Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Visions of the Past

Just a quick post and a picture. My sisters came to visit this weekend, and we all had a very nice time reunionating. Elisabeth ("Kid Sis") brought along a sculpture I made for her 10? 11? 12? years ago because it needed some repairs, and she wasn't quite sure how I'd put it together.

Lis and I were both fans of The Avengers before anybody else knew who they were (aside from John Steed and Emma Peel), and this is the Marvel Comics character The Vision:

The character is an android who joined the Avengers while yearning to discover his potential for humanity--much the same arc played by Data on "Star Trek," except the Vision came 20 years earlier. In the upcoming second Avengers movie, I understand he'll be played by Paul Bettany (an uncannily spot-on casting choice I endorse). He's passing through the wall like a ghost (or a vision!) because that's one of his superpowers.

My depiction is made of Sculpy (a sort of molding putty that hardens when baked) on an armature attached to a wood plaque, then painted with acrylics. I don't think I've really seen him since I gave him to Lis, so it was a fun kick in the pants to face my handiwork again. Repairs made to the best of my ability, he's on his way back home.

My Vision's anatomy is a little wonky, and I see things I'd have done better if I could, but I'm not ashamed of it. I should do more of this stuff. It's a lot of fun to occasionally work in three dimensions instead of two.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Trip the Light Fantastic

I get infrequent migraines. No need for sympathy or treatment advice, they only hit a few times a year and are always manageable. Until I had my first migraine in my mid-thirties, I thought the term was synonymous with "very bad headache," but that's not it at all. A migraine is a neurological civil war.

I was introduced to migraines in a conference room during a staff meeting when I gradually realized I couldn't read the words on my paper. Looking up, my vision was speckled and sparkly, as if Scotty were beaming everyone up to the Enterprise. I freaked out a little (quietly, inside) not knowing if I was going blind or having a stroke. I rode it out for about 20 minutes, then the headache hit. I later learned that such visual fireworks are a common symptom called an "aura" or a "scintillating scotoma." My migraines are mild; the worst put me out of commission for just a couple of hours.

That's not the interesting part. Here's the interesting part.

A migraine hit me a few months ago and I could tell it was one that I was just going to have to ride out, sitting quietly with my eyes closed. What better way to pass the time than to experiment on myself?

By alternately blinking my eyes, I determined that the visual distortion was present and identical in both eyes. No surprise, but that meant it originated in my brain rather than one eye or optic nerve. I already knew that.

I then sketched the visual distortion. It's difficult to draw because it's one of those peripheral vision things that squirms away if you look directly at it (also keeping in mind that "it" isn't real). Now, it's important to the integrity of the scientific process that I stress I did no research in advance. To the best of my knowledge, my sketch was uncontaminated by other people's descriptions or depictions. Here's what I drew:

The little circle diagram at lower right notes that the jagged half-circle spiral effect started small and then grew to take up half my field of vision. Today I sat down and did my best to render it as an animated GIF, putting it against a landscape to try to capture its transparent shimmery essence--as I wrote in my sketch, like "magenta, cyan and white vibrating crystals."

OK, with that in mind, and remembering that I didn't look up other people's aura impressions until after I drew my sketch, here's a sampling I found on the Internet (I did my best to give credit where it's due but can't promise all the links go back to each image's origin):

This one's subtle, but notice the animated distortion on the left. From here.
From here.
From here.

From here.
From here.
From here.
From here.
From here. 
From here. I like this one especially.

I find that absolutely FASCINATING!

First, that human brains malfunction in such a specific uniform way. These renderings seem startlingly similar to me, most sharing the same crescent spiral shape I typically see. Even down to the little hooky pointy ends of some of the curves. The idea that a thousand unrelated people will all see the same thing if you apply an X-millivolt short-circuit to one spot of their occipital cortex is almost spooky. It's also fantastic!

Second, that people find such varied and unique ways to document a totally subjective experience. Some of them are quite artistic. These drawings don't all resemble mine, but I can look at each of them and tell that its creator was seeing the same thing I did. Every one of them elicits a "Yep, that's it."

Third, it does make you reflect a bit on the difference between real and unreal, objective and subjective, and how reliable our minds and senses really are. I think that's always useful.

It also occurs to me that in other centuries this sort of thing might've gotten me venerated as a shaman. Or burned as a witch. You'd have to pick your time and place carefully. I figure I'm safe discussing it on a 21st Century blog, though if someone wants to accuse me of having a mutant superpower, I'm OK with that, too.

Brains. Go figure.

EDITED TO ADD a few more examples of "aura art" to the gallery above as well as the great piece below, titled "Illustration of Visual Migraine Aura" rendered by physician Hubert Airy in 1870. Nailed it.

From the Migraine Aura Foundation, and who knew there was such a thing?

Monday, May 12, 2014

Gaijin Style

For my birthday last month, my wife Karen gifted me a sushi-making lesson at a local cookware store. Yesterday, for a Mother's Day appetizer, I made the fifth through eighth sushi rolls I've ever made in my life (the first through fourth were accomplished during the class). Keeping in mind that actual Japanese sushi chefs undergo years of training to master the intricate techniques and rituals involved, I think I did commendably well.

My plan was complicated by the fact that my wife Karen and one of my daughters dislike uncooked fish ("bait"). There are fine vegetarian sushi options, but for my appetizer I decided to go off-book and improvise--daringly foolish for my first solo flight.

I browned chunks of unskinned chicken breast in a pan, then chopped it into small bits that I mixed with a homemade teriyaki glaze. I made two types of teriyaki chicken sushi: one with red bell pepper and one with cucumber. Both also had bean sprouts. Having learned in sushi school that traditional sushi only contains an odd number of ingredients, I stuck with three.

Chopped up teriyaki-glazed chicken in the bowl, with bell pepper, cucumber and bean sprouts all mise en placed.
Rice on nori on rolling mat. The small glass bowl has diluted rice wine vinegar for moistening fingers while you work. My sticky rice turned out just right (i.e., sticky)!
Layering up the flavor. Note the Marvel Comics apron that my daughters sewed for me a while back. It's reversible; the other side has a Starship Enterprise pattern. Because I raised them right.
Expert Novice at Work
Four rolls sesame-seeded and ready to go: two for Mother's Day appetizers and two for lunch the next day. I made "inside out" sushi with a layer of rice outside the nori because it's my favorite type, and buries the seaweed texture that some people don't appreciate.
Don't look too closely, a few of these are pretty wonky.
Frankly, I think these could've turned out a little more colorful and attractive. But the most important outcome was that they were delicious. Then a couple of hours later my daughters put out a tremendous Mother's Day spread of grilled polenta, sausage, creamy tomato sauce, Brazilian cheesy puffs (gluten-free!) with garlic butter, and salad with a raspberry vinaigrette.

'Cause that's how the Fies family rolls, baby. Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers or anybody who ever had one.