Archive for the 'Art' category

Temples and Timelines

 | February 25, 2010 5:55 pm

Newsweek has a fascinating article about an archaeological site at Göbekli Tepe in Turkey that is well worth a look.

The site is the oldest religious temple ever discovered.  Preliminary carbon dating has determined that some of the artifacts date from 9,400 BC, which makes the place about 11,500 years old. (Which, just to be clear, is 7000 years before the Great Pyramid and 6500 years before Stonehenge.)  The article further explains:

The ruins are so early that they predate villages, pottery, domesticated animals and even agriculture – the first embers of civilization.  … [It] may be the very first thing that human beings ever built.

And yet, the site is amazing.  The pillars show beautiful stone carvings and there are examples of sophisticated engineering techniques.  The stone circles are nearly 30 yards across with pillars that stand more than 17 feet tall.  Many of the stones (some weighing up to 50 tons) were first quarried and then transported half a kilometer to the site, where they were erected.  What staggers me, though, is that the stone circles were roofed.

This quote from Ian Hodder, head of archaeology at Stanford University, summarizes my response pretty well:

[Göbekli Tepe] is unbelievably big and amazing, at a ridiculously early date.  The huge stones and fantastic, highly refined art [changes everything].  It overturns the whole apple cart.  All our theories were wrong.

This doesn’t happen often.  Scientists don’t admit mistakes and call for established theories to be overturned.  But when faced with such a revolutionary piece of evidence, you have little choice.

Göbekli  is literally an outlier in every way.  It shows engineering, organization, and artistic sophistication that seems to materialize out of nowhere.  The only other comparable examples won’t appear for five thousand years.

To really put this in perspective, consider the timeline below.  Arrayed across the bottom axis are the reigns of several ancient civilizations: the Chinese, Romans, Egyptians and Mesopotamians.  In addition to this information, I’ve also placed the approximate dates of the the ice age, stone age and examples of religious and cultural monuments (the oldest of which dates to about 3500 BC).

When compared with Göbekli, the great civilizations and monuments of the ancient world seem to to huddle in an upstart mob at the right of the chart.  Even the very oldest of the examples, a Mesopotamian palace, is separated from Göbekli by the same span of time that divides the ancient age from the modern day.

Such an amazing and sophisticated example at such an early date, literally, boggles my mind.  It's absolutely amazing.  And, paradoxically, the amazement and wonder helps to explain why Göbekli has remained essentially unknown.  A discovery of this magnitude demands enormous attention and dedication.  It takes almost as much as it gives, particularly from those that discovered it; and not every scientist is willing to give that kind of commitment.  Thus, I completely understand the response of the man who discovered the site.

[Unable to interpret what he saw], the [American] archeologist who stumbled on [on the site] in the 1960s simply walked away.

But, even so, the evidence at Göbekli has the potential to completely transform the history of civilization.  And I, for one, look forward to seeing what emerges.


Note: You can view a high resolution PDF of the timeline by clicking on the image, or here.

Hannibal, Napoleon, and Joseph Charles Minard

 | February 22, 2010 5:49 pm

Charles Minard - Railroad Routes

No study of the history of scientific communication can be complete without mention of Joseph Charles Minard, a 19th Century French civil engineer and cartographer.

At the end of his life, Minard created two very famous examples of statistical charts, called flow maps, that every scientist, engineer and student should be familair with.  The first showed Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps (218 BC, Second Punic War), and the second describes Napoleon’s disastrous invasion of Russia (1812-1813).

Both examples are beautiful works of art and masterful examples of evidence.  But they are also more than that, they tell cohesive and interesting stories.  In this post, I thought it might be interesting to take a closer look at the history of Hannibal and Napoleon, and highlight the ways which Minard’s charts help us to explain their eventual outcome.

(Note: High resolution, PDF versions of the two maps are available for download.  These versions have been translated from the original French.  To download, either click on the images, or here for the Hannibal invasion of Northern Italy, and here for the French Invasion of Russia.)

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Barn Architecture

 | May 9, 2009 4:21 pm

balancing-barn-by-living-architecture-and-mvrdv-squ-mvrdv-balancing-barn-su.jpgThere is a reason why the tuxedo hasn’t changed in more than a century.  Put simply, there is no need for it to.  Unlike other things, it doesn’t need to evolve or mold itself to the fashions of the current age.  It’s just fine the way it is.  It’s traditional.

And barn architecture should be traditional.  They are practical buildings, and as a result should be made of relatively impractical things.  That means natural materials.  Most of the structure should be made of wood (preferably oak) or stone with big timbered logs being an even better choice. Steel and concrete can be acceptable, but edge out on the tacky side.

Thus, there is only one word to describe the structure being proposed by MVRDV and Mole Architects near Suffolk in the United Kingdom: travesty.  (Though monstrosity comes remarkably close as well.)  First, they are proposing an “open” architecture with beautiful bay windows and gobs of free-space.  While barns can certainly be open, they should not include bay windows.  Have you ever seen the type of slime a dedicated horse can produce?  Second, it’s made out of modern materials: specially treated steel and composites …  and it’s cantilevered.  Words do not even begin to describe how wrong it is to cantilever a barn.  (Even if it is really a vacation home that some hack decided to call a barn.  I would never house animals, much less people in such a disgusting and clearly unsafe building.)

Traditional barns are so much better.  Traditional barns have character.

John Moulton Barn - Mormon Row - Grand Teton National Park Hi Ute Ranch - Park City, Utah

Winter Barn in Utah - Park City

Wagon Wheel and Barn - Morgan, Utah

Utah Farm near Capitol Reef National Park

Photos of Horses

 | March 21, 2009 3:13 pm

It’s a beautiful day outside.  We've been very lucky to have five or six such beautiful days in a row.  They are the type of beautiful day that generally encourages irresponsibility and miscellaneous recklessness.  The practical and otherwise successful have argued that being able to put off temptation, in this case enjoying such an amazing day, show the type of tenacity required for achievement.  They’re probably right, and while I might make claims on practicality; I harbor no delusions of success.  As a result, yesterday I decided to lay aside work and do things other things.

For the past several months, I have intended to write a series of small posts about basic and not so basic horsemanship.  Part of this desire stems from an utter dearth of information on important things: rawhide braiding and the making of a saddle horse, amongst others.  While I have the posts more or less drafted, I’ve felt that they lack a certain degree of clarity.  Horsemanship is a visual and physical activity and cannot be learned from reading, no matter how clear the words.  My little articles require pictures and illustrations.  A beautiful day gave me the perfect opportunity to go and take those pictures.  There was only one problem, I lost the telephoto lens to my camera several months ago.

Wild West Mustangs

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WPF – SVG Graphics and XAML – Part 3

 | December 16, 2008 6:49 pm

As described in part 1 of this article, vector graphics offer a tremendous number of advantages over their raster counterparts. These benefits include the ability to enlarge the image to any size without a loss of detail or quality and better reproduction in both print and online form. Combined with the existence of many high quality icon libraries, vector graphics represent a valuable source of art for desktop applications.

In part 2 of this article, we looked at a way to convert vector graphics using Adobe Illustrator. While useful, the XAML export plug-in has a number of limitations and is not always able to faithfully convert the image to XAML. Thus, while Adobe Illustrator is a good conversion method when working directly with artists and graphic designers who are able to provide art files in Adobe Illustrator (AI) format, it is not so well suited to existing OpenSource libraries which tend to be distributed in the SVG format.

Due to their use of alpha transparency, Adobe Illustrator is always able to read the images from other editors, though it contains basic SVG support. This is unfortunate as these icon libraries, such as the Oxygen Icon Set, are freely available under permissive licenses. Fortunately, there is a way to overcome some of these limitations. In this article, I will look at how to convert SVG icons to XAML using the stand-alone utility XamlTune. We will also be using the OpenSource SVG editor, Inkscape.

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WPF – SVG Graphics and XAML – Part 2

 | December 14, 2008 1:34 am

In part 1 of this article, I introduced some of the difficulties in converting SVG graphics to WPF XAML. These included inconsistent implementations across SVG editors and the lack of a high quality XAML export. I also introduced two methods for the conversion of vector graphics to XAML. The first uses Adobe Illustrator and the second makes use of free standalone program called XamlTune. In this article will take a detailed look at the first of these methods. In part 3, we will look at the second method.

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WPF – SVG Graphics and XAML – Part 1

 | December 13, 2008 7:35 pm

In a perfect world, most would be judged on the quality of their ideas and depth of character. However, more often they are judged by looks and dress.  What is true in the world of people is also true in the world of software. More than one website, computer program, or presentation has suffered because it is unattractive. In the inevitable fight between style and substance, substance often exerts more than its fair share of influence.

Given the importance of stylistic presentation, it is somewhat ironic that one of the most neglected components of many software projects it that of the artwork. While the code may be carefully vetted and analyzed, often icons and other artwork are chosen at the last stage of the design. While this might be unfortunate, it is due to an important reality: high quality artwork can be very, very expensive.

Fortunately, there are a number of beautiful graphics libraries that are either cheap or free of charge. Most are available under permissive or OpenSource licenses and can even be used in commercial products. There is just one problem; nearly all of these libraries are available in formats which don't play nicely with WPF and XAML. With a little bit of planning and strategy, however, it isn't too difficult to use these resources in your own applications.

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Forgotten Places – Sewell, Chile

 | November 21, 2008 3:50 pm

I've been doing a bit of research for a short writing project. While doing so I came across this post over at WebUrbanist.  Though it is a bit of an oldie, it is still a goody!  In brief, the author looks at twenty four abandoned towns and cities from all over the world trough mini-photo essays.  Reading through the descriptions and looking at the images sent my wander-lust far into the red-zone. Ever thought about diving the ruins at Alexandria?

Me and Sewell

(Photo) The supply train arriving from Rancagua. The train was used to carry supplies and other materials as well as men. Everything at the site had to be brought in.

I found the little blurb on the town of Sewell, Chile to be particularly interesting as I've been to Sewell.  While living in Chile during 1999 and 2000, I and several friends made a day-trek to the place.  At the time that I went, I didn't have anything better to do and so I didn't know anything about it.  Neither, for that matter, did any of my friends.  We were there because a few of the locals said that it was an important part of Chilean history and that we should visit.  So, we did.

Unreal only begins to describe the experience.  Rather than a town, Sewell might better be described as a temporary labor camp that grew roots and notions.  It is built on the side of an outrageous cliff and was only accessible via train. We started our visit by piling onto the labor bus for the mine workers and then spent the next two hours winding our way up dirt roads that climb from Rancagua (near sea level) to the camp, which is above 6000 feet.

As the town was built off the side of a mountain, it has no streets (this becomes obvious when you look at a photo of the place; the impression you get when there is even more impressive). You can only get around via the (many) stairs. What is truly bizarre, however, is that everything is still there!  A lot of things look like the workers just stepped out and will probably be right back. The brightly colored buildings are still bright and the "streets" are in excellent condition. In fact, some of the accommodations appeared more comfortable than my apartment in Rancagua.

(Left) The abandoned mining city of Sewell, Chile during the 1930s. Sewell was finally closed in 1977, some ten years after the mine (known as El Teniente) was nationalized by the Chilean Government.

At its time, the place was an absolute thriving metropolis. There were 16,000 people that lived there from all over the world. Even more impressive, it thrived in what was otherwise a wasteland. Though 6000 feet certainly isn't the roof of the World, the mountains surrounding El Teniente are fairly barren and host snow for much of the year.

If you get a second, head over to the Wikipedia page and read a bit more about the place. Also be sure to check out the Retro Ski page, which has some really cool pictures.