Monthly Archives: May 2012

Freakin’ Friday

The doctors gave us what sounds like aweful news today about our daughter’s health. I’m very worried. I didn’t get much done today… went to the post office and mailed all the pending orders (I’ve been getting things out really quickly, unlike when I ran BMEshop in the 90s and was completely terrible at timeliness), then finished off a commissioned ring, then got the horrible news… sat down for a while, looked at the big stack of things I’d intended to work on today not really feeling up to it and decided to tackle a new interpretation on my old Lil’ Acky ring. Even though my hands were shaking pretty badly from stress I managed to redo the interior engraving, and did four stone settings. I put a pair of green striped 8mm round malachite stones in the eyes, and also a pair of little cut gemstones in the amphibian ears — they’re different colors because they’re supposed to reflect that when he grows up he’ll fly starships, so it echoes the indicator lights on airplanes.

As always you’re just a click away from my Etsy shop.

I sold the moonstone “gross zombie eye ring” today, which was one of my favorite of the recent retoolings of older ring designs that I’ve done recently, applying new skills to old pieces. I’ve got one more in stock where I did this, the blue eye’d zombie ring, and I know whoever orders it will be very happy. It’s definitely one of the nicest “gross” rings I’ve done. I also placed an order for new stones today since I was running out — here is what I have on the way:

So if you like any of those stones, some of them I only have enough to make one or two items with, so you should speak up if you want me to make something for you. That said, I like making custom variations on request, and of course I can order anything someone wants so I suppose it doesn’t really matter much unless you are looking for instant gratification (and who in this modern world isn’t?)…

In more pleasant news I am reading a great new — new to me anyway — comic by Leo (who did the amazing Aldebaran/Betelguese/Antares series that I recommended a while back — learn more on the Wiki and then buy on Amazon) called Kenya that seems to be about discovering dinosaurs a la Mokele-mbembe somehow mixed in with UFOs (I’ve only just finished the first book of five). I don’t think it has yet been officially translated into English, although there are illicit “scanlations” available in the regular places, which I don’t have an ethical problem reading since I always buy the hardcopy as soon as it becomes available. More and more I feel inspired to create my own graphic novel — two actually, one biographical, and one science-fiction.

But I wanted to real briefly mention a couple of links, but I’ll start with a video:

What an ethereal creature!!! Now that there are a number of different personal submarines (my personal favorite probably being the Triton 36000/3, winning out over the “underwater sportscar” from Virgin/Hawkes) for the ultra wealthy that can explore the very deepest depths of the ocean — to say nothing of incredible 200+ foot long underwater yachts that can cross oceans and stay submerged for days and travel to a depth of 3000 feet that I’m absolutely salivating over, making me second-guess having gotten out of the internet casino game in the early nineties to follow my only slightly more reputable dreams in body modification — I’m sure that we will be making exponential discoveries underwater. Mentioning other links, as I was thinking about science-fiction writing, I found a great site about futurism in general and they have a nice section on oceanic habitats (a la The Abyss for example) that fill me with daydreams that don’t involve any illness other than the bends.

I’ve been sharing a lot of modification photos from friends on Facebook, and that includes Eaten Placenta‘s super-cool and truly bizarre rib augmenting implants. As I said there, it makes me giddy, I just love things that kick a hole in reality, something that makes you see that the world is not quite what you thought it was, that maybe there’s a very weird truth bubbling away under the surface just waiting to be discovered. I grew from a childhood watching the aliens on Star Trek and it makes me hope that we are creating at least the aesthetics of the future I hoped I’d live in.

But as I also mentioned, and as I say with some experience as an SSSS-member that is searched by the TSA at every opportunity, Arab boogeyman Mr. Al Qaeda is said to have his evil mad scientists working on implanted bombs. I don’t even want to think about what jackassery that will get the security goons doing. But I wonder how they will react when their horrible groping hands grab onto my future-creating kin’s anatomical optical illusions?

I read that they have come out with transparent aluminum. Well, as the article mentions, it’s been around for a long time, thirty years or so, but it’s really just maturing as a commercial technology now. Because it’s very expensive the initial market will be military, for things like bulletproof glass, but I have to wonder whether you could use it to build a luxury car. Ages ago it was very common for convention demonstration cars to be bodied with clear acrylic/polymer (also because these clear plastics were a new and exciting material back then). Wouldn’t it be amazing to build an entire car out of transparent aluminum? And I’m not just talking about the body of the car. Not even just the body and the chassis. What I’d really like to see is a transparent engine block!!! That would be incredible, a big glasslike hunk of engine running, with fire and explosions storming around inside it, all visible to the onlookers in awe of your massive wallet and tiny genitals!

Which reminds me, I remember a decade ago cruising around in my 44″ monster Jeep with the top down and the doors off, and a car full of excited girls drove past, and while I was used to people screaming adulation, I was not expecting a chorus of “small penis!” Hahaha.

But if I could really get myself a true dream vehicle — and one that I think wouldn’t break the bank as badly as a submarine or a spaceship or probably even a transparent aluminum supercar — is something the designer is calling a “stratocruiser”. Click the picture for more.

I’ve said it here before, but I really think that in a lot of ways an airship has the potential to be the ultimate yacht. It’s quite energy efficient — I suspect you could cover it in solar panels and have it run electrically for free — and its nature is that while it can’t carry as much weight as some other technologies, it doesn’t care how large its cargo is. So it’s very suited to large, spacious travel of the sort that’s ideal for a luxury yacht of some sort of neo-steampunk or futurist nature. It seems so serene, the idea of slowly drifting across the ocean or over rain forests or over the African Savannah or across Antarctica… And of course you could stay connected to communications grids via cell and satellite the whole time, so one could easily have a flying office. Surely this would cost a fraction of a big boat. I’ve never understood why the mega rich invest in some luxuries but not others.

Well… This is going to be a very stressful month or two I worry. There’s not much worse than having a potentially seriously ill child. I wish I could just look at cute pictures of sleeping dogs or something and relax but I am not like that.. But I do tend to work well under stress, and Rachel has suggested that I draw up a new BME shirt, my first in almost half a decade, to use as a fundraiser for the upcoming medical bills and I am letting that idea germinate for a bit, but I will probably do some drawing this weekend.

More Lego Minifigs and thoughts on Etsy prices

First of all, my daughter had her (very expensive) belly xrays results but I don’t know the results yet. It went well and her and her mother celebrated successfully drinking the miserable tracer chemicals by going bowling, so at least that means she is not teetering on the edge of death I hope. Although I watched a wonderful puppetry documentary last night that included the shockingly sudden death of Jim Henson as part of the story, so I have surprise misery on the paranoid mind I suppose.

Second, thanks again to everyone who’s supporting me paying off the shocking hospital bills by grabbing goodies on my Etsy store, and as I expected the minifig I posted yesterday disappeared within minutes. So I used up the last of my metal today making (among other things) two more, one that’s got a pretty druzy quartz in it, and the other that’s got out-of-this-world (literally) Libyan desert glass — and is headless so you can swap on whatever strikes your fancy. Click ’em for bigger pictures and to jump to their page on the shop.

Selfishly I don’t want to say “but first check out my competition”, but I do want to recommend someone that’s making very similar pewter items to me, but to be honest, he’s obviously more experienced than me and is working with great precision — so for example, when he makes a pewter Star Wars minifig, he casts every little bit separately! Wow! His whole store, “Renaissance Man Fabrication“, is actually full of very nice precision casting which he says he’s doing by hand so I assume he’s using very similar methods to me.

What really shocks me though are his prices — he’s selling some sculptures, earrings with hoops and incredibly detailed pewter castings that have been beautifully finished with a nice patina, for as low as $5. Even his multi-piece minifig, which have tons of separate pieces go for $50. That’s the biggest thing that upsets me about Etsy — artisans undervaluing their work, often radically. I know what it takes to make these items. On some of them he is barely breaking even, and when you factor in his time, there are quite a few items that he’s got to be making well under minimum wage for. And it’s not just him — this is a terrible trend that’s common on Etsy and other online vendors.

I don’t know if it’s a belief that hand-made first-world artisans need to compete on price with mass-manufactured Chinese knockoffs (these “fake handmade” items are way too common on Etsy, as is regularly pointed out — to deaf corporate ears — on Regretsy in their “Not Remotely Handmade” and “Compare and Save” categories), or if it’s a need to compete with hobby crafters who are only looking to break even to pay for something they enjoy doing, or if it’s deranged cutthroat pricing that has just become status quo, but it’s a big mistake. Artisans who dedicate themselves to creating handmade jewelry and art deserve as much as anyone else to make a living wage. How is someone supposed to have a life — pay for a family, pay for a vehicle, pay for a home, and so on — when they’re valuing their time at a couple dollars an hour? They’d make more working at a fast food joint. It should not be a sacrifice for someone to choose to live off their skills and create products people care about. Unfortunately though, in general the entire community — all the creators, and the consumers, have to be willing to accept it for anything to change, or even this little world of makers and crafters will fit the mold that has the so-called “1%” cackling all the way to the bank.

When I price an item, I come up with the number by first figuring out what the materials cost me. That includes working in wastage, breakage, a certain percentage of unsold items, cost of making tooling and molds, and so on — a true assessment. I come up with a number that not only would allow me to replace the item at cost, but get a little bit more raw materials so I can expand what I offer. Then I figure out how long it takes me to make the item, including secondary things like making the tooling, creating the online shop listing, and packing and shipping the item. From that I put in a value based on what I think is a fair wage for myself for this item based on what I need to make to live, and what special skills or vision I feel I bring to this item (for example, deciding whether I am simply a craftsman or whether I have made some sort of profound artistic statement that has inherent value). Generally these two main categories (materials + labor) break down in such a way that I have enough wiggle room on the pricing that I can offer up to 50% off and still break even on everything (ie. the materials are covered). In my case this is important because of my “pay what you can” pricing scheme, where people can choose to apply up to a 50% off discount on every order, at their discretion.

If you’re wondering how that experiment is going, it’s going well. About half of the people ordering don’t use a coupon. Many that do send a very nice thank-you note so I’m happy to have been able to get my work into the hands of people who seem to care about it — that is very fulfilling as a maker I think — and many even say that they will in the future “pay me back” which is wonderful because it shows me that people really do appreciate the time and effort that goes into making these items. I just wish everyone valued their time, and that the “maker/crafter community” as a whole took a stand for fair living-wage pricing. Like I said, we shouldn’t have to sacrifice our well-being to provide unique hand-made items to the public.

I hate the American Medical System (but love jewelry!)

For the last week or so my daughter, who’s currently spending some time with her mom (Rachel) in Virgina, has been having a sore belly on and off and throwing up. She didn’t have any other symptoms but we figured it was prudent to go see a doctor — and it’s good that we did because the initial assessment is troubling and they have to do some further xrays with tracer chemicals and so on. If the bills keep climbing then she’ll be back here sooner than expected since healthcare here is single-payer/public (ie. paid for with taxes rather than privately)… And it’s nuts. With just a few doctors and a few tests, the bills have already approached $5000 (for a variety of reasons insurance didn’t/couldn’t happen this past while). It’s insane and offensive. Luckily I have the money to be able to pay for this — although I wouldn’t if the numbers got much higher — but I know there are many people choosing between the health of their family and the health of their finances.

And what really gets me is that overall, the American public seems to think this is a good idea… And what’s worse, even if they didn’t, there doesn’t seem to be any political way to convert America to a single-payer public system. Who could someone even vote for to make this happen? It makes me incredibly mad and incredibly sad at the same time, and now that I’m actually caught up and victimized by it, it’s really upsetting personally as well. That said, I also have a minimum of $500 a month in prescription fees for my own medical problems… I know that’s not much, but it still has to be paid, because for some bizarre reason that I can’t figure out, in Canada prescriptions — which are legitimate and unavoidable medical costs, right? — are not covered (neither are eye appointments, glasses, or dental appointments, but that’s a whole new debate).

Anyway, more positively, I was able to pay these bills quickly to a large extent because of sales from my Etsy store giving me a small fluid float of cash that I was able to quickly send down to Rachel to appease the doctors. One of the thing that makes it all even more offensive to me is that the hospital was refusing to do potentially life-saving scans without 80% of the fees being paid up-front. I know that almost every American I know can tell me a horror story that’s a million times worse than what I’ve just described, but still, this should not happen in a so-called “first world nation”.

Thank you again to everyone who has supported my Etsy shop. And it may surprise you to hear me say this but thank you as well to everyone who has continued to support BME after I left since ultimately that money does at least partially support my daughter. But I wanted to mention, in positive news, that I made some very cool new additions to my Etsy shop (especially in the zombie rings category because I’ve improved some old designs with new stone-mounting skills I’ve learned) that I wanted to mention here. As always, my “PAY WHAT YOU CAN” policy remains in place, where you can optionally apply up to a 50% discount if you need it. As much as it’s important to me to make money to, among other things, pay medical bills, it’s also important to me as an artist to get my work into (or “onto” in the case of rings!) the hands of people who appreciate it.

Click the pictures to jump to the relevant shop page:


Blue Zombie Eye Ring
Whoever heard of a blue-eyed zombie? Made using a chrysocolla.


Moonstone Zombie Eye Ring
That’s more like it… looks like an ethereal cataract!


Mummified Zombie Ring
This gaunt character has a pair of pyrite (fool’s gold) eyes.


The Brainiac Maniac Zombie
Caitlin’s exact words: “THAT RING IS PSYCHO!!!”


Half-Head Zombie Ring
I’ve used a pair of glossy 8mm black onyx cabochons as eyes.


Malachite Jester’s Mask Ring
This itsy-bitsy ring is for the daintiest fingers I make stuff for.


Lego minifig with Star Ruby
Since people keep asking, I made another one…

That’s all I added today, but I actually made much more than that because I had some commission work and orders to put a final polish on as well, so it was a busy but successful day. I think I’m pretty good at channeling stress into productive labor, and I can’t imagine a bigger thing to worry about than the well-being of my daughter.

Mars Post Update

I woke up at about 5AM this morning with a terrible headache and feeling very “tired but not tired” and realized within a minute, by luck or by nature, that I wasn’t breathing. Forced myself to do for for about ten minutes before it seemed to kick in on its own. So many nights lately I feel like I’m really rolling the dice, and even when I’m awake I know something’s not quite right. On one hand I feel like I’m oxygenated, and yes, I realize that my medical problem is that I can’t always sense CO2 levels in my blood, so maybe that doesn’t mean anything, but it’s not as if I’m getting dizzy or feeling tired out when I do things, other than from the muscle damage of course. But everything I’ve read says that it’s very abnormal to have a breath rate of four to six bpm. Maybe I’m just second guessing myself out of paranoia because I have no frame of refernece — it’s not like we’re ever taught how to breathe, short of yoga and martial arts of course — but I feel like when you breathe out there should be some natural instinct to breathe in again fairly quickly, but I’m not feeling that happen. Of course, as soon as you start thinking about your breathe, it completely changes because it switches off the autonomic system and moves over to conscious control. So it’s almost impossible to self-monitor it accurately anyway. I just really want to make it through the summer though. To be honest I am surprised to have made it this far, but I really want to make it through the summer…

Anyway, I managed to find a copy of Discovery’s incredible “Race to Mars” (aka “Mars Rising”) six part series (there is a barely-alive torrent and the DVD is for sale on their website) and it’s been absolutely wonderful to watch and very on topic with my latest post about the planning of Mars missions up to 1967. That said, one of the problems with having so thoroughly educated myself on the history of various proposals is that I noticed a number of minor historical errors in an otherwise well-researched documentary series — for example using footage of Ernst Stuhlinger’s US Army Ballistic Missile Agency solar-electric mission presented to the public by Disney (the ten ships carring two hundred people were very pretty, looking like giant mechanical flowers) but describing it as von Braun’s equally preposterously massive 70 person, multi-ship mission imagined in the 40s. But wow did I enjoy it and so will anyone who dreams of humans breaking free of the Earth and colonizing another world (…and then another, and another, and another…).

I have in the past complained that I think Elon Musk charges too much for Falcon 9 launches at $54 million, due to my support for “big dumb boosters”, low tech mega-rockets. But in some ways I am revealed as being too hasty when I read about his “Red Dragon” proposal and other Mars ideas. But I want to introduce some thoughts before I discuss them.

When you ask Americans what NASA’s budget is, the average response is that it’s about $750 billion (which they believe is too high). The reality is that NASA is massively underfunded, currently at $18 billion, and as a percentage of the budget it has dropped every year. Additionally, they are cursed with a repeating fiasco of one President scrapping all of NASA’s current plans and announcing his own “bold” (or in Obama’s case, decidedly not bold) vision, only to have it again scrapped and replaced by the next President. The end result is that not only do the scientists and engineers and astronauts live with a constant cloud of disappointment, it also results in massive amounts of wasted money. That said, it is very important to point out that NASA is one of the few US agencies that actually operates at a huge profit because of the technology they develop and inject into the private sector, to say nothing of secondary benefits like keeping high tech jobs in America. Most studies have shown that every dollar invested in NASA pays off in the long term by an order of 5:1 or more. But it seems like nothing is changing and any politician who has the appearance of being a “fan” of space development — Newt Gingritch comes to mind — is teased mercilessly for it. America’s aggressive pro-stupidity prejudice against intelligence is deeply ingrained.

But perhaps this new phenonmena that has been discussed a lot in the media lately of financially successful nerds of the tech sector lining up to invest in the tech sector will change things. Paypal, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google executives (and many others) are all pouring them money into space startups, with Paypal’s SpaceX being perhaps the farthest ahead. I just described Obama’s space policy as “decidedly not bold”, and that’s because it’s incredibly slow, expensive, and cautious. The long slog he proposes to get us to Mars will take thirty plus years and cost hundreds of billions of dollars. It’s ridiculous. But as I mentioned in the previous entry, the smallest Mars mission that NASA has ever proposed came in at about $30 billion. The private sector though, which seems to be the future of the space industry, believes it can do better.

The Red Dragon mission (pictured above) that I mentioned earlier is an unmanned mission to Mars by SpaceX. It uses their Dragon capsule, which is capable of carrying astronautics, but for this mission is run roboticly. Elon Musk is telling NASA that he can do this mission for a scant $400 million, plus another $150-$200 million for the launch (using his Falcon Heavy, which is about half the size of a Saturn V). It’s an exciting mission because not only is it cheap enough to make funding very likely, but it will not only be searching for life, but also assessing surface habitability, research the ground ice (which is not just interesting for researching the climate history, but also essential in colonizing Mars), test many systems required for manned landing and do research on in-situ resource utilization. It’s the first Mars mission that’s a big step toward a real manned mission. So I was very excited to read the artical about Elon Musk in the December 17, 2012 New Scientist:

“Must would like to be the person who takes humankind to Mars.

That moment may be closer than anyone thinks. Musk declared recently that he could put a human on Mars in 10 to 20 years’ time. It is a remarkable claim, yet even more astonishing Musk tells me that he could do it for $5 billion, and possibly as little as $2 billion — a snip when you consider that the International Space Station (ISS) has cost at least $100 billion to build and operate, or that $2 billion is roughly the cost of launching four space shuttle missions.

Musk doesn’t just want to stop at one human. In his Heinlein prize acceptance speech, he said he wants to put 10,000 people on Mars. Musk rarely makes public statements merely for effect but a call for 10,000 would-be Martians is extraordinary, even by his standards. When I query him on this point, he pauses. Is he reconsidering? Yes… byt as with so much else about Musk, not in a predictable way. “Ultimately we don’t really want 10,000 people on Mars,” he says, after letting the pause linger a few seconds more. “We want millions.”

If he really can do it for that small an amount of money, I really hope they give him a shot. And if NASA won’t, maybe the private sector will. Whoever gets there first effectively owns the planet. He also goes on in the article to point out that on his launches, only 3% of the cost is fuel. He wants to see “rapid reusability”, whereas I’ve voted for extremely cheap rockets, but he makes the important point that when you’re talking about Mars, reusable (read: durable) technology is extremely important, since it’s not like Earth where you have highly accessible and long-refined raw materials and an established manufacturing sector. The Falcon Heavy, his new vehicle, has more emphasis on rapid reusability than anything he’s built yet.

Of course as much as I said I just want to make it through the summer at the start of this entry, I would really much rather make it long enough to see humans on Mars.

Do you worry you’ll regret those tattoos?

I had a nice visit earlier today from someone local who’d bought a ring and needed it resized, but it turned out that instead of a resize we just swapped it out for the Transmetropolitan-inspired Spider Jerusalem ring. That reminded me that I recently read a comic I wanted to mention here.

There’s a wonderful and award winning series called Locke & Key (published by IDW — you can also find them on Amazon, and I wouldn’t mention that if I didn’t think they were worth paying for) about a group of kids whose New England mansion has a bunch of keys with various supernatural powers, from doorways that can take you anywhere, to keys that can flip your gender and keys that open your head so you can rearrange your — or someone else’s — mind, to locks that protect us from a demon filled world desperate to spill into ours. I really can’t recommend it highly enough. I’ve read every issue and anxiously await the next. I should mention that it’s not suitable for children though.

To my great surprise, in the fourth series (out of five so far) — Clockworks — issue three contains a touching commentary on tattoos and self-harm. The main comic is written by Joe Hill and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez, but occasionally they run a short mini-comic at the end called “Kinsey’s Komic Korner!”, Kinsey being one of the characters in the main story. That said, it’s all totally unrelated to the main storyline of Locke & Key so I think what’s going on is the authors are simply fans (perhaps I should say Kinsey is a fan) — these mini-comics are done by Kate Leth of Kate or Die, and you’ll also find this comic — and many more wonderful short illustrated stories — in her comics archive at KateOrDieComics.com (including some others about tattoos that all of us will find familiar).


(CLICK AND ZOOM IN)

By the way, Kate Leth mentions that it “scared the living hell out of me to put on the internet”, so I wanted to give her a lot of credit for doing so, and sharing something that makes one feel very alone even though it is an extremely common issue.