Taking a Stab With Bryce

You know those cool landscape backgrounds you see in sci-fi art? I'd often heard that they are created in a program called Bryce (perhaps after Bryce Canyon National Park, which has some of the most AMAZING landscapes to be seen in America!), so when I got a free copy of Bryce 5 in an issue of a computer magazine I picked up at B&N, I had to give it a try!

The results? Mixed. I immediately determined that the great deal on Bryce (even if it was an expensive specialty mag) came with a drawback - no manual! Now, I am usually one to read half- to three-quarters of a manual before I try to operate an unfamiliar program or game. I am apt to get frustrated when my idea of "intuitive interface" doesn't match the prublisher's, if I am forced to guess how to do things. When I have a manual, I can read the rules; the publisher sets his rules out, and I learn to use them. Without a manual, I rapidly tire of try-this-and-see-what-it-does.

So I have to report that although I obtained images, they didn't come easily, as I fought with the interface to do things I knew the program was capable of, but which I couldn't get guidance on. In the end, my artistic vision lost the tussle, and I settled for

I'll probably give Bryce another try later. Maybe I'll find some hints somewhere on how to use it. For the point is, as a dabbler and not a pro, I only want to satisfy an occasional impulse - I am not going to go out and buy a shrink-wrapped copy of the latest version. (Which I think is 6. BTW, a quick check on Amazon offers Bryce 5 for $490.)

That's "Under an Alien Sun" at the top, and "Cross-Country Flight" below.


Chaos Maps

Remember flame fractals? (See post: "Point Break") Lately I've been enjoying more fun with mathematics, courtesy of Chaoscope. This program creates a 3-D map of strange attractors. Here are a few of my favorite creations.

(Click for full-size)

"Arch of Sunrise"

"Sail Away"

"Green Heron"

"Escher Puzzle"


Fencing Class

This family has a thing with swords.

Actually, we all like anything shiney and pointy or edgy. Brenda's big on pocket knives (especially ones with lots of utensils), but Mark, Hunter, and McKenzie like the long steel.

We don't get much opportunity to swash-buckle with the swords we own. (Mark used to get plenty of opportunity in the Society for Creative Anachronism... but that's another story.) So when Furman University published a continuing ed brochure with a fencing class, you can bet it pricked up ears around here.

Now, McKenzie took a fencing class at Rice University last year, which she greatly enjoyed. But Hunter had not yet had any formal training, and Mark's was abysmally long ago, so the two signed up together.

Furman's class was conducted by instructors from the Knights of Siena fencing salle. (www.knightsofsiena.com) We started with a great class: 12 adults and 12 kids. (That tailed off to 2 adults and 10 kids eight weeks later.) Mark discovered to his great satisfaction that the class would teach sabre, which was his weapon in college.

(At left, Mark and Hunter, foreground, practice attack/parry drills.)

Further to his satisfaction was the fact that his old fencing uniform still fit! Witness the Amateur Fencers League of America patch on the shoulder - that organization changed its name in 1982 and so hasn't been called that for 25 years! Actually, Mark got his uniform in 1970, so it's a bit older than that! He's not one to throw out anything that still works!

Here is Hunter, getting a good cut in against classmate Mattes.

Hunter was one of the oldest of the "kid" complement of the class. Certainly his reach helped him, but he also showed real quickness and good reactions. He pretty much defeated his opponents...

EXCEPT, when his opponent was Dad!

Despite his 55-year-old knees, Mark lost only one bout - to the instructor, 5-4.

The class is now over. Both Hunt and Mark wish they had a regular venue for fencing, but sadly, it is not that popular a sport.


New Photoshop User

When Furman University sent out their Continuing Education brochure, this time I was ready! I signed up for a class in improving photos with Photoshop.

My instructor is an old-time photographer, with years in the darkroom, but who went digital about the time Photoshop 2 came out (that's what? Seven versions ago?). His emphasis in the class was correcting poor exposures and perhaps cropping for better impact, but I wanted to learn how to do things you can't do with a camera.

I never was an artist (my career was in chemical engineering) and may never be, but I am enjoying playing with images, So here are a couple of my efforts.

"Daffodils Giving Up Their Essence"

"Hunter at Panthertown Falls"
(NOT taken in Fall!)


Family Portrait Update

This brings us up to date.

Gosh! Some of us are getting old!