Lady by a Wall

I started this picture ages ago but I got frustrated trying to draw her face. So she has been stuck on my iPad for about a year waiting for me to finish. Then, when I came to finally finish her, Art Studio crapped out on me and wouldn’t start. I had to back everything up, delete it and reinstall. After all that, I was just in a hurry to get it done.

I don’t even remember who painted the original. It looks a lot like Lord Leighton or Alma-Tadema, both of whom I adore. It’s almost certainly something that’s in the National Gallery because I have a backlog of sketches from my last trip there two years ago.

I don’t find sketching as relaxing as I used to. I need to find something easy and fun to sketch next to help me recover the passion.

Captain, My Captain

When I first started fingerpainting, I would slap out a picture in an hour or two. As I got better at it, I would pay more and more attention to the detail and it took longer and longer and became less and less fun.

I was able to whack this one out in a couple of hours. It was a lot of fun.

PS I didn’t finish the left breast because my battery ran out on my iPhone. Sorry Aaron.

Hacker’s Diet

The Hacker's Diet Online

I’ve been following John Walker’s Hacker’s Diet for about nine months now. I love the simplicity of it.

“Anyone can control their weight. It’s a simple matter of balancing calories.” – John Walker

Mr Walker’s book is a fun, simple read. If you are technically inclined and you want to lose weight, you should certainly read The Hacker’s Diet. The book introduces a model of the human body as a rubber bag full, mostly, with water. Every day stuff goes in and stuff comes out, but the rubber bag always obeys the laws of physics.

If you eat more calories than you burn, you gain weight at a rate of a 3500 kCal/lb. Simply count the calories you eat and subtract the calories you burn and the resulting number will tell you how quickly you will gain (or, hopefully, lose) weight.

But I think it’s even simpler than that.

If you weigh yourself every day, you can quickly figure out whether you are gaining weight. If your weight goes up, you are eating too much. Eat less.

Ok, ok. It’s not quite that simple. Your weight can vary by a couple of pounds each day as you retain water (or, as John Walker delicately puts it, solids); but if you plot the moving average you get a surprisingly stable trend line. From that trend, you can figure out your daily excess (or deficit) and decide to eat more (or less) accordingly.

People who work in software development use a planning technique called yesterday’s weather. The idea is based on weather forecasting. Imagine a computer that monitored the humidity and the temperature and pressure and a thousand other variables and used it to predict the weather with an accuracy of 82%.

It turns out that, if you just predict that today’s weather will be the same as yesterday’s, you’ll be correct about 70% of the time. That’s close enough for most purposes and it saves you a really expensive computer.

In my case, the prediction that I’ll eat about the same number of calories today as I did yesterday saves me lots of tedious calorie counting. With a little practice, I got quite good at knowing whether I was eating too much or too little and adjusting my intake accordingly.

Here’s my trend since last October:

You can see from the chart that I lost weight pretty steadily for several months. My daily deficit held steady at about 250 cal/day for most of that time. 250 calories is about a bagel a day and represents the loss of a pound every two weeks. Since I don’t really like bagels anyway (or french fries, or bread, or candy) it was easy to stop eating them. I hit my target weight about a month ago and, since then, my weight has crept up a little (I don’t like bagels but I do enjoy beer).

The little red dots are a warning sign that I might be eating too much (notable red dots: The Captain’s Table Dinner in January and Piratefest in July) and the prominent red 74 says that I need to have half a pint less beer at Quiz Night.

Like any good hacker, I decided that I didn’t like any of the weight trackers out there so I wrote my own for my iPhone (it was also an excuse to learn Objective C). I might decide to stick the app on the app store one day but, for now, it’s just a bit of fun that I am sharing with some friends. Ping me if you want to play along too.


This post is from 8 years ago. The iPhone app is long dead but I wrote a little web app a few years ago.

Slimming with Strangers

It’s a bit bare on the bones but it has served me, a handful of friends and a couple of strangers well enough for a while now.

Try it if you like: Slimming with Strangers

Slimming with Strangers 2019
Slimming with Strangers 2019

If you weigh yourself in pounds, it works pretty well. If enough people nag me, I’ll let you enter your weight in stone or kilograms.

Lonely in the Automat

I’ve always thought of automats as lonely, melancholy places. I entered my first automat when I was 14 and visiting the first of many, many navy bases.

Naval establishments in those days were almost defined by their automats and automats were the place to be for a certain kind of junior rating. There were the living quarters, the dining hall, the bar if you were old enough and the automat if you were not. I was not.

There were two occasions to visit the automat and it presented a quite different aspect for each occasion.

Killing time after lunch, waiting for class to begin, you encountered the brash, flashing automat. At lunch time, the automat was a buzzing hive of sailors drinking crap coffee from the crap coffee machine, playing video games and sitting round crap little tables munching crap snacks from the crap little dispenser things tempting you with their little A-H and 1-9 buttons that made their inner robot spring to life and threaten to dispense the pack of tutti-fruities to keep you awake through the afternoon’s boredom but, ultimately, disappointing you with physics-defying feats of cruelty, snatching your tutti-fruities back into a greedy maw or dangling the little snack mere inches above the dispenser tray with all the other unreachable tokens of misfortune.

It was in such an automat that I first completed Dragon’s Lair to great applause (the fantasy adventure where you become a valiant knight on your quest to rescue the fair princess from the clutches of an eeeevil dragon…. can you tell how many times I played it?) and where I first found all the Easter eggs in Track ‘n’ Field. It was where Alf Menzies and I made it to the end of Super Mario Bros (though I never did defeat the final Bowser or, as we called him, the big green thing) and where we daily emptied the trivia machine, Blockbusters, of all its pound coins. But that was the happy automat. The other automat is the one that looms, forbidding, in my memory.

Melancholy automat was a dark, empty hall of flickering lights; the only place open at 2:30AM when the bus back to base after a weekend in civvy street dispensed its young, tired cargo.

I remember several variations of that journey back from the exciting world of stolen kisses, distant family and fading friends still plodding their way through their school years while I served Queen and country: Portsmouth to Hellensburgh; Bexleyheath to Fareham. The worst of all was the journey from Sidcup to Torpoint and HMS Fisgard.

It started on Platform 2 at Sidcup Station (where the Rolling Stones began) and the 12¾ miles to Charing Cross. Then came the long, rumbling Circle Line trip to Paddington in time for the 4 hour train ride down to Plymouth. At Plymouth Station, it was short cab ride to Devonport and, most romantic in my misty memories, the long chug-a-lug of the Torpoint Ferry as it dragged itself along its heavy chains across the dark, forbidding Hamoaze.

By the time you got to the Cornwall side of the river you were well into the wee hours of the morning and, if you were lucky, could share a cab ride to the base and that was the moment when it hit you that you were in the Navy for real and for the foreseeable future. Then the short walk up the hill and the flash of the ID card to the bloke unlucky enough to be on gate duty at that time of the morning – those were my rituals until, finally, the automat.

The automat was the only place to get food at that hour and it was a place entirely transformed from the bustling, mechanical bazaar of the daytime. At night, there was just you and the whir of the carousel dispensing your stale pastie: desperately needed sustenance after so many hours of travel.

The main lights were always off and you were condemned to peer at your pastie in the ancient microwave oven – the same oven used by Admiral Nelson himself -  lit intermittently by the brazen flashing of the video games. Those sounds are still fresh and familiar – from the ding-a-ling-a-ling! of the fruit machine to the Beep-beep-Boooooop! of Pole Position – until, eventually, the bright Ding! of the microwave would announce that it was time to wolf down my oggie before the sun came up and summoned me to my classes just a few, short hours later.

I didn’t think I’d ever finish this drawing. I thought my muse was gone. It happened before. I have a half-finished charcoal drawing of my wife that I started in 2001. I don’t know how many times I’ve picked up that drawing and stared at it, wondering how I would ever draw anything ever again.

I picked Hopper’s Automat precisely because it looked easy. I expected I’d be able to lose myself in the memories of automats past as my finger rubbed the image of Hopper’s lonely flapper girl onto the screen of my iPad but just the act of opening Art Studio was a challenge. The splash screen to me was Oglaf’s Muse or, more likely, her successor. Under her withering gaze, all confidence faded.

My previous painting had become a slog. My earliest finger-paintings took a mere hour or two each – no wonder The Impressionists were so prolific! – but copying the old masters was hard work and a drain on my enthusiasm. Hopper was easier but each time I fired up Art Studio the memory of Sassoferrato bade me close it down just as quickly. But it’s done now and the long, forgotten memories of automats past can go to back to the dark place where they so lately rested.




Virgin at Prayer

I wonder if people seeing new paintings at the dawn of each new period experienced them the way we experience an exciting new technology?

When the renaissance painters rediscovered perspective did their fans experience it the way we experience 3D movies? Was the incredible depth of emotion in Baroque anything like technicolor was for us? Or THX?

When I ran into Sassoferrato’s Virgin at Prayer at the National Gallery in London it was like running into a time machine and I didn’t know if I was going forward or backwards. I knew immediately that, as soon I got back to my own time period, I would have to finger-paint it on my iPad.

It took me a couple of months longer than I expected and I my missed my self-imposed deadline to be done in time to send it as a Christmas gift – but I got there in the end.

Epilogue: I finished the painting about 3 months ago but, sadly, haven’t painted anything since. I have a half-finished Edward Hopper rip-off in the works but my muse has left me stranded and who knows when she’ll be back. Time for a new hobby?

iPads make iMusic

Like I wasn’t gonna get the new GarageBand for iPad??

It’s pretty good but VERY frustrating. There are tons of bugs and it’s a  little too slow to keep up with any kind of complex strumming. I lost my whole guitar track once and, by the end of the session, the sequencer view thingie was about a bar and a half out of step with the sound. You can see from the screenshot that the bars don’t really line up with anything.

I wanted to fix up some stuff but I decided I should quit while I was ahead. Here’s my first attempt at making music.

Ride A White Swan (iPad version performed by The Ragged Clown)

I can’t figure out how to create a fade. Anyone?

I’ve been practicing Ride a White Swan on guitar and meaning to record it for a while. It’s a simple song but the chord change is pretty tricky. It’s easier to play when you just have to tap the iPad but it doesn’t sound as good as the real thing. I’ll need to record it on GarageBand proper for comparison.

Liner Notes

For the drums and bass, I used the auto-play thingie. TIP: if you use any drum set except the rock kit, it’ll mess you up and you’ll never be able to keep time with it. Keep it simple. Same with the bass. I started with a fancy bass riff but it sounded silly and overwhelmed everything else.

There are three guitar tracks. For the riff, I used the auto-chord selector and then just picked out notes from the chords. For the rhythm guitar, I just banged on the chord name like a chimpanzee. I tried picking out an arpeggio on individual strings but my poor iPad was too slow to keep up.

I played the lead part on the single note setting. This is really well done. You can do slides and hammer-ons and hammer-offs and really nice bends. I couldn’t figure out how to get further up the neck so if your solo has any high notes, I guess you are screwed. Birthday’s coming up so maybe I’ll get the plug-your-guitar-into-your-ipad connector but there is plenty of fun to be had with the so-called smart guitar.

I recorded the vocals with the dreamy effect. Sounds just like Marc Bolan, don’t you think? That’s probably my bronchitis.

I added the keyboards because it seemed a shame not to.

Monet’s Field of Poppies

I have a routine now. I google for an image on my iPhone and prop it on my knee while I sketch it on my iPad.

I think that’s enough copying for now though. Time to come up with my own idea. A portrait, maybe.

Funny thing about Monet prints…the images that turn up in the google vary so much in colour and tone that you have to decide up front which version of a Monet painting you are going to paint.

In hindsight, I like the muted one at top-right best but the yellow in the clouds makes me think the bottom-right is closest to the original.

Makes me want to go track down the original to see what colour it is. Anyone seen it?

Same deal with the Sunrise. Check it out.

Art Junkie

I have become a total junkie for iPad art. Flickr is my pusher. Here are some of my favourite drugs.

Hotel Midnight is a crazed daughter of the Surrealist project. Her dreams give me nightmares. Midnight works in themes; each theme bending your mind a little more than the last.

The Carnivorous Flower is her most recent assault on my imagination.

Defying Gravity is no less disturbing.

Uchi Uchi soothes back my sanity.

Storm’s Mom has a neat technique for portraits that I’d like to try.

And, lastly, flowers from KStro.

So much to try! So many years I missed thinking that I couldn’t draw!