the side of the room, which makes it cozy but cluttered.

Emptying the room amounted to moving the mess and clutter from one room into multiple other rooms. It's like some law of conservation - messes can neither be created nor destroyed - only relocated. There are now a few piles of stuff in the hallway and all the lighting gear is heaped up in the sewing room, etc. A few things went right into the dumpster.


Tearing down the sweep caused twinges of anxiety. But, in the end, I was happy to do it. As you can see, when I framed it onto the wall, I used a smallish number of vertical 2x4s a spacers. Consequently, the thinner top layer buckled and shifted as it stretched over the course of 3 years and innumerable coats of paint. When I reconstruct it I plan to make it go up onto the ceiling so that I have a sort of continuous head-space for upward-looking shots. I'm also going to use a heavier plywood backing layer between the uprights so that there will no flex to it at all. I'm sick of photoshopping out the lines in the top layer.


The back of the room had a blackboard still installed, and now it's gone. That blackboard seemed to exude dust; it won't be missed.

Next up, dropping the drop ceiling, cutting up the floor-piece of the sweep, and seeing if I can pry the tiles off the floor. The ceiling should be quick (but filthy) work; the floor tiles concern me. I plan to have a nice indoor/outdoor carpet put down, with some padding when I am finished. I want the floor to be nice and even underneath. The tiles are very lumpy from 70 years of traffic, cracks, and glue-down repairs.

The dumpster pick-up is friday, so I am on a pretty aggressive schedule here!
  • Listening to: Teddy Bears - "Cobrastyle"
  • Reading: Gibbon
  • Watching: nothing
  • Playing: skyrim
  • Eating: nothing
  • Drinking: apple cider
I got home from my crazy trip to Chernobyl yesterday and have mostly caught up on my sleep.

I saw lots of stuff, snapped thousands of photos, and wrote a detailed trip journal each night (and sometimes paused during the day to sit down and write a bit...) about the whole experience. It'll help me cement everything in my memory to write it all down quickly before it fades.

Looking at lots and lots of wreckage made my mind start to go numb; there are levels and levels of detail and I kept trying to make sense of everything. It simply doesn't work. After a day or two, I found myself just walking around shaking my head mumbling, "no. no."

The people who had to deal with the accident did the best they could with an incomprehensible and horrible situation. I kept feeling alternately elated and horrified that humans had been such brave ass-kickers that they got their kids out, left their homes in an orderly manner - and then some of them went back into a radioactive nightmare and cleaned it up. It sure puts some of my little problems in perspective and it makes me realize that humans deal with this kind of thing all the time when there are natural disasters. Right now, the Japanese are calmly and graciously rebuilding from a tsunami and a radiological disaster, too. And Haiti's still a mess from its earthquake and the south asian tsunami's damage is no doubt still felt... The meaning in the world is not "OMG! The disaster!" it's "OMG! look how awesomely tough those people are!" Remember, following WWI and WWII huge parts of the world looked worse than Chernobyl. Disasters are one thing, but to really fuck things up, you need governments.

If any of you are interested in more details about my trip, I've converted my journals into HTML and posted them on my website here:…
Initially I was thinking of posting them here but it's just too much material.

Today, in the US, is a holiday we call "thanksgiving"; it's a kind of silly holiday, really, but today I'm going to feel thankful for all the humans who just get the job done, even if it's only because they've got to.
  • Listening to: Fred Eaglesmith 'alcohol and pills'
  • Reading: The 30 Year's War
  • Watching: nothing
  • Playing: skyrim
  • Eating: nothing
  • Drinking: tea
Thanks to all of you who wished me "happy birthday" here and on facebook; I can't respond individually and am a bit overwhelmed. If you're keeping track, I'll be 50 next year. So far, the wheels are on tight and straight and everything still seems to roll.

For any of you who are interested in the occasional leather-craft projects, bare plate ambrotypes, or boxed ambrotypes that I list on Ebay, you can now get email notifications by sending a message to
I plan to list another plate soon and after that I hope to be doing a short run of boxed ambrotypes.

I'm doing a lot of travelling the last few and next couple weeks, which is why I haven't been updating my gallery very often. Generally when I go into a travel-spurt I put my head down and just plow through it; I no longer post-work images on my laptop because I can no longer post-work without my art tablet.

Next week I'm going to Chernobyl, which should be pretty darned cool if everything goes OK. I'll bring back lots of pictures. I am not going to dress up in zombie make-up and jump out and scare the other photographers to death. Because I'd hate it if someone did that to me.
  • Listening to: Fred Eaglesmith 'water in the fuel'
  • Reading: The 30 Year's War
  • Watching: nothing
  • Playing: skyrim
  • Eating: nothing
  • Drinking: tea
I've been meaning to write about epistemology and science for quite a while....

The problem is that there really isn't a single simple place to dig in and get started. Why not? Because all of what we'd call "human knowledge" is connected; if you intend to explain one piece completely you'd eventually wind up trying to explain it all. That's why the 6-year-old child's tactic of asking "why?" is so successful and annoying.

kid: "why is the sky blue?"
mjr: "because of diffraction in the atmosphere."
kid: "why?"
mjr: "well it's got to do with how light's frequency changes when you bend its path."
kid: "why?"
mjr option 1: "don't ask me, go dig up Richard Feynman."
mjr option 2: "it's time for you to go to bed."

But there's a really wonderful thing about scientific knowledge and its connectedness: it doesn't contradict itself. Not anywhere. Or, rather, not for very long; contradictions mean something is wrong with the theories that allow us to understand whatever it is that we're talking about. Scientists get really really excited when there's a potential contradiction in an important theory, since it represents a fascinating new problem to figure out.

You may recall the recent news about neutrinos appearing to have moved faster than the speed of light. Idiots in the media got excited and published articles entitled "Einstein's Relativity: Overthrown?" etc.  There was some excitement in the scientific community but most of the more reasoned responses were very cautious: relativity has been exhaustively measured and the speed of light does, indeed, appear to be the hard limit. My favorite observation on the topic was from Ethan Siegel on his wonderful "starts with a bang" blog. He pointed out that measurements of the arriving neutrinos emitted by a supernovas and the light of the supernova's explosion are accurate to parts per billion (the gravitation of other stuff between the supernova and us is going to affect light differently from neutrinos, but not much) so the measurements that were 60 nanoseconds from what was expected - was probably wrong. And, immediately, the physics community was buzzing with possible things that the OPERA team might have gotten wrong, and experiments that don't show the effect, etc. This is how science is done: claims that are radically inconsistent with theory get scrutinized very closely indeed. Not because scientists are a bunch of dweeby pissants, but because the high-tech world in which we live depends to a certain degree on the consistency of scientific claims. There are things that, if they were shown to be wrong, would be very, very interesting, indeed.

There are other things that are shown to be right, for all intents and purposes. For example, if someone came along and claimed that the speed of light was something else, scientists would laugh at them. And, rightly so. Because every single GPS is - in a sense - one great big experiment that proves that the speed of light is correct. A ground-based transmitter sends a signal to satellites in geosynchronous orbit, which is then reflected back down to earth where it's read by your handheld receiver. The difference in the receipt-time of the signal is calculated based on the known position of the satellites and, because of how long it takes the signal to travel at the speed of light, the unit is able to tell where it is relative to the satellites. Pretty cool. We can be said to "know" that the speed of light is what we think it is because it allows us to predict outcomes and, when they're tested against the theory, sure enough things come out right. Another example of a predictable outcome measuring the speed of light is the computer you're using to read this: if scientists' idea of the speed of light were very wrong, your computer would not work correctly. Modern processors are so fine and complex that knowing the amount of distance an electron will move at the speed of light, during a memory fetch/clock cycle is crucial to designing the chip.


Epistemology is the study of systems of knowledge. Put another way, "how do you know that?" is really the ultimate question that we're concerned with. One good answer to "how do you know that?" is "because I have a theory that predicts certain things with great accuracy and, when I measure in accordance with the theory, then that's how it comes out every single time." When you're dealing with a body of knowledge as complex and interdependent as our current scientific understanding of the universe, you're left with the choice of either accepting it or rejecting all of it, because it's becoming increasingly difficult to attack one piece of the body of scientific knowledge without attacking, basically, all of it. One of the best ways you can tell that you're arguing with someone poorly educated is if they claim "science doesn't know everything!" in defense of some (whatever) weird belief or other. Why? Because virtually any claim that you can make, at some point, is going to touch upon something objectively measurable or observable, which - in turn - is going to have to fit with the rest of scientific knowledge. A shorter response to the "science doesn't know everything!" claim is, "yes, but you know even less." What a lot of people don't realize is how amazingly far we humans have come since the 18th century. While physicists today are searching for grand unified "theory of everything" the working theories that they have about reality are, simply, ridiculously good. For example, Isaac Newton's physics is good enough for most of what we'd want to do, until you get to very fast, precise, small things or big things like computers, space travel, GPS, differential wireless broadband, lasers, etc. When people say "Newton was wrong" what they really should be saying was "Newton was right, for all intents and purposes, within the limits of the technology of his time." One of the reasons that it took until Einstein to expand and refine Newton was because Newton was so damn right. If you look at the rate at which there are massive scientific overthrows of theory, it has pretty much dropped to zero since Einstein. We are not going to see another Copernican revolution, in which suddenly "OMG! Teh erfs iz not center of universe? LOL!"  everything changes.

Scientists seem to me to be fairly dismissive of philosophy, because all too frequently, philosophy makes claims that have something to do with objective reality, but which do not follow from any kind of theory with predictive power. The scientist interprets that as "bullshit" while the philosopher interprets it as "profound argument."  Nowhere is this conflict more apparent than in discussions of claims of the supernatural. Of course, the ultimate claim of the supernatural is made by religion - but let's steer away from that, for now. Let's think, instead, in terms of ways of making claims of knowledge. I.e.: epistemology.

The most important dichotomy when talking about "the supernatural" (whatever that is) is embodied in the very word "supernatural." It's "super" (in the sense of the old Latin word implying 'over' or 'superior') to the "natural" or nature. Something that is "supernatural" is, "outside of nature"  "unnatural" or "other than nature" - we don't need to parse the words particularly finely at this point. Claiming that something is "supernatural" is a fairly common tactic of argument when a rationalist is debating a, uh, well, other-than-naturalist because the other-than-naturalist (can I call them "supernaturalist"?) wants to deflect scientific enquiry about their pet topic.

Let me illustrate:
Supernaturalist: "I believe in ghosts."
Scientist: "Cool! Do you have any evidence for the ghosts?"
Supernaturalist: "No; they are outside of what science understands!"

So far, so good. What we've seen is a claim, a response asking for evidence, and then a counter-claim that attempts to place the initial claim off-limits.

David Hume and Skepticism

David Hume (1711-1776) [I originally wrote: "pronounced "Home"" but it turns out I had that completely backwards. Hume's name was originally "Home" pronounced 'Hyoom" and he changed his name to match its pronounciation. What an embarrassing mistake, and a top 'o the hat to the deviant who corrected me!] is one of the most famous philosophers of the enlightenment and was largely responsible for re-introducing and reformulating ancient Greek skeptical thinking into the corpus of western philosophy.

(David Hume, could out-consume....)

I labored long and hard to craft that previous sentence, because I didn't want to seem like I was giving Hume too little credit; he was incredibly brilliant and his contributions to thinking were profound. Much of his thinking regarding skepticism appears to be heavily influenced by some of the writings of the ancient Greek skeptics, in particular Sextus Empiricus (160-210ad).  The ancient Greek skeptics were, by all measures, incredibly annoying men, who appear to have been the first to formulate the philosophical equivalent of nuclear weapons: "I don't believe you even exist, nyaa nyaa nyaa!" Sextus Empiricus' "outlines of pyrronism" is one of the classics of philosopy, and it outlines a series of rational arguments that demolish epistemology. Unless you're a philosopher, it's hard to imagine how utterly annoying pyrronian skepticism can be - the skeptic adopts a position of making no claims of knowledge whatsoever, and forces his opponent to flail around helplessly trying to say anything at all. I suspect that arguing with Sextus Empiricus would have been quite fun, but the end-game would sound like the dialog with a 5-year-old:
Skeptic: "How do you claim to know about 'gravity'?"
mjr: "Because, physics predicts how gravity behaves, and it always behaves according to physical law"
Skeptic: "How do you know that?"
mjr: "Because so far no contradictory experiment has been observed."
Skeptic: "How do you know that?"
mjr: "AUGH!"

(Sextus Empiricus)

The philosophical works of ancient Greece were suppressed in Europe during the dark ages and the rise of the church because, as you can imagine, having a skeptic raise his hand and interrupt the pope with infinitely regressive questions is extremely annoying if you're the pope. What Hume did was present readable, upgraded, and more circuitous versions of some of Sextus' arguments at a time when enlightenment philosophers like Descartes and Leibniz were beginning to wrestle with the relationship of science to the supernatural. Hume's reframing of the old skeptical arguments was intellectual nuclear weapons. Crucially, he observed that:
- Our senses are subject to falsehood or misinterpretation
- Everything we think or do or learn must come to us through our senses
- Therefore everything we think or do or learn is suspect and any argument based on it is unfounded
Following Sextus Empiricus, he doesn't simply attack a given epistemology or system of knowledge - he attacks our ability to have a system of knowledge.

A Supernatural Dialectic

Now, we're ready to resume the little dialog with the supernaturalist that I started above. If you'll recall, it went something like this:
Supernaturalist: "I believe in ghosts."
Scientist: "Cool! Do you have any evidence for the ghosts?"
Supernaturalist: "No; they are outside of what science understands!"
Now, our scientist whips out a brain-demolishing dose of 2nd century skepticism and asks
Scientist: "If they are outside of what science understands, how can you possibly know they are there? Because any possible way you'd have of knowing about them is subject to scientific enquiry."

At this point, the supernaturalist usually plays the "science doesn't know everything!" dodge, which is the rhetorical equivalent of tipping over your king and walking away from the chess-board in a huff.

But, the conundrum remains inescapable: how can you make claims to knowledge about something that you also claim is outside of your own ability to know?

If you wish to be a brain-busting skeptic who destroys supernaturalists, all you have to do is try to get them to identify the point at which their belief systems move outside of observable reality. Once you can localize your opponent's claim to knowledge, then you crush it with skeptical enquiry. The simple head-on skeptical attack is going to give your victim enough of a chance to stomp away from the table before taking full damage. If you want to really rattle them, use gentle loops of epistemological enquiry, combined with fact-checking. Here's an example:
Acupuncturist: "Acupuncture works by manipulating the body's energy field."
Skeptic: "Interesting! 'Energy' is cool stuff. Did you know that scientists have organized all the forms of energy into a frequency chart called 'The Electromagnetic Spectrum' that goes, basically, from zero to cosmic rays. It's just a way of organizing all the different forms of light, radio waves, etc. So, do you know where on the spectrum acupuncture operates?"*

(source: wikipedia)

At this point, the acupuncturist's best strategy is to run like hell. But there are a couple of different end-games:
Acupuncturist: "Science doesn't know everything!"
Skeptic:" Actually, when it comes to the electromagnetic spectrum, we do! Isn't that cool!? We used to not be sure where cosmic rays came from but in 1999 scientists conclusively measured cosmic ray-bursts from a supernova and now we're 100% sure that they're 'just' subatomic particles that got whacked to light-speed by the explosion of a supernova. So our understanding of the whole electromagnetic spectrum is now complete. And, of course some parts of the spectrum are too high-energy, because we'd measure all kinds of interactions if the acupuncture was at the higher end of the spectrum. I mean, we're talking stuff that makes X-rays look like a pat on the back. So, uh, where did you say acupuncture works again?"

End-game 2:
Acupuncturist: "It's not part of the electromagnetic spectrum!"
Skeptic: "Then what is it?"

Back to Ghosts

The "alternative thinker" loses control of their ability to claim knowlege when they protect it by trying to take it off the game-board. To stick with the chess metaphor, it's like protecting your queen from being captured by hiding her in your pocket: she can't be taken but she can't exert any influence in the game, either. In a nutshell, this is why religion has been being edged into irrelevance by modern knowledge and technology: religion can't make a GPS work, or, actually, make any useful claims of knowledge whatsoever.

What's odd to me is that skeptical thinking usually stops at the first claims that attempt to place a topic outside of the scope of scientific enquiry. But, if you think about it, just like the rest of science, claims that in any way lead to knowledge have to survive all possible scientific enquiries. Which brings me to ghosts.

Let's suppose there's a thing called a "ghost" that is 'supernatural' - which, for the sake of argument, means that it's some kind of super-special thing that "science doesn't understand." And it's in the room with us. Eek! But wait, here's the first problem:
- How do we know it's in the room with us?
Perhaps, we see it? Well, if we see it that means that, somehow, for it to register in our eyes it's interacting with (technically: absorbing and emitting photons) light. If it's not interacting with light, we can't see it; that's how our eyes work. Light interacts with our atmosphere and scatters (which is why the sky looks like the part of the electromagnetic spectrum we call "blue", or 450-500 nanometers) for a ghost to be visible, it's got to - well - exist as we define "existence" i.e.: be made of stuff. There's no such thing as something "immaterial" that interacts with light.

But wait, you say, the ghost appears and disappears? That would mean that it's doing some pretty cool tricks - material appearing and disappearing could be a violation of some of the conservation laws. You don't just have matter (which is made of atoms) suddenly vanish. Not without a change in energy that we certainly wouldn't miss. (A-bomb explosions are an example of what happens when matter is converted into energy; we'd certainly all believe in ghosts if they did that on a regular basis)

Here's my favorite idea about ghosts: if the ghost is "in the room" with us that means that it's somehow interacting with gravity. Only things that have mass do that, so for a ghost to be "in the room" with us it'd have to have mass. Because otherwise it would have no inertia (right?) and Earth would go whipping along at its normal speed of 67,000 miles/hour and the ghost would be left behind. It wouldn't even be "in the room" with us long enough to start to go "boo!"  (our solar system is also moving at a godawful speed in another direction, and our galaxy in yet another, and space-time is also expanding, so our poor massless ghost, even if it could move, would have a hell of a time figuring out where to be)  And, let's not get started on the problem of "how do you move when you're massless?" Newton was right about the action/reaction thing, so what would our poor ghost push against?  And, of course, you have to be able to push against something in order to make sound, so a massless ghost couldn't even go "boo!"

The point of all of this is that anyone with a moderate science education not only knows that ghosts are bunk, they ought to be able to see not just one problem with the idea; there are lots. Yet we sit there and nod complacently while idiots talk about them as if they're real. It's not that there's no evidence for ghosts - it's that there's active evidence against "ghosts" as they are conceived or described. The only description of a "ghost" that fits physical law is "nonexistent" which means that there's no way you can claim to know it exists, because it doesn't exist. I don't mean "doesn't exist as we know it" I mean, "doesn't exist as we define 'existence'"

There are many things in popular culture that fail the epistemology challenge. Yet, because we're generally imaginative and hopeful creatures, we still treat them as though they might exist. In spite of not merely lack of evidence that they do exist, but overwhelming evidence that they do not. Here I am referring specifically to things like life after death, "souls" and gods. Consider life after death: you have a physical being, which consists of a bunch of matter containing some electrical signals and a bunch of other interesting states of purely "real" stuff that comprise what we call "life."  When we stop living (by the way, that's not a clear-cut event except for in the brain of the person experiencing it) some of those states start to change, especially the electrical signals in our brains. There's no way those signals could somehow go somplace else without it being quite obvious and measurable. Even if you wanted to posit a spare dimension above and beyond our 3+time that we're used to, the transition from real stuff to stuff in another dimension would be very noticeable (and extremely exciting!) to scientists. No, what happens is that the chemical pumps that charge the neurons in your brain run out of the stuff they need to drive the Krebs cycle and other metabolites - and stop. Then the electrochemical firings stop and the emergent property known as "consciousness" comes apart and disappears the same way that a "bottle" loses its "bottle-ness" when you hit it with a sledgehammer. Any more complex transition happening at death would very obviously give itself away by producing unexpected heat (or radiation!) or something, in accordance with physical law. In fact the only transition that can happen upon death that's in accordance with physical law is the one I described; stuff just stops and the very temporary self-organization we call "life" disintegrates. Not "goes away" - disintegrates.

Are there ghosts? Life after death? Last summer, two very good friends of mine passed away, and I mourn them still. I remember their lives and the time we spent together and if I close my eyes I can remember what it felt like to hold them, the smell of their hair, the sound of their breathing, the times we played and danced together - I'll remember them as long as I live. They had other friends than me, too, who also remember them (different memories, to be sure, but with some commonalities)  When I eventually die and disintegrate, those ghosts in my brain those memories will be gone with me. And, eventually, as the rest of the people who knew them forget them, or die in turn, their "ghosts" will finally fall away. To me, that seems soothing and natural.

:heart: you,

* a brief side-note on acupuncture: If the theory of acupuncture is that it's a medical intervention, i.e.: that it causes some kind of positive health benefit or cure, we'd expect to be able to measure long-term side-effects. This is an obvious fact which is used in clinical trials of drugs, etc.: you give a group of patients your new cancer drug and, over time, you measure for a shift in the morbidity rate (doctor-ese for: "who dies and when") over time. If your new cancer drug works, you'll eventually observe that patients treated with it tend to live longer than those who aren't. So, we can disprove that acupuncture confers any benefit in two ways: one, we can compare it to a placebo and we observe that generally people report positive benefits of acupuncture at the same rate and to the same degree as patients treated with a placebo. That leads us to the inescapable conclusion that "acupuncture is a placebo."  But the deadlier argument is simply this: if acupuncture was used for hundreds or thousands of years by Chinese doctors, we'd expect to see that life-spans in China were, for a long time, superior to the rest of the world's. Of course we see no such thing - human life-spans were around 35 years more or less until Henri Pasteur figured out the bacterial model of infection, ushering in the age of modern medicine, and life-spans have nearly doubled world-wide since then. We do notice correlations between life-span and the wealth of a society, still, but acupuncture doesn't even show up as a blip on any experiment except for the ones comparing it to a placebo. Case closed.
  • Listening to: Der club of gore - black earth
  • Reading: John Ringo: Gust Front
  • Watching: The Trap - we will force you to be free
  • Playing: alive
  • Eating: nothing
  • Drinking: tea
Fortunately, I Still Have Meaning and Purpose....

Because my project van (and 10,000 other things!) are not finished. But the darkroom is done. I've already been working with it, and everything's functionally perfect, the only thing left to complete was the paint and now that's all finished. There's some touch-up I could do, but it will wait - I am sick of painting.


I think the green floor was just the right touch. I may still make a curtain to go around the enlarger table (not that it would serve any purpose at all) and I will eventually paint the white standoffs on the bottom of the sink black, and a few other things like that. But I am quite sick of painting and anything more can wait until next year.

The frock coat I am wearing is a one-off made for me by the wonderful folks at Kambriel ( ) I asked about a "steampunky official darkroom frock coat" and we went back and forth a couple times and I mentioned that anything in a darkroom has to expect to have wet hands and chemicals wiped on it. Towel! We'll make the frock coat out of towel - so, that's exactly what they did. It's really plush and snuzzy and warm, too, which will be much appreciated in the winter. I have an official "steampunky skull and crossbones black velvet darkroom fez" ( ) which I am not wearing in this shot because it was at home (on my hat-rack where it belongs!)

See the little white box clipped to my pocket? That's a radio remote for a Lutron Maestro light controller/dimmer. It's wonderful because one of the nastier parts of working in a darkroom is you're always turning the lights up and down and on and off. The controller lets me do it from anywhere with a fingertip, and I have a separate viewing-light with a floor switch by the sink so I can check and see how plates are coming out.

On the left cabinet, by the speaker, you can see an angled black box; that's a DJ's red laser scanner/light doodad that I got on ebay for not very much. It's red laser (won't mess up my plates that way!) and it makes all kinds of cool pulsing light shows on the front of the room (and, because it's a laser, it doesn't reflect much)  The speakers are Alesis M1s, which put out enough oomph to make it unbearably loud in the room.

I started this project in November of last year, and today I offically stick a stake in it and call it "done"!
  • Listening to: Luke Kelly: "the rocky road to dublin"
  • Reading: Richard Rhodes "how to write"
  • Watching: my belly button
  • Playing: alive
  • Eating: nothing
  • Drinking: tea
I am the Lord of The Nurnies!

After I got the electrics and water for the darkroom working, I cleaned everything up and was able to do a shoot using it (and everything was wonderful)    Every time I re-engage the project I can be pretty sure I'll get dust on things, and shavings on the floor, etc - and have to clean it up again. I had a shoot scheduled this weekend that had to cancel so that inspired me to try to push and finish the whole thing off.

It's a bit odd-looking at this stage; the temptation is to wait until it's all done, but I kind of like the time where you can see the partial transformation most clearly. That's when the paint isn't quite on, and you can see the fake stuff mixed with the "real" fake stuff. Paint, as we'll see in a bit, is an amazing leveller, visually.

It took me two days of rabid nurnie-making, cutting foam, drilling "rivet" heads, climbing up and down ladders, and gluing screwing gluing clamping adjusting, etc.

Nurnies take a lot of work to make! I felt positively foolish, a few times, spending huge amounts of time to produce something that's completely useless, weighs about 2 pounds, and is going to be a pain in the neck to paint. But it's time to finish this thing.

Green foam sheeting installed at the head of the room

My vision of the front of the room was to have a bunch of stuff above the enlarger that made it busy but wasn't too distracting. So, I decided on a round thing, with some 'brackets' covered with 'rivets' holding it up. I thought I'd cover the wall with green foam since I a) had a bunch of it and b) it would serve as a moisture and light barrier.

Central disc-oid riveted thingie

Some of the nurnie-making is nearly instant. In this case, I just drew a circle with a piece of string and zipped it out with a reciprocating saw, then went around the edge every 3" and made a hole with a forstner bit, wiped glue in it, and stuck in a plug. Total time to make the circle thingie was maybe 15 minutes. A bit of liquid nails squirted on the back, and bam stick it on the wall. Next! Then I cut a couple bracket-looking things. The shape of the brackets had a certain amount to do with the shape of my left-over pieces of cardboard.

I wanted to have some big braces along the room, cut from 2" green foam, faced with cardboard. This was going to be a bit tricker - 3 stands of braces one each side means 6 braces (2 cut from one sheet of foam) and 12 facings. That's a lot of reciprocating saw-work.

Laying out and cutting a bracket: 5 to go

The nice thing about cutting the foam is you don't have to drill relief holes for the saw blade - just shove the saw right through and let 'er rip! It was pretty quick but extremely messy. As the saw cuts the foam, the "sawdust" gets a static charge that makes it stick to everything. By the time I had cut all 6 of the brackets out, I was covered with green dust.

Designing nurnies is both fun and not fun. On one hand, you can do whatever you want because things don't really have to fit, make sense, or work (which is why steampunk is so popular, apparently) on the other if things don't look right they really look wrong. I did some rough design, and made everything a bit sloppily to give it a weird look. I had to decide whether to make this perfect and clean and crisp - which would have probably been faster: just cut it on the table-saw. I decided that I had plenty of battery power in the iPad and put on The Pogues and sawed for about 3 solid hours (seriously)!

Designing the overlay

I wanted the cardboard overlays to look funky, have a few places for "rivets", and not be too hard to cut. As it was, I was able to cut 3 at a time by stacking the cardboard sheets, clamping them, and letting rip. I had to make the brackets one at a time because 2" thick material was pushing the limits of what I could do with my reciprocating saw. It was very weird to hold these bracket-looking things that weigh about as much as a cup of coffee...

The messy bit came when I made the mounts for the brackets. In order to support them, I cut 2x4s to be 2" wide then mounted them along the ceiling where the brackets would rest. The idea was that the cardboard sides would attach to the 2x4 pieces, and the 2" thick foam brackets would be glued between them. As it happened, that worked pretty well. One of my favorite parts about these projects is figuring out the correct order in which to make and assemble things, allowing glue to dry, etc. Another reason the brackets look the way they do is so that the foam can "float" within the cardboard sides - that way the cardboard can align with the ceiling and the foam with the wall. In the course of this project I discovered that the bathroom is not constructed straight - and decided to embrace that by letting everything just go slightly "off".  (Yes, for the record, I do know how to make stuff straight; it's actually easier) I had hoped to assemble everything just using liquid nails but I found that a little screw attaching the cardboard to the 2x4 was tremendously helpful.

A Quick Diversion

The Door

I took a break and did the door-frame. A few quick-cut strips of cardboard and more "rivets" and some liquid nails.

A quick coat of paint on the door! Shazam!

Back to the Brackets

Starting to Install Brackets

Installing the brackets was fun. Liquid nails on the wall-side, hold it for a minute until it starts to stick, then liquid nails on the cardboard overlay, press it to the 2x4, shoot two screws into it, then press it against the bracket to get it to bond, then do the other side. That sounds simple but it's a lot of trips up and down a ladder, plenty of opportunities to drop things, get glue in your hair, etc, etc.

The Brackets, Installed

It took a couple hours to install the brackets, then cut some key-pieces for the center, and some "riveted" overlays, then get the whole mass curing. All in all, I felt the results were very satisfactory. There's always this moment of fear wondering "will the paint make it look unitary?"  Right now, with all the clashing colors, it does not look at all steampunky.

From this angle you can see what the front of the room looks like, with the circleoid and side-brackets installed! It's all visually very busy and the paint will knock that back considerably.

Paint Hides a Lot Of Ills

Painted Bracket

I didn't finish this paint because my arm, being over my head all day, was limp as a noodle, and I was pretty much "done" for the day. I wanted to see how it would look, though, whether the appearance would have some kind of visual integrity. As it happens I'm pretty happy. The paint looks a bit "off" right now because it was wet when I shot this and the paint is cleverly made to shift color as it dries. That makes it wonderful for determining where I've been. Finishing painting this stuff is going to be a long slog but it'll be a relatively straightforward slog, and when it's done, it's done.

The Front of The Room

My arm was limp as a noodle but I still had paint in my tray and a fresh roller, so I hit the front of the room a bit to fill in large areas like the enlarger stand and the top decor. I'm happy with how the top of the room came out; seeing it all one color makes it look much more consistent.

Next Steps

There are no next steps! Just smear more paint on stuff and it's done!!!! I have a can of transparent silver over-glaze that I plan to sponge-swipe all over the grey surfaces as a final step; that ought to make them look more uneven and metallic. Then, I have a can of kelly green epoxy garage-floor paint that I will do the floor with (last, of course, to hide and drips) once I finish the brackets and walls. I'll have lots of the kelly green left over so I will probably do 2 coats in spots as well as use it on the top deck of the enlarger table and the counter-tops. I think the green will look very industrial in this context.

So - more painting - boring but straightforward, and this project is finished. I started in November 2010 and will be finished before November 2011. I'd have been done a lot sooner except I let everything hang while waiting for the water, which took 6 months longer than it was "expected" to.

I'll post a final update when the last drop of paint is dry.


(PS - the green tape around the ceiling edge is just masking tape to protect the paint so I don't splash grey on the black. I'm not a patient painter.)
  • Listening to: "The four horsemen"
  • Reading: Richard Rhodes "how to write"
  • Watching: "The four horsemen"
  • Playing: alive
  • Eating: nothing
  • Drinking: tea
Tap Tap Tap Tap....

How many times have you had a project day become a death-march unexpectedly? I was finishing up the wiring for the darkroom lights and I noticed a quiet tap - tap - tap sound. "Self, that sounds like dripping water," I told myself. Oh, boy, right again! I had these little flow-meters inline in the temporary plumbing to the darkroom sink, and one of them had cracked. It was rated for 100+PSI and had managed to break under 30PSI. I thought I'd just patch it out with a connector but then I realized I didn't have much else going on, so - why not just re-do the plumbing? After all, I was going to have to depressurize and drain the system, which would make a mess, and maybe I should just make the "mess to end all messes" and get it over with. So I started grabbing tools, put AC/DC on the iPad, and began destroying things.

Spinning Out Of Control

Of course a death-march project doesn't ever go as planned. When I drained one of the lines, the other one air-bubbled and leaked water all over everything. So I cleaned that up and, in the process, decided that I was going to have to pull the black sink off the wall to get at the pipe connectors, which meant that I may as well fix the drain while I was at it. I had connected the drain originally to one of the sink drains, and now I thought it would be better to connect it into one of the commode drains - a straighter drop, less likely to freeze, or block. So I grabbed the saws-all and chopped the drain out, dismounted the sink from the wall, and turned the music up as loud as it would go.

Since the room's electrical system wasn't hooked up, yet, I had all the power coming into the room via an extension cord on the floor, which got nice and wet and popped a circuit breaker. "Well! How convenient!" thought I - now was a good time to patch the interior electrical runs into the building's mains. I swapped tool-sets and crawled into the breakout area, LED flashlight clenched in my teeth so I could see. It should have been a 5 minute job but it took half an hour; the wires in the wall conduit were unlabelled and I had to figure them out. No problem.

The Lights Come On

Safe Lights

The safe-lights are mounted in a pair of machine-punk brackets that I made out of plywood and stuff, containing red-sleeved flourescent tubes. As you can see, when they're the only light in the room, it looks pretty techno-gothic in there. The speakers in the darkroom are powered self-amplified reference monitors, so they're on the "accessory" circuit along with the safe-lights. I pretty much am never in the darkroom without music, and safe-lights, so putting them on the same control switch seemed like a good idea.

Viewing Light

The image-viewing light is on a foot switch on the floor, so I can turn it on without risking dropping a plate while I fumble for a light-switch. I put a high-output clear white LED in it that closely simulates daylight; it ought to do the job nicely.

Left Side of Room

This is the way it looks with the room side-lights on. I used focused LED spotlights, because I figured that they'd make sharp, eerie-looking highlights. It works with all that stainless steel, doesn't it? If you look on the sink's counter to the right, you can see the wooden drying rack for wet-plates, and some of my prep area. When I'm getting a plate ready to sensitize, I clean it with paper towels and a few drops of ethanol then flow the collodion over it before putting it into the silver nitrate to sensitize. You can see the collodion bottle just peeking out from behind the paper towels.

Right Side of Room

The wooden tanks you can see in the sink are the silver nitrate tank and the cyanide clearing tank. When I've flowed a plate with collodion, it's ready to go in the silver to sensitize as soon as it's gelled up (about 20-30 seconds) At this point I'd turn the lights off and put the plate in the tank under protection of red light. I have a witchy-cool radio-controlled switch that I will use to turn on and off the room lights without having to run back and forth. The trays in the sink are used for pouring developer on the plates and rinsing them clear of chemicals.

I'm not showing a picture of the front of the room because the armored can-lights aren't both installed, yet. When one of them came from, the jar was broken. And, somehow I managed to only order 5 when I needed 6. That will be a snap to install once it's all arrived but it's exceedingly annoying to have a partially finished project just because you're missing a few parts!

I Lay More Pipe Than Kid Rock

The plumbing is all PEX 1/2" flexible pipe. The way it comes is rolled up, which is why it looks pretty wavy, right now. It should straighten out over time. "Should" being the important word. Normally when you're laying PEX tubing, it's under a floor or in a crawlway, and to go around corners you wouldn't use elbows like I did, here. Because I wanted the plumbing to be a visual element of the room, I exposed it and went crazy with the corners. I deliberately didn't make everything laser-straight, so it would have more of that crazy boiler-room look that I wanted.

A Crooked Web

The scale up on the shelf is a vintage Ohaus swiss-made lab scale. It's insanely accurate but it's just there for show. The scale I actually use is the $15 (from Ohaus digital scale on the counter underneath. That corner over there is my developer-mixing area; I've got all my alcohol, acetic acid, ferrous sulfate, etc, sitting right there where it's convenient. See the bottle all the way in the corner? That's 5 pounds of potassium cyanide. If I'm ever tired of being a photographer (or anything else, for that matter) all I need to do is pour some acid in there and breathe deeply. They say that cyanide gas smells like almonds and they're kind of right. The problem is that, by the time you smell the almonds, it's probably too late for you. It's also really nasty stuff if you get it in a cut - basically, the cut won't heal.

The Ceiling

This is the insanity I had to do, to make the pipes route around the room, using corners. The water comes in at the ceiling because I run the feed-pipe up through the roof supports, so if I cut the pressure gravity will drain it. In the winter I plan to leave the studio unheated and rather than having it freeze in the ceiling, I can just drop all the pressure by hitting a ball-valve in the basement and opening the faucets. The ball-valves in the ceiling are there because, for $10 worth of ball valves, I can work on the plumbing without having to run back and forth to the basement all day. You might notice that the red pipe is not hooked to anything. That's correct; it's just there for show. But if some day I add a hot water heater it will just drop right in.

I do like the way that the pipes provide some bright color to the room.

Knife Switch Plate

I went to Radio Shack and got a 1/16" audio patch cable suitable for connecting to my iPad, then clipped one end off and crimped the grounds and signal cables to some heavier copper wires. This whole set-up is designed to fit in the hole behind the knife-switch.

Audio Wires

I got a box of ceramic electric-fence insulators from Agway and ran a course of them across the room, then wrapped big curls of wire across them to the speakers, then soldered 1/4" connectors on the speaker side. I tested it out and I was a bit freaked because when I tried the speaker hook-ups no sound came out. I grabbed my ohmmeter and started checking the circuit and discovered that one of the fuses on the knife-switch was blown. I don't want to know what blows a 200-amp fuse! But it sure wasn't my iPad.

There is no "dark side of the moon." As a matter of fact, it's all dark.

I finished all this at 2:00am. So that was a solid 14-hour assault on the project, including 2 trips to the hardware store and a break for a cheeseburger and a chocolate shake. Damn it, I earned it.

What's Left?

This completes the "technical" part of the project. Everything is now in and working. All that's left is to install a few more nurnies and then paint. "Nurnies", as I was told by Adam Savage, are what special-effects people call those wires and doo-dads that you stick on a piece of set-work or a model to make them look more detailed than they actually are. In the case of the darkroom the remaining nurnies are arches of foam that hopefully will give the room a more mysterious, taller look, and some kind of arched front at the end behind the enlarger. I'm going to take a week or so and go back to working on the van, while I let my subconscious figure out what'll look best. Then I'll paint, which is boring but predictable, and finish the job by painting the floor a nice shade of kelly green.
  • Listening to: My tinnitus
  • Reading: The Destroyer #4: Dr Quake
  • Watching: "Monsters"
  • Playing: alive
  • Eating: nothing
  • Drinking: tea
I've been flipping back and forth between shooting plates, working on the rolling blunder, and finishing the darkroom. For a long time, I let the darkroom languish because I was using it for developing plates; I didn't want to mess up anything. Well, I had a shoot scheduled for saturday but the model got sick and, in a fit of frustration, I hopped in the truck and went to the building supply store and got going on the wiring.

Usually, for a project like this, I spend a lot of time thinking things over before I get stuck into it. That's because I've discovered the hard way that my subconscious often comes up with pretty elegant solutions to problems, if I just give it a little time. With the wiring, I knew I'd have one chance to get it right or I'd be left with a big ugly mess.

I decided to use PVC conduit because it's cheap, it's grey, and it's incredibly tough; I figured that I could make a single loop around the room, with everything coming off a single master pipe-run, using lots of boxes and drops for everything. Rather than lining everything up perfectly (which I am capable of doing) I wanted to get a sort of rough look, so I didn't worry too much about measuring, I just positioned stuff and drilled away.

I was originally thinking of painting the conduit bronze-colored but I think the PVC grey is pretty good. It stands out from the walls; I may just give it a slight wash with metallic highlights as a finishing step.

( conduit and boxes on the wall )

Each of the pieces that mounts on the wall required drilling into the cinder-block, hammering in a plastic plug, then screwing the component in. Then, measure the length of the next piece of pipe, position the next piece, etc. This is 1" conduit - there ought to be plenty of room inside for lots of wires! There are T-boxes with drops for the safe-lights, outlets for the power for amplifier/audio, and a master box for switches, to the right of the enlarger. You can see, in the sink, a wooden box - that's my silver-nitrate tank that I use for sensitizing my wet-plates. One of the painful things about doing this work is that it's impossible to drill into cinder-block without making a fucking mess. Right now there is gritty concrete dust all over everything; I have until wednesday to get it all cleaned up.

( master switch boxes )

Here you can see the master switch box and outlet box for the enlarger and accessories. Next to it is the big knife-switch on its mounting-block. My plan with the knife-switch is to attach a 1/16" jack into the base and patch that into coils of copper wires leaving the knife-switch. Those will carry signals to the speakers, on big ceramic insulators. :D So the big switch is the "mute" button for the iPad. I'm trying to do all the drilling at once so I can finish it, get the room clean and dust-free again, then finish the wiring and everything else.

( viewing lamp )

Up until now, when I've got a plate and I want to see how it looks, I've had to carry it out into the hallway in the light; which increases the chance I'll drop it going through the blackout curtains and the door. I got an old US-Navy surplus architects' lamp, re-wired it, put a high-output LED narrow spotlight bulb in it, and mounted it on the wall with a heavy-duty footswitch. Now, when I pull a plate out of the fixer (that wooden box you see there is my cyanide tank, you can watch the plate clear through the transparent front) I'll be able to just stomp on the light switch and see what it looks like. I am mister efficiency!

The blue hose you see is the current water-line. I just threw it together enough to make the sinks work.

( pipe supports )

I fabricated braces for the water-lines out of plywood; they'll look fine when they're painted. I made them so that they're screwed to the wall and the top splits off with another screw so that the water-line can run through the holes. When I've got the electrical system done, all that'll be left to do is to re-run the water pipes. It's actually going to be necessary to de-mount the black sink because I need to re-do the drain - I patched it into one of the old sink drains and there's a lot of crud in it; the water backs up. I am going to re-plumb the drain into the former commode mount, which is a 4" pipe. That ought to do the trick!

Tomorrow I will try to fabricate a pair of light/hoods for the safelights out of plywood and cardboard; I'll try to make them sort of match the bottom of the enlarger table. Once I've got those on the wall, I can clean everything, then run the electricity (which will be a day's work) and then the rest is the home-stretch! By "home stretch" I mean it's all paint and touchy-feely stuff - nothing technical or exacting.
  • Listening to: Reggie Watts - I just want to
  • Reading: The Dead Hand
  • Watching: "Fog of War"
  • Playing: alive
  • Eating: nothing
  • Drinking: tea
Prequel: The Rolling Blunder --Sequel:
A couple of months ago, I sold my 1966 Land Rover safari wagon to a co-worker. He promised me he'd take care of it and I promised myself I'd do something interesting with the money. I had the idea that maybe I'd go to the truck salvage dealer down the road and see if he had a little commercial van - you know, one of those chevy utility cars with the sliding side door? - that I could turn into a wet-plate darkbox on wheels.
When I got there, he had just pulled out this:
(Side View)
Well, I won't say it was love at first sight (that was my previous ex-wife, I've learned not to do that any more) but it was serious heavy breathing. I opened up the back and there was a ginormous generator inside, and spool-rolling machinery - it was a Verizon lineman's truck. The stuff in the back was pretty intimidating:
(Big-ass h

It's been pretty hot up here in north central middle of noplace, so I've been a bit reluctant to crawl around in a parking lot under a sun-smouldering-hot van. Every operation pretty much seems to require it, unfortunately. Since all the components need to be shock-mounted and vibration-proof that means a lot of drilling holes, positioning bolts, and tightening them.

(battery box and pumps)

I finally completed the mounting for the battery box, battery, and filling pump. Inside the battery box is a 40# trolling motor deep cycle battery and a bunch of vibration-damping padding. Did you know that batteries wear out very quickly when exposed to constant vibration? Neither did I. I nestled the battery box up against the side of the wheel well, so in case of an accident it will be braced by the solid metal. The retaining strap is bolted through the undercarriage with stainless steel screws with big washers for strain-relief. You can see there are two pumps under the sink - one powers the sink and has a pressure-cutoff, and the other is to pump water up into the tank. I was thinking that when I am on the road, I'll need a way to get more water into the storage tank, so I've set it up with a hose and a couple attachments that will let me either suck water out of a pool or garden hose or 5gal jerrican.

(interior with cabinets)

If I'm going to work and camp in this thing, I'll need places to store things. I need one cabinet, at least, for my wet plate stuff - clean plates, chemicals, bottles, mixing bottles, filters, cleaning gear, assloads of paper towels, tanks, etc. At the far end of the sink there is a 30" cabinet on the floor, which I intend to turn into the primary wet plate chemistry storing area. On the wall over the sink is another cabinet that I will store - other stuff - in. And on the left side is yet another cabinet for more stuff. The left-hand cabinet will hang slightly over the bunk bed, and I intend to make a miniature flip-down deskette that I can use when I'm checking my email, scanning plates, reading, eating, etc. The deskette will also help prevent me from bashing my skull on the sharp metal corner of the cabinet.

Mounting these cabinets would have been simple if I hadn't been working alone. If I'd had a friend on the outside of the van, who could stick a bolt through the hole and spin it when I put the nut on, it would have taken a couple minutes to mount each cabinet. Working solo, I had to drill the hole, go outside and climb a ladder, stick a bolt through the hole and tape it in place (so it wouldn't fall) then go back inside, hump the cabinet up into place, hold it with one hand, and fumble the washer and nut onto it. Then, I could clamp vice-grips to the nut and run outside with a screwdriver, back up the ladder, and tighten the screw while the vice-grip kept the nut from spinning. Four times for each cabinet. For the pumps and the battery box, it was the same process except crawling on a hot asphalt parking-lot to clamp the nut from underneath. I'm going to feel it, tomorrow.

(the siege perilous and pilot's seat)

One thing that is nice about working on your own projects is that sometimes you can do things in the fun order rather than the optimal order. I figured that I'd reward myself by letting myself install the bitchin' cool seats I got. So that involved taking them out - which meant I discovered that the seat-bases are solid 1/4" steel 3" square tubing. The seats probably weigh 15-20lbs each but the mounting bases weigh 50lbs. Once I had them out, I was ready to quit! But it's dangerous to operate a motor vehicle standing up, so I had to push on. It turned out that the seat bases were not standard - one had the rails at a standard 10" spacing but the pilot's seat had them 12" apart. I had to move the rails, make some adapter plates, blah blah blah and suddenly a "quick project" had turned into a 2+ hour slug-fest. Then, of course, the bases needed to be painted and, while they dried, I mounted the seatbelts. That turned into another 2+ hour slug-fest. Seatbelts have to be mounted correctly or an impact can snap your neck, or tear the seatbelt mount free and send you out the window into traffic. So I unleashed a whole lot of whupass creating load-spreaders out of stainless steel sheet, epoxied on the other side of the aluminum panels covering the doors, etc. The result is that the seatbelts are comfortable, allow the seats to recline (the original seats didn't recline) and they will withstand an impact that won't kill everyone outright.

Next up: I need to make curtains to black out the front and back and side vents - that'll be a bit of sewing - and then I can start to think about constructing the bunk-bed. Sometime in there, I have heavy-duty switches that I intend to use to control the pumps, and I'll begin to figure out where the electrical system will route.  I think that this represents approximately a halfway point, or maybe a bit more than halfway!

  • Listening to: Salman Rushdie @Google
  • Reading: Eric Nylund: Moral Coils
  • Watching: Youtube
  • Playing: alive
  • Eating: ramen noodles
  • Drinking: tea
Sequel: The Rolling Blunder -2Prequel:
It's been pretty hot up here in north central middle of noplace, so I've been a bit reluctant to crawl around in a parking lot under a sun-smouldering-hot van. Every operation pretty much seems to require it, unfortunately. Since all the components need to be shock-mounted and vibration-proof that means a lot of drilling holes, positioning bolts, and tightening them.
(battery box and pumps)
I finally completed the mounting for the battery box, battery, and filling pump. Inside the battery box is a 40# trolling motor deep cycle battery and a bunch of vibration-damping padding. Did you know that batteries wear out very quickly when exposed to constant vibration? Neither did I. I nestled the battery box up against the side of the wheel well, so in case of an accident it will be braced by the solid metal. The retaining strap is bolted through the undercarriage with stainless st

A couple of months ago, I sold my 1966 Land Rover safari wagon to a co-worker. He promised me he'd take care of it and I promised myself I'd do something interesting with the money. I had the idea that maybe I'd go to the truck salvage dealer down the road and see if he had a little commercial van - you know, one of those chevy utility cars with the sliding side door? - that I could turn into a wet-plate darkbox on wheels.

When I got there, he had just pulled out this:
(Side View)

Well, I won't say it was love at first sight (that was my previous ex-wife, I've learned not to do that any more) but it was serious heavy breathing. I opened up the back and there was a ginormous generator inside, and spool-rolling machinery - it was a Verizon lineman's truck. The stuff in the back was pretty intimidating:
(Big-ass heavy stuff is big)

I figured he'd be asking about $6,000 for it but I sauntered over and asked anyway. "$2,500"  I immediately decided I'd buy it, and must have furrowed my brow in thought as I was wondering how the hell I was going to get that generator out all by myself, because he interpreted it as uncertainty and said "I'll let you have it for $1,500 if you let me take the generator and reel gear out." We had a deal.

(You look small from up here!)

Once I got it, it took me a fair bit of work to pull all the brackets out, remove the bulkhead between the front, remove and plate over the skylights, etc, etc. I ran through 3 cans of PC-7 epoxying little metal plates over all the screw-holes in the sides and floor to make it light and water-tight. Then getting it through inspection and titling, new ball joints and tie-rod ends, more powerful alternator, insurance, etc. It's now street legal and registered at 4,000lbs instead of its previous 11,000lbs (which makes a huge difference to the insurance cost and highway taxes, since it now weighs as much as a Hummer - it's aluminum, remember - and no longer hits commercial weight restrictions).

I'm currently part of the way through the interior. I put down acoustic rubber matting with vinyl flooring over it, carpeted the side walls.
(It looks like a lot of space but it fills up fast!)

I have the sink in, along with the water tank, drain, pump system, battery box (not shown) and battery switch-panel and basic electronics. There are pigtails in the ceiling for LED-red safe-lights everywhere and I eventually intend to make a snap-on head-liner that'll let me a) wash it b) unsnap it if I need to get up in the ceiling to run more wires and stuff. There are 2 15-watt solar panels and 2 deep-cycle trolling motor batteries that I'll patch into the electrical system in the back to drive the pump and filler pump. And, lastly, I've got a bunch of metal cabinets and a small 12-V refrigerator that I'll be bolting in, then I'll construct a fold-out bunk bed and I should be ready to roll.

Now, here's the part that's going to make you photographers feel a bit nauseous. The rear panel door has a drop-down door for the generator's exhaust, which I am going to convert into a drop-down lensboard.

I have a big old russian optic that's about f/2.8 300mm, which casts a really nice image well into the back of the van. If I arrange the interior right I'll be able to sensitize a plate, stick it on an easel, open the lens, capture a photo, and then I'll have the sink right there. Yes, I will be inside my camera, sort of a 2-ton dual-rear-wheel instamatic with a little photographer inside.

(Sink with plumbing and drain, tank)

Everything is insanely bolted down - the sink is supported on 3/8" bolts that go through the floor and have huge washers on the bottom for strain relief. I'm not thrilled with the scenario of hitting something and having a 40gal water tank fly forward and hit me, especially if it's accompanied by a tank of cyanide and a bottle of flaming collodion. You can see the water tank has 400-lb straps on it; those are hooked through stainless steel loops bolted through the frame.

Storage for the 8x10 Cambo and tripod are what's bugging me right now. My current plan is to sew a padded wrap-bag for it, and make restraining straps so I can just lash it down into the sink when I'm moving. I'll never be using the sink when I have the camera put away, after all. I'm going to see if I can find storage for 3 fotdiox light panels and tripods and a 2,000 watt inverter, in case I want to break out studio lights and do some night shots. This is goofy, I know, but I want to travel across the country and do wet plates of diners and laundromats. Um. Because?

I'll post more pictures as I continue. But the basics are done and I'm going to see if I can make some curtains next week ("light tight" is not normally a term associated with vans, unless you work for the CIA) and I'll start taking shakedown cruises as I work on the details.

Oh, yeah, the front of the van looked - oddly familiar. I now have a 24x48" sheet of perforated stainless steel that I've painted red and white Domo-Kun mouth on. I'll replace the stock white plastic grille with the Domo-Kun mouth; it'll protect the radiator better anyway.


  • Listening to: Ray Wylie Hubbard: Down Home Country Blues
  • Reading: Hannah Arendt: Eichmann in Jerusalem
  • Watching: "The Buddha"
  • Playing: alive
  • Eating: little
  • Drinking: tea
They said the water would be in by April

Well, it's now July and the water is finally available, and in my studio. This is a big deal for me, after 6 years of telling people "make sure you, uh, you know 'do your business' at the truck stop before you come out..."  Within an hour of turning the water on at the street, I was buying PEX tubing and knocking holes in the ceiling to run a 1/2" pipe to - the toilet. My second run was to the darkroom, to hook up both sinks - one of which leaked. So it goes. By the next day, I had everything shipshape and working, then moved all my wet-plate gear from the other room into the now-functioning sinks! (applause, please) I'm hoping that my future plates will be mildly better, because I'll be rinsing everything in nice, fresh, clean, cold water.

Back to Work

Where we left off, I was designing the cabinets and doors. The first job was hanging the small cabinets, which I won't show you pictures of because it's boring. Or, at least, as boring as drilling into cinder-block, then supporting a 30-lb cabinet on one knee while screwing it to the wall with one free hand.  There was a certain amount of cursing, and some sweating.

Then, I positioned the floor-standing cabinets and started to think about how the counter-tops ought to look. Because I was making the counter-tops out of maple plywood, I had the liberty to play with weird shapes, depending on how I cut the plywood. So I decided to make a sort of a curve on one end, to make it match the curve(s) on the central enlarger table.

(Template for counter-top)

I had a bunch of pieces of cardboard and a sharp knife, which I used to sculpt a few trial ideas until I had something I was happy with. Then I marked it on the plywood, cleaned up the lines with a ruler, made some sawdust with a fresh blade in my reciprocating saw, and - presto! Counter-top! The counter-top is glued to the top of the counters and held with two tough aluminum L-brackets screwed into the wood and bolted into the cinderblock wall.

(Installed counter-top)

On the side by the ABS sink, I made an extra little booster stand that I can leave my plate-holder on when I'm flowing plates. Part of the beauty of making your own counter-tops is that you can get as arbitrary and abstract as you like with the shapes - as long as you have enough plywood.

The Enlarger Table

I wanted the enlarger table to dominate the room, visually, and to be a little bit higher than usual, so I wouldn't have to bend over so much. Another nice part of making your own custom furniture is that you can make it fit you. It's also nice to be able to control the assembly order of your furniture. When I'm constructing something, I usually build it in a sequence so that the components are self-supporting modules that assemble at the end. Done right, it's kind of anticlimactic - you work in the shop for 3 hours (enough time for the glue on the first pieces to dry!) then carry them to their final resting place and - whap, boom, slap - the whole thing assembles in a few minutes.

(Top of enlarger table, with struts, upside-down)

I want things to be steampunk, but practical, so I thought I'd make the enlarger table look heavier than it is, by tiering it like a layer cake. That would give me some storage space underneath for paper, dust rags, etc. To keep everything stiff and self-supporting, I constructed a heavy back-piece to bolt to the wall, and some struts to space the upper and lower decks, with some visual emphasis on the ends. Cutting the pieces took a while, gluing it and screwing it together a little longer, and then it was done.

(A leg to stand on)

The top was tough enough that I could have just stuck it on the wall, but I thought some kind of a curvy leg would look nice and support the top while I was bolting it to the wall. Then I added a forward support, as well, to take a bit of the weight and stiffen the whole thing. I drilled the edges and glued "rivet heads" in, then used some pressboard to cut a "reinforcing bracket" and a curved plate to mate with it. When this is all painted grey it'll look a lot more uniform and heavy - that clear maple surface is very tough but light and pretty.


The leg bolts to the wall with two big bolts into the cinderblock, the top rests on the leg, and bolts to the wall with 3 bolts through the back - it's not going anywhere.

I configured the lighting on this shot to give you a feeling for what the overall room looks like: dark and gloomy. You've got to imagine what the table will look like when painted metal grey.  The enlarger is on the table-top simply to weight it down while some of the glue cures.


Here's the finished table, with different light so you can see the details a bit better. I cheated a bit and didn't run the "rivets" all the way up the leg because I don't want to bump them with a knee while I'm working with the enlarger.

What's Next

The plumbing, as I ran it, is "quick and dirty" and my next project will be to get some PEX elbows and make some brackets, then run the pipe so it looks properly steampunky. I'll construct the brackets so that I can run electricty conduits along with the water, and then I'll route it and mount the wall-lights. At that point, I'll be nearly done. All that'll be left is to make the curtains, and the overhead green-foam arches (that will be tremendous fun!) In the meantime, I'll be using the darkroom to make wet-plates. That's really important since it'll allow me to make sure things are in the right place, the speakers for the iPad are well-positioned, etc, etc.

Rock on!
  • Listening to: Ray Wylie Hubbard: Down Home Country Blues
  • Reading: Hannah Arendt: Eichmann in Jerusalem
  • Watching: "The Buddha"
  • Playing: alive
  • Eating: little
  • Drinking: tea
Sorry I've been so silent lately (I still owe some of you responses for your comments on my 'Divertimento' journal posting)   It's my busy season and I've been running around too much, doing too many things, and haven't had enough time for myself to stay caught up with my own life. I'm making moves to fix that, but mostly I'll be buried until May.

In the meantime, there's an interview with me on

I haven't been doing much photography lately because the tail end of winter was hella cold and we got a huge dump of snow and ice. But suddenly it's all clear and the studio is tolerable again. (Rinsing plates with 33-degree water is just not any fun at all, and it's upsetting to see frost form on your glass when you pull it out of the silver nitrate bath)

I have some crazy new stuff going on, too, that I can't wait to tell you about, but - well - it'll have to wait. My darkroom project has been kind of hanging fire, too, because of my work-load and the cold but I hope I can get rolling on that soon.

  • Listening to: Ray Wylie Hubbard: Down Home Country Blues
  • Reading: Hannah Arendt: Eichmann in Jerusalem
  • Watching: "The Buddha"
  • Playing: alive
  • Eating: little
  • Drinking: tea
Not Much To Report

Lately, I haven't made a lot of progress. Mostly, because we had a string of nasty weather and it was unpleasantly cold over at the studio. I spent my time at home working, drinking tea, and reading Hannah Arendt.

Today, I re-mounted the door of the darkroom, which I had removed to make it possible to fit the sinks. After that, I stripped the facing from the door-frame; I'll replace the facing with some fake rivet-plate. I've been mentally designing the door design (which is getting way ahead of myself, but it was something I could do at home where it's warm!) and did a sketch:

Another sloppy sketch!

Since the door just pushes open, it doesn't need a lock. This is just me having fun. I will cut the gears out of plywood, along with the locking arms. The central hub will also be plywood, with the bar-handles from the curtain rod collection at the hardware store. I could actually make it functional but it'll be a lot easier if I just screw and glue everything to the door and brush-finish it in black and metallic grey.

Templates for door gears

I found a wonderfully fun "plywood gear designer" tool on the internet…  Very useful! I printed it on some heavy stock 13x19" paper using my inkjet. When the time comes to make the gears, I'll cut the templates out, trace onto plywood, and then cut the gears with a scroll-saw. I am expecting that I will be hating this idea by the time I am done cutting those gear-shapes!

After a couple days the weather got a bit better and I was able to get the plywood for the counter-tops. I got some really nice heavy 1" maple-faced plywood; I'm just going to paint it grey and black like everything else in the room. The nice people at Lowe's have a ripsaw setup for cutting customers' wood, so I had them rip a foot off the bottom edge of 3 sheets of 4 foot by 8 foot. I think 3 foot deep countertops will give me plenty of space, and will give me a enough room for the enlarger in the middle. I will get more pieces of plywood from which to construct the table base/legs.

8 foot long sheet of plywood, 5 foot jeep

I'm used to just getting sheets of plywood and throwing them in the back of my truck. But my truck died a few months ago and now I'm driving a smaller car - my jeep "Annabella" - oops. So I fed the boards in and balanced them against the front rollbar, wrapped them with a tow strap, and hung on with my right hand. As it happened, they nearly slipped out the back on my way to the studio. Fortunately, it is only 5 miles and the road is fairly smooth. I had to stop once and shove the boards back in, before they slipped out. Now that I've got the wood, I will be able to start cutting and assembling the counter-tops.

Meanwhile, I got a delightful email in my in-box from Rory, who did a rendering of the "Plan C" darkroom based on my terrible sketch. With his permission, I've included it:

The side counter-tops should go up fairly quickly. The middle counter-top, I could spend a huge amount of time on and I probably will. That'll keep me busy next week, as will some prop-building I am doing for :iconmiss-mosh:'s burlesque show. Fun!
  • Listening to: Ray Wylie Hubbard: Down Home Country Blues
  • Reading: Hannah Arendt: Eichmann in Jerusalem
  • Watching: "The Buddha"
  • Playing: alive
  • Eating: little
  • Drinking: tea