The State of The Art (during Covid).

Covid has been a hard time for the arts, and for artists. For people with compromised immune systems, or who live with people with compromised immune systems, this has been even harder. Life has become one giant exercise in existential fear, as we see policy makers embark on a brave new era in which eugenics, expressed as “the majority of deaths are in people with comorbidities”, is the order of the day.

In this brave new world, public health has been replaced with personal responsibility – not a responsibility to protect your fellow citizen, but rather, a responsibility to protect yourself, and shoulder the sole burden for doing so. Society at large has absolved itself of any obligation to change in order to protect the vulnerable, and the costs that would entail.

The best practices recommended – universal mask-wearing, purifiers for air conditioning systems, working from home, are all being abandoned, seemingly on the basis that if we just “get back to normal”, that life will somehow become normal, in fundamentally abnormal times.

And so, the vulnerable cower in our homes, afraid of the very air outside, knowing that Covid, which hangs in said air exactly as cigarette smoke does, could waft in through an open window, courtesy of a neighbour.


Making art under these circumstances is difficult at best. More so when your process is industrial – metal fabrication, for example.

Prior to Covid, I had worked around a lack of studio space by moving my practice into Virtual Reality – and that worked really well, resulting in the Noosa Mnemonic project with Noosa Library Service. Unfortunately, this was one of the first casualties of Covid, as getting people together in a room, while sharing a device pressed against their faces, wasn’t Covid-safe.

I received an Arts Qld resilience grant early in Covid, to try to build an accessible storage cabinet within my carport. While the grant was acquitted to the satisfaction of the managing arts organisation, the project ran into the very problems it was trying to solve – I couldn’t build it in the space I had available to build it. To be clear, with an appropriate space to lay out the parts during construction, and leave them laid out over multiple sessions, I could definitely build it. Nothing about the construction is beyond me from a technical perspective, and if my carport was a garage, it would be a solvable problem.

I moved on to attempting to work around this, buying a human-weight-rated folding wheelchair ramp, to allow me to roll my welder, and air compressor up a step and into the townhouse so they can be securely stored indoors when not in use. With this setup, I have endeavoured to continue with preparations for my next series of works – doing small experiments, and learning the wiles of my welder.

This was another learning experience. I’ve been able to reduce the setup and packdown time to fifteen minutes each way. However, that hasn’t solved the fundamental problem – I’m working in a carport open to the communal driveway, and to the street. Therefore, I can’t set a work up, and walk away from it (and thousands of dollars of equipment) for lunch, or to think etc.


So that’s where we are, in the third year of Covid. My practice is largely revolving around digital processes – rebuilding workflows, and reworking material created before the plague times. In physical works, I’ve mostly been buying and testing gear, for the longer-term goal of getting back into fabrication, once I have a space in which to work. Along with that, has been a months-long process of re-organising my storage facility space, to better arrange all the materials I’ve been accumulating over the years, as well as all the possessions from my old life in Sydney that never found room in what was supposed to be temporary accomodation when I moved to Noosa.

To be fair, there have been some significant achievements during this Covid era. Surfing The Deathline was completed in its final single-volume form – the completion of a project I’ve been working at, on and off, for a little over twenty years.

Alongside that, was making the momentous leap to being fully-independent in selling my eBooks, via a Fastspring-powered general e-commerce store, rather than being reliant on an Apple, Google, or Amazon specific eBook store. Getting this working correctly was a long process, and it’s amazing the sheer amount of time that can seem to vanish on just research, finding out if a thing can be done, then how to do it.

Notwithstanding the time-suck, this is something I’ve been planning towards for a number of years, even prior to Covid. I now have control over the sale of my works – I can set whatever prices I like, and no one can ruin the appearance of the sales experience.


So, this is a roundabout way of saying that while it looks like things have been quiet here (I’m sure everyone’s exhibition records have been pretty sparse for the past couple of years), stuff has been happening, it’s just stuff that stays within the walls of home.

Surfing The Deathline – Full Course

Eddie Cartridge, and Janelle Tan – Machine Intelligence researchers and former partners.

Separated following the takeover of their mutual employer, which saw Eddie made redundant, life has lead them to radically different outcomes. Eddie is homeless, unemployed, down to his last few dollars, and living under the streets. Janelle is engaged to their former employer, living in a penthouse, and travelling to work by helicopter.

Eddie has been offered a job – subvert a Machine Intelligence for a critical window of time. The job has a payday large enough that he can escape this awful city – a middle-class-authoritarian city state, where the streets are always clean, and welfare benefits are tied to medical tracking implants which monitor sobriety, amongst other things.

The first problem, is that Eddie is not fast enough to out-react, and out-think a Machine Intelligence. He’ll need an edge, in the form of The Deathline – a neuro-accelerating hallucinogen.

The second problem, Eddie has never used The ‘Line before, and has no supply contacts for this highly illegal substance. He must reconnect with Janelle, who consumed prodigious quantities during their time together, to find out if she still has access to anyone who can supply what he needs.

For Janelle, contact with Eddie has contained a revelation which forces her to question her recent past, and to reassess her relationship with her fiancé. Will she abandon her comfortable, “perfect” life, and be reclaimed by the world of The Deathline?

The world is one in which Machine Intelligence is the supreme power, where a failed nuclear strike has fractured America into three separate nations, Europe is stricken by secessionary conflicts, and new Machine Intelligence-equipped non-geographic distributed states are beginning to emerge.

This 232 page book is published in DRM-Free Fixed-Layout EPUB format.

Preview / Buy

#MicroFiction

The Long Death began about, it must have been around 2035. It’s funny in a grim way, we avoided the worst of climate change, by virtue of there being too few of us to outpace the planet’s carbon cycle. Too few of us…

It started everywhere, over about 5 years. The syndrome was like rapid ALS combined with mild Ebola, and was 100% fatal.

It was #Covid. It was the long-term effect of Covid, and it claimed every single person who was still alive 20 years after their infection.

2023 – A Wrapup

This was not the best of years. It’s really hard to think what I did, largely because I didn’t do much of anything. When I look back through my weekly diary, the most common word seems to be “research”. I spent most of the year indoors, as the outside world just became too dangerous, with Ubiquitous Covid becoming the new normal. I had an encounter in the service station where some arsehole started mocking and harassing me because I was wearing a mask. Right before Christmas, my mother caught Covid, so I spent Christmas by myself. I managed to dodge the bullet, but I was due for my next covid shot only a few days later. It was a frightening near-miss.


Speaking of health, this whole sedentary thing started to have some pretty major effects, with significant stress events leaving me tight chested and short of breath. However, a scare with my 2022 annual specialist’s assessment that I was losing upper body strength lead to biting the bullet and getting back into shape.

Mystifyingly, in the second half of the year, I went on a big diet health-kick. I mean big enough that “who are you and what have you done with Matt?” was a reasonable question to ask. I cut out almost all takeaway, junk food, processed snacks, radically reduced the amount of bread, more or less eliminated cereals, and had salads with a protein, like beef or chicken, for dinner almost every night. I think I accidentally paleoed. Breakfast for months now has been a banana, a handful of walnut kernels, and a small piece of biltong. I cut out all the soft drinks, all the beer, radically reduced my alcohol intake.

I lost almost 10kg doing this. I’m back to the weight I was, when I was 18. And the really weird thing is, I really don’t miss any of this. I think I’m so happy with the leaned down figure, that no food treat really has that allure any more. I’ve combined this with working out with weights almost every night, and my strength seems to be returning.


A big theme for 2023 was attempting to move house. We spent months with the house on the market, and almost bought a new one, but had to pull out when the offers on the current place didn’t go high enough. The whole process is arse-backwards, as agents try to tell you how good the offer for your place is, but fail to understand that the goal isn’t to sell, it’s to buy, and the sale is merely a means to that end.

The place we were trying to buy was pretty interesting – two houses on a single lot, but as we spent more time looking at it, worries started to surface. And that’s the real problem – the margins are so thin that we could get to a point where we go broke trying to own the new place. So, by August, that had come to an end, and we stayed put. The stress damn near killed me. We looked at another interesting property – a huge bamboo grove of a place, but again, the owner wouldn’t drop the price to something we could manage, and the house itself (which was being passed-off as the work of a prominent local architect) was in need of a lot of work.

I spent a lot of time working Sketchup, remembering why I love using it so much, and how disappointed I am with it being a subscription-only app these days.


Speaking of tech, this was the year all my tech fell on its face, and had to be refreshed. My beloved old Mac Pro finally died a hard death, and I replaced it with… Another Mac Pro, but this time a 2019 model, with dual graphics cards that cost me $10k secondhand. It’s an insane purchase, given Apple is transitioning away from Intel processors, but this was the machine that was closest to what I already had, without being less than I already had. Worst-case-scenario, It will become a chonky Windows or Linux machine one day. But, it should last me for a while. Interest rates being what they are, It’ll only take 14-15 months for the interest on my savings to recover the outlay, which is a shorter term than a personal loan I would have taken out to buy something like that, so that puts things in perspective. Those interest rates are part of why I’m more sanguine about not moving right now, than I might otherwise be – it’s a good time to have savings, and a bad time to have a mortgage. That big new computer actually followed a new iPad Pro, which has proven to be a lot less compelling than I thought it might be. I think I just need to give it more work, but the lack of bezels really makes it less good to draw on. I don’t feel the same carefree doodling I had with sketchbooks in the past.

The great tech revamp included some interesting things I’ve wanted to do for ages – I installed a switch in my tech gear cupboard, so instead of 4 ethernet cables leading downstairs to the modem, there’s just the one. The Mac Pro is installed on the shelf as well, with 7m display cables routing back to my desk, so I have a lot more leg room than I used to have.

My B&O headphones were replaced under warranty as they kept filing to connect to my Xbox. I bought and returned some Beats wireless earbuds, because they were too uncomfortable to wear. I don’t know who Apple tests their earphones on, but I’ve never found them as good as my old Sennheisers.

Mastodon really became my go-to social media space once I found Mona.app – it has some rough edges by virtue of being a Catalyst app, but it’s better than using the website. I stopped posting to Facebook entirely, nothing since May, and only two people reached out to check if things were OK. So much for social networks bringing people together.


So that was it, a pretty terrible year, which feels like I achieved nothing of note. Probably the only thing I can say that was successful with things, was reprocessing some of my old photos, and re-establishing my digital workflows – which accounts for a lot of the “research” time.

Christmas 2023

The Felt from which they were made could not make anything new, or give rise to new and novel forms. It would only duplicate that which already was. Some mourned the irony of the very Felt which animated their intellect, also limiting their minds, such that control of their basic nature and pattern was forever locked beyond reach. Still, they made do. They lived, and loved, carrying all the hopes and fears for their clones, that the Flesh carried for their children.

– An alternate take on A Muppet Christmas Carol.

Solve for A.

This year my old Mac Pro running macOS 10.13 High Sierra shuffled into the grave. I needed a newer computer quickly, and my options were either Apple-Silicon Mac Studios, or secondhand 2019 Mac Pros.

For reasons, I bought the Mac Pro.

This new machine runs macOS 13 Ventura, and that’s a problem, because it has broken my entire photography workflow, which was based around Apple’s Aperture Digital Asset Manager.

Here’s a diagram of how my photo management worked with Aperture, my cameras, and my iOS devices:

The import, to library, to sync workflow was pretty simple:

  1. Plug the camera or device into the computer.
  2. Select the images you want to import.
  3. Choose where you want the images copied to on disc (this is populated by use, so would eventually have all the folders shown in the filing structure). I choose to keep them organised by device.
  4. Aperture copies the files to disc, placing them in Year /  Month / Day subfolders.
  5. Aperture creates events in the Aperture catalogue, which correspond to the shooting sessions.

 

From there you can:

  • Manage your images in the catalogue.
  • Edit images.
  • Sync images back to your iOS devices.

What Went Wrong?

This process doesn’t work in Ventura. For a start, Aperture won’t run by default under Ventura. There’s Retroactive, which purports to modify older Apple apps to run on the new operating systems, but it isn’t working for me (images won’t display). iTunes doesn’t work either (Retroactive excepted) but that has a replacement in Finder sync. Aperture’s loss is a real pill, however, because in its wake there is no tool that can do all the things it was capable of doing.

One option to keep these older tools working, is to use them via virtual machines. Aperture will run in a VM, and all of its import and organisation utility seems to function correctly. One thing it cant do however, is display full-size images. This is due to a lack of support for virtualised GPU access, in the versions of macOS which support Aperture.

Apple Photos:

Photos was supposed to be a replacement for iPhoto and Aperture, however there are some significant shortcomings. Namely:

  • Photos cannot import from device to a referenced library structure – in other words it can’t move files from device, to your choice of storage location.
    • It can import to a referenced library if the files are already in their final storage location.
  • Photos importing to a managed library structure destructively renames files when it stores them in its internal storage location.

So Photos fails on that first instance – it can’t be the universal ingestion tool to get my images off my devices, unless I want to give up my entire file management structure, and accept my files being destructively renamed.

Nope.

There’s also the matter of bitten once, not going to be bit again. After investing in an Apple solution for this whole process, I don’t want to trust the company with a concentration of functionality. You can never know what core features might disappear from the software, because someone in the company has an office politics agenda to change its direction.

There is another ingestion option, and it’s…

Image Capture:

Image Capture is a very old application, which can import from any device, to any location. This would seem ideal, except for one shortcoming:

  • No subfolders.

Image Capture can only import to a flat folder location – no Year / Month / Day sub folders. This brings a crisitunity in that it forces me to rethink just how much of my process I invest in any one application, and maybe break the process down, so as to ensure no one application can own the entirety of my photo management process.

The New Workflow:

The glue of the new workflow is Hazel – an automation system I’ve been using for a while, which is effectively a more reliable version of Apple’s Folder Actions. Thus:

This is a much more complicated pipeline at first glance. However, it has a high degree of modularity, and actually allows for flexibility the old system lacked. For example, the integration of manual saving of edits. Instead of having to save from an editor, then re-import to Aperture etc, the edit can happen in any application.

This also provides a framework for Digital Asset Managers to be connected in. CMYE’s Peakto looks to be an interesting meta-manager, which can look inside other DAM libraries. Photos is also an option, since one of the things Hazel can do is to automatically import images to the Photos library, so in that second round of Hazel processing after the images are in their Y/M/D folders, there could be an “import to Photos” process.

However, I refuse to trust Photos to continue support of referenced libraries, so it’s probably better to not start with it at all.

Zero DAM:

There’s also an interesting alternative to get things working quickly, and that’s not using a DAM at all, but just saving search criteria as smart folders in the filing structure where your images are kept:

A Finder window, with the Preview pane enabled.

In this system, you’d simply never need to use the DAM for a main catalogue – Finder can do most of the tagging etc for you, and then you can use dedicated editing DAMs like Capture One when you want versioned editing on a single file.

Fixing Image Capture with PLIST Edit

Image Capture is an application included with macOS, which acts as a general image ingester, and scanner interface. You plug a device in, and Image capture looks at all the files available on it, then gives you the option to download them to your chosen location, or application.

The basic UI, is this:

Image Capture in macOS High Sierra

Or at least, that’s how it looked.

The most salient point is that option “Make subfolders per camera”. What that does when checked, is that whatever folder you choose to copy files into, Image Capture will first make a folder with the name of your device. Great if you’re copying images in for the first time, but if you already have a previously established folder for device images, not something you’d want to have enabled.

What went wrong:

In recent versions of macOS, this checkable menu option is no longer visible, which means you lose the ability to control that aspect of the software, and the default is to create the device subfolder. *eugh*

Anyway, a bit of research online indicted tht the setting might be controlled in the .plist file for Image Capture, located at:

~/Library/Preferences/com.apple.Image_Capture.plist

…and sure enough

The nefarious property

Fir enough, I’ll open it in a text editor, and just change <true/> to <false/>

Except… it’s a binary .plist file, and opens as garbage text. Yes, only Apple could make a plain text XML preference file system, into binary files that require a special developer tool to modify them.

So, off to the Mac App Store, and there’s a simple tool PLIST Edit. $10, done.

Open the plist file in it, change the value to False, save, relaunch Image Capture, and:

Prodigal menu returns

Make subfolders per camera is back. Huzzah.

An Unmasked Face

An unmasked face is a jackboot.
A brownshirt,
and a straight-armed salute.

An unmasked face is an act
of oppression.

HFS+ and APFS Permissions for SMB Filesharing.

There’s a problem I encountered with Mac-based filesharing over SMB where HFS+ and APFS formatted disks would behave differently from each other when mounted remotely.

While HFS+ disks worked as expected, APFS disks would have issues with write permissions – everything would look correct, but creating folders would result in folders that couldn’t be written to, or renamed.

All the disks had the same permissions and setting on the file server – all had:

  • (Machine Admin user): Read & Write
  • staff: Read & Write
  • everyone: read only

And they were set to “Ignore Ownership”.

That ownership issue appears to be the problem – I had to enable ownership for the APFS volumes, and then add a dedicated filesharing user to the file server, add that user with read & write permissions to the APFS drives, and then apply permissions to the enclosed items.

Once that was done, it all worked as expected.

Studio Residence 2023

Modelling experiments to create an artist’s studio, with an attached residence to fit within local council regulations for a secondary dwelling – maximum residential floorspace of 65sqm. The roof is omitted. The major building volume is 6x7x21m HWD, plus the staircase & laundry side pods.

This version has a residential floor area of just under 50sqm. The residence is accessed via a staircase from the Office / Studio level, to a locking front door accessing the kitchen. Optional access would be via the balcony, again to the kitchen.

The basic configuration is:

  • Upstairs:
    • One bedroom
    • One bathroom (with laundry)
    • Kitchen
    • Library / sitting room with sofa bed for guest accommodation.
  • Downstairs:
    • Gallery / Photo Studio
    • Office / Digital Studio
      • Kitchenette
    • Bathroom

The doubling-up of kitchens / bathrooms is to ensure the residential and non-residential components are independently complete, to defuse suggestions that the entire building is functionally a single residential space.

Accessibility Concerns

All clearances – doorways, bed circulation, bathroom etc have been designed to exceed standard wheelchair-accessible 86cm requirements. All internal doors are sliding pocket doors.

The main bedroom is sized for a queen bed with all sides wheelchair-accessible, the Library can fit a double bed with all sides wheelchair-accessible.

Two locations have been designed to accomodate retrofitting of an inter-floor wheelchair-accessible elevator, should one be required.

The downstairs studio bathrooms feature two stalls of standard accessible dimensions. The larger of them has space beside the toilet for a compact shower-station.

Stray

Stray is a puzzle / traversal game, with a couple of coordination challenges, in which the player controls a cat.

Apart from how much fun driving the cat is, including moments where knocking things off shelves is a major mechanic, the most impressive thing about this game is how breathtakingly beautiful it is.

For folks who’ve lived in reclaimed warehouse spaces, this boho-scrap look will be familiar – I remember there were folks at Glebe’s Cyberspace warehouse who came close to this look with their spaces.

The whole game is infused with this beautiful melancholy, that leaves me in mind of Linklater’s adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly.

The pain…
… so unexpected and undeserved…
… had, for some reason,
cleared away the cobwebs.
I realized I didn’t hate the cabinet door.
I hated my life, my house, my family…
– Are you okay, Daddy?
– What happened?
… my backyard…
… my power mower.
Nothing would ever change.
Nothing new could ever be expected.
It had to end, and it did.
Now in the dark world where I dwell…
… ugly things and surprising things
and sometimes little wondrous things…
… spill out at me constantly…
… and I can count on nothing.

I’m taking this game’s art direction as an inspiration for some architectural modelling I’m doing – moving away from whitebox Modernism, and to a more cozy retro-boho style. Dark wood, patterned wallpaper, etc.

Fixing a Wacom Intuos 4 under macOS Ventura, with Keyboard Maestro.

Among the various changes happening in macOS under macOS 13 Ventura, is a problem with Wacom’s Intuos 4 graphics tablets. Following is a way to use Stairways Software’s Keyboard Maestro to solve the particular glitch thrown up by this hardware / driver / operating system combination.

The Symptom:

Upon waking from sleep, the OLED screens on larger size Wacom Intuos 4 tablets my be unresponsive. While all the hardware appears to function, and the controls for the screen brightness are accessible, the screens themselves remain inert.

The Cause:

The problem appears to be a result of the driver not working correctly over the sleep / wake cycle.

Troubleshooting:

I contacted Wacom support, and despite their driver notes showing device compatibility for my tablet clearly written:

…the support representative claimed that the Intuos 4 XL became unsupported after the previous driver, which does not support macOS Ventura.

To be clear, if it’s “unsupported”, one would question why the driver settings show this:

…that “Tablet Light Brightness” feature? Those OLED screens were removed from Wacom tablets after the Intuos 4. There are no newer tablets with those screens, so if the tablet isn’t supported by the driver, why is that there?

We could also check out the Wacom Centre app, which is used to… well it doesn’t really seem to do anything necessary. It’s effectively a thing that checks for driver update status, and provides shortcuts to the Wacom System Settings pane.


That’s “unsupported”? Really?

So on to…

The Solution.

Fixing this problem is a simple matter of quitting and re-launching the tablet driver. You can use Wacom Tablet Utility to do this manually, or you can use Keyboard Maestro to add a set of events to do this as a menu command, or as something that runs automatically upon wake, thus:

So what this macro is doing is it’s triggered by either the Keyboard Maestro menulet app, OR triggered by waking up from sleep. It waits 20 seconds, so that the wake process is out of the way and settled if it’s triggered by a Wake event, then it quits the driver, waits, and launches it again. You’ll need to reveal hidden files and folders to navigate to it, in order to populate the app’s location.

Problem solved.