Political Limerick

In honor of National Limerick Day, I bring you a political limerick.

Content warning:  One bad word at the end.  (What do you expect? It’s a limerick!)

There was a politician named Mitt,
Who did not like gay folks one bit.
It’s a sin, says the bible.
So, unlike his rival,
He promised to treat them like shit.

This means I should probably draw a cartoon of Romney to go with this.  But, just in case I don’t get to it today, I wanted to share this now.  🙂

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Please Promise Not To Use Your Cell Phone While Driving

Does anyone else know one of these walking contradictions?

I’m talking about Moms who are so careful about their kids.  They baby-proof their homes until there’s nary a sharp corner or exposed outlet to be found.  They pull all the strings out of their kids jackets and hoodies.  They cut everything the child eats into quarter inch pieces to avoid any possible choking hazards.  They never let anyone post pictures of their kids online for fear that a child molester might see it and somehow track them down.  They carry disinfecting wipes and gels everywhere to sanitize the child every time they touch something that may be contaminated.  They shop around for just the right, highest safety-rated child safety seat for the car, no matter how expensive.  They agonize over whether or not to immunize their kids and fret over every illness or injury they acquire.

And yet, these same mothers think nothing of driving around town while using their cell phones.  Do any of them really understand the danger they’re putting themselves, their kids, and anyone on the road with them in when they do this?  Talking on the cell phone while driving, hands-free or not, increases your risk of an accident as much as driving drunk!  Texting is even worse!  Think about it.  Whenever someone’s doing something stupid in traffic, don’t you usually see a cell phone in their hand?  Often they never even realize how close they came to an accident until they actually wreck the car.  They just go drifting down the road oblivious to everything else.  Well, believe it or not, when you drive while using your cell, that person is you!

There have been several studies proving this. But people don’t want to believe it because, if they did, they’d have to change their behavior. What conversation or text message is important enough to risk the health and even lives of you, your passengers, and everyone else you’re sharing the road with?

But of course, they think they’re so much more careful than everyone else.  They can hold a phone conversation and drive at the same time.  It’s not dangerous for them.  They’re careful.  Maybe they restrict their cell phone usage to when they’re driving on slow, familiar routes.  But is that any better?  So, then they’re impaired when driving on residential streets where kids, pets, and other pedestrians may be crossing.  Or maybe they only use their cell phone on the long stretches of highway where they don’t have to change lanes or merge for miles.  Is that better?  Driving impaired when one wrong move could cause them to hit another vehicle at speeds that could kill someone?  But, of course, they’re careful.  It won’t happen to them.

There are so many distractions around us all the time.  Given that, why on earth would you voluntarily add the unnecessary, additional distraction of a cell phone to the din?  It could be the one last distraction that tips you over the edge and makes you plow into that pickup truck in front of you or that kid riding his bike.

Think of all the inconveniences you go through to keep your kids safe on a regular basis.  All that baby-proofing and vigilance.  All that to protect them from dangers that are, let’s face it, fairly remote.  Is restraining yourself from using your cell phone while driving any more unreasonable than that? And as a bonus, you’re not just protecting yourself and your passengers, but you’re protecting everyone else who is out there on the road with you.  Isn’t that worth the minor inconvenience?

Remember, your phone does store the number of whoever called you and they can always leave a voice mail message.  So, you can pull into a parking lot and call them back within 2 or 3 minutes if it’s really important.  Try not to even glance at the caller ID unless you‘re stopped.  Just like texting, anything that takes your eyes off the road is dangerous. Especially if it’s habitual and you don’t think about what’s going on around you before you do it.  It’s best to just wait until you’re stopped to check it.  Think how embarrassed you’d be if you caused an accident because you were checking your caller id or a text message.  Even worse than embarrassment if the accident was a bad one.  Could you live with yourself if checking your phone resulted in an accident that killed or crippled someone?

For God’s sake, put down the phone and drive! Pull over to text or talk! Make a promise to your kids that their safety is more important to you than any cell phone conversation!

Some reference material:
Texting is Incredibly Dangerous While Driving:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091222121949.htm
Cell Phone Conversations are as Dangerous as Driving Drunk:
http://www.unews.utah.edu/p/?r=062206-1
Cell Phone Conversations are Worse than Conversations with Passengers:
http://www.psych.utah.edu/lab/appliedcognition/publications/passenger.pdf

This post was featured in Mamapedia Voices on May 31st 2010.
Mamapedia:  The wisdom of Moms
http://www.mamapedia.com/voices/please-promise-not-to-use-your-cell-phone-while-driving

Converting Artwork to Digital Format

I’ve been creating some artwork that I’ve needed to convert into digital format.  Naturally, I was scanning the work with my flatbed scanner.  This worked fine for pen and ink and even colored pencil.  I’d take larger works over to Kinkos and have them scan it with a large scanner capable of scanning artwork.  This worked fine for awhile, but lately I’ve noticed that the scans are picking up glare from the scanner’s light and making the image look funny.  I’ve particularly noticed it in areas on my watercolor paintings where the paint is particularly thick and a bit shiny.

So, I need another way to convert my artwork into digital format.  After some research, I believe I’ve found the solution.  I haven’t tried it, yet, though.  So, I hope it’s going to work.

The solution is to photograph your artwork with a digital camera instead.  There are some tricks, of course.

You need to avoid glare, so lighting is important.  You can do it outside on a bright but overcast day or indoors with diffused light coming in from the sides.  For really shiny work, or work under glass, you need to take more extreme precautions.  You can set up a white box to surround the image with lighting from the sides and your camera centered at the top.

You need to hold the camera very still.  A tripod solves this.  Also using a delay setting on the shutter button, to prevent the movement of pushing the button from jarring the camera.

You need to set the camera to the very highest resolution it will go.

You need to get the camera centered directly in front of the artwork to get it square in the photo.  If you don’t quite get it square, you can use Photoshop’s distort feature to stretch it into a proper square.  It’s best if you get it as close as possible in the first place, though.

Anyway, that’s how I’m going to try it.  I’ll post when I figure out if it works or not.  Let me know if you have your own tips for doing this.

Working With Watercolors: watercolor paint, pencils, and stretching watercolor paper

Watercolor Paint and Pencils

I’ve never spent much time with painting. Mostly because it always seemed fussier than working with pencils, colored pencils, or ink.

Not that I haven’t painted before. I have a lovely painting of dragons circling around a night sky in acrylics and a watercolor of a stained-glass-like anise swallowtail butterfly. I’ve done a few still-lifes and a few landscapes.

Overall, I’ve found that painting requires more prep-work and planning for me. I usually need a place to set up where the painting can stay for awhile. I have to think about the floor and whether I can clean up any spills or if I need a drop-cloth. Once I start, I have to think about how the paint will or will not blend in with different pigments and how dry the different colors adjoining it are.

For me, I also have to consider how child-proof the area is. I don’t like having to clean up paint spills after a curious 2-year-old decides to investigate my paints and brushes.

So, I’ve never spent much time with painting. I prefer to focus on drawing media like pencils, colored pencil, and ink. With these I can sit anywhere and work. So long as nobody bumps my hand or drawing board, I don’t have to worry about any child-induced mistakes.

However, I recently discovered something called watercolor pencils which have made me reconsider the whole medium of paint again. These work like colored pencils at first. Then you get them wet and they turn them into watercolor paint. This gives me the control of a colored pencil with the look of a watercolor. I think these are wonderful!

For some reason, I particularly love the color purple in watercolor pencils. When I apply the water, it just seems to bloom into this rich, intense purple that gives me a irrational surge of joy. I don’t know why, but wetting purple watercolor pencil just makes me unaccountably happy.

Since working with watercolor pencils, I’ve also found a new appreciation of regular watercolor paint.  I think the reason I may have had so much trouble with watercolor paint before was the brush I was using.  I’d typically use the brush that comes with the paint.  Since then, I’ve found that a set of chisel brushes in various sizes along with one fine brush for details work much better and give me much better control than I used to get.  Also, natural sponges work extremely well for painting leaves in the distance in landscapes.

Watercolor Paper

I’ve also had to learn about watercolor paper. In my limited experience with watercolors, I always ended up with slightly wrinkled pages. I knew there was a way to keep your paper from wrinkling, however I’d never bothered to learn how. I just figured it was a matter of my not using thick enough paper.

What I have found out is that thicker paper will generally reduce wrinkles. However, it has to be really thick.

Since thicker paper is also more expensive, I investigated and found another method to prevent wrinkles. It turns out that if you’re not using very thick watercolor paper, you need to stretch it. There are a couple of ways to stretch it. I’ll describe the two methods I’ve heard of.  I tried both.

Stretching with Tape

You’ll need to buy gummed linen tape (sometimes called hinged linen tape). This can be hard to find, but you can get it online if your local craft store doesn’t have it.  You also need a drawing board, watercolor paper, a pair of scissors, some paper towels, and a bathtub (or I suppose a shower or large sink would work).

For your drawing board, I recommend a square of smooth, thick plywood.  Go overboard on the thickness.  You want something that will not warp at all.  Wrap duct tape around the edge to keep from getting splinters.

Fill the bottom of your bathtub with an inch or so of cold water. Place your watercolor paper into the water and let it soak both sides for a few minutes.

In the meantime, cut strips of your linen tape for each of the 4 sides of your paper. Make the strips about 6 inches longer than the length of each side of your paper.

Use a rag to wet your board where the paper will be attached.  This will keep the board from wicking the water away too fast and drying the paper before you have a chance to get all the tape on.

When your paper is thoroughly soaked, take it out and lay it flat on your drawing board on a level surface. Use a paper towel or sponge to smooth it out.

Moisten a strip of the tape with a sopping wet paper towel to activate the glue and position it on one edge of your paper so that 2/3 of the tape is on your board and 1/3 is on your paper. Smooth the tape down with your wet paper towel, being sure not to smear the wet towel over your paper. If you do, it might get glue on your watercolor paper, which would interfere with how the paint behaves later. Do the same thing for all four sides of the paper.

Set the board with attached paper aside where it won’t be disturbed while it dries. Make sure it’s left on a level surface so the water won’t pool on one side or another.

Once it’s dry, you may paint. Do not remove the paper from the board until your painting is finished and dried. Then trim the painting off the board with an exacto knife. You’ll find that the tape seems pretty permanently attached to your board. Don’t worry, it will come off. Take the board back into the bathroom and soak the linen tape until it loosens and can be pulled loose. Wash the remaining adhesive off and you’re all ready to stretch another sheet for your next painting.

Stretching with Staples (Best Method)

A better method is to use staples instead of  linen tape.  Soak your paper the same way and attach it to the same board with staples all around the edge.  The staples need to be very close together to keep it stretched evenly. You end up with holes in your paper this way, but it’s easier.

Why it Works

The reason that soaking and taping (or stapling) works to stretch the paper is that the paper actually expands when it’s soaked. When it dries, it will shrink. So, if you adhere the edges of the paper to a board when it’s wet, the paper will stretch when it tries to shrink while drying.

Wrinkles are caused by the water in the paint soaking into the paper and making it expand more in one spot than another. It won’t wrinkle after it’s stretched because the water in your paint won’t cause the paper to expand more than the amount it already expanded when you attached it to the board.

Pre-Stretched Watercolor Paper

You can also buy blocks of pre-stretched watercolor paper.  These are pads of watercolor paper glued all the way around.  The whole pad is stretched and mounted to a cardboard back.  Just paint on the top page, let it dry, and peel it off.  Then paint on the next down and so forth.  These work pretty good, but I have found that they still will wrinkle a bit.  Just a little.  Stretching it yourself on a board still works better.

Paying Cash Instead of Plastic Makes you spend less? Not for me.

I keep seeing articles advising people to pay cash for things rather than credit cards because most people spend less when that way. It annoys me a little, because it assumes everyone uses cards the same way.

For me and my family, we definitely spend less when we’re paying by plastic rather than cash.

First, let me explain how we use our cards. We pay off our balance every month. That way we don’t need to worry about interest rates. I like having the option to make a minimum payment and let the balance ride if I need to. However, we haven’t needed to do that for years.

Second, I track everything we spend with our cards. Our credit card companies categorize all our spending for us pretty well and I use Quicken to categorize it even better. I save receipts and go through them occasionally to figure out exactly what we bought and feed that into Quicken as well. So, everything we spend with plastic will eventually have to be accounted for and justified.

Third, we get a 5% discount at Target when paying with our Target card and we get a Cashback Bonus from Discover, which I roll back into paying off the accounts. This makes for a very slight discount over everything we purchase with plastic rather than cash.

Fourth, we have two people using our checking account. If we each draw money out of the ATM or use our check cards and it’s a few days before we balance the checkbook, we may risk overdrawing the account accidentally. We do have overdraft protection, but that’s a $20 or $30 fee each time we use it. You don’t have run that risk with a credit card.

Fifth, I don’t track what I spend as well when paying cash. I don’t keep receipts when I pay with cash. All I track is how much comes out of the ATM. I know when I purchase with cash I won’t have to account for where the money went, so I don’t pay too much attention to it and tend to spend more.

I understand that this is not how everyone, or even most people, handle their accounts. For many people they do spend more when using credit cards. However, this is not the case for everyone. I know it isn’t for me. It annoys me when financial experts present financial tips like this as if it is a one-size-fits-all solution. For some people, they’ll spend less when they pay by cash. For others, they spend less with plastic. It just depends on your individual spending and accounting habits.