How to build an alien

There’s been a lot going on in my life the last few weeks so I needed a creative outlet that I could pick up and put down as needed. For me, the natural fit was to work on the iVokh using Corel Draw 8. In this post, I’ll do a quick reveal of how I built an iVokh hand.

First I had to find some reference pictures. I was lucky enough to find a nice one showing the skeletal structure of a raptor ‘hand’ as compared to a human hand:

https://www.pinterest.com.au/remiwashere/animal-anatomy-forms/

Next, I vectored each bone of each finger…and tried to get the lighting more or less right using Corel’s gradient colour function:

The hand’s not perfect, but it is in a pose closer to what I wanted, plus the finished bones do give me a second layer of references. More importantly, each bone gives me an outline that can be used like a cookie cutter [the gradient fill is inside the outline]:

Now, I can use the vector outline to cut out textures for the ‘skin’. The following images are a kind of timeline of the process of skinning the bones:

Working from left to right we have:

  1. the vectored finger,
  2. the outline of each individual bone,
  3. the bones broken apart,
  4. the outline of the bones,
  5. the texture cut out by each outline,
  6. the finished finger

The finished ‘finger’ on the far right shows a simplistic view of the skin ‘tunnel’ in which the claws hide until they are protracted – i.e. pushed out. I took the reference from a picture I found showing a close-up of the skin around a cat’s claws.

https://www.softpaws.com/fascinating-facts-about-cat-claws/

Now, I suppose some of you are wondering why I didn’t just draw a whole finger, or better yet, a whole hand?

The reason is that I’m not that good at freehand drawing. I’m more draftsperson than artist. So while I might be able to fudge a hand once, I would not be able to redraw that hand in different poses. By creating the basic building blocks of the hand, however, I can use Corel to create different poses using more or less the same building blocks. [To get the perspective right, I’ll have to adjust the nodes on at least some of the ‘bones’, but that’s the easy part].

Is this the best way to build an alien?

Sadly, the answer is no. The vectoring isn’t that hard but finding the correct snippet of texture with just the right colour and light effect is very hard.

The best way to build an alien from scratch would be to create a 3D model using a super dooper graphics package like Maya. Unfortunately, Maya is also super dooper expensive and takes about 2 years of study to learn properly. So I’m making do with what I have, and what I know. I think I’ve done pretty well so far, for an amateur. 😉

Okay, no comments again, but as always, my thanks to all of you for being my sounding board[s].

-hugs-

Meeks


Recognize this tree?

No, the title of this post is not a trick question. I saw this amazing tree while out driving, and I’d love to know what it is. Here are the pics I took:

Ground level

Close up

Up and up and up….

Berries?

The colour and shape of the leaves made me think it might be like the magnolia grandiflora we used to have in Dad’s old garden. It was small to medium tree-sized, but I don’t remember it having berries. I also can’t remember ever seeing one so very, very, very big! And those roots! Hard to believe it’s growing near the corner of a busy intersection in one of the more inner suburbs of Melbourne.

If you know what this tree is, please let me know in comments.

Thanks,

Meeks


Unfinished…

I’ve been obsessing over this image for days now. Still a way to go, but for the first time this evening, it feels as if it’s finally coming together. 🙂

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Meeks


Lefties – how to adjust the mouse buttons in Windows 10

I wrote up a quick how-to for a student of mine and thought it might be useful for other left handers out there.

Step 1

Click the START button [circled in red] to display the Start Menu. On the Start Menu, click ‘Settings’[shown in green] :

Step 2

With the Settings dialog box displayed, click ‘Devices’ [shown in green] :

Step 3

With the Devices dialog box displayed, click ‘Mouse & touchpad’ [shown in green]:

Step 4

With the ‘Mouse & touchpad’ dialog box displayed, click ‘Left’.

The option for ‘Right’ will now be displayed.

Click ‘Right’ as shown:

Left handers should now be able to mouse click using the index finger of their left hand and the right button of the mouse. 🙂

cheers

Meeks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Bats, cats and Archeopteryx

A bit more biology about the Vokh and iVokh. They really are a bit like Frankenstein’s Monster!

Okay, so I’ve said that both Vokh and iVokh are flying hermaphrodytes, and in book 1, I mentioned that their ‘lungs’ are in their wings which are like ‘leather sacks’. These sacks can also be inflated with lift [a component of their atmosphere which acts a bit like helium] to help them fly. But where did some of these ideas come from?

The leather wings idea came from the common bat:

But I needed the iVokh to be capable of some technology, and while bats do have a ‘thumb’ to help them climb, they can’t make or use tools. That was when I realised that the iVokh needed proper hands. Trouble was, if they had more human-like hands, they couldn’t have long, bat-like ‘fingers’ supporting their wings.

It was at this point that the idea of inflatable wings occurred to me. I can’t take any credit for it as parafoils use the same principle, although in a very different design.

But if the Vokh and iVokh can inflate their wings, how do they de-flate them?

Enter brilliant idea number 548: let them have jets!

The modern jet engine basically sucks air in and expels it under incredible pressure to ‘push’ the plane along. The young man explaining the process in this video is a fabulous teacher!

The Vokh and iVokh don’t have combustion chambers, but they do physically compress the lift before squeezing it out of tiny sphincters on the trailing [bottom] edge of their wings. If any of you read book 1, Vokhtah, you may remember that the Rogue had incredibly powerful jets, allowing it to perform almost miraculous feats of acrobatics in the air.

For less virtuoso flyers like the iVokh, jetting requires something to push against – i.e. the ground, a wall etc. The stronger the flyer, the further that solid surface can be from its jets.

One problem with jetting is that once the lift is pushed out through the jets, the wings effectively deflate, leaving them ‘limp’. The best flyers can glide on limp wings, but for most iVokh, no lift means no flight. This is why they never use up all the lift in their wings.

Another issue I had with the flight mechanics of the Vokh and iVokh had to do with the surface area of their wings. Clearly the wider the wings the better their ability to fly. But I didn’t want them to actually look like bats.

I ignored this problem for quite a while until it suddenly struck me that almost all of the animals of Vokhtah had six limbs, not four!

Why would the Vokh and iVokh be any different? Um, because they’d look stupid? But what if that second set of arms weren’t actually visible?

I’m still working on a concept drawing, but basically the main arms would be situated in much the same position as human arms. The second set, however, would be located lower down on the torso and would simply  ‘move’ the folds of leather into various positions when not inflated. For example, when I write that such-and-such folded its wings to its sides, the folding is done by the second set of arms.

I mentioned cats in the title because of something I wrote in my last post. How could iVokh have both fangs and grinding teeth?

This photo of a cat’s skull explains:

As you can see, the jaws of a cat have those oversized canines as well as a total of four molars – one on each side of the bottom jaw and one on each side of the top jaw – plus eight pre-molars. Unlike the cat, iVokh have just two fangs and four molars. Oh, and my aliens also share a vertical pupil with both cats and foxes!

And finally, Archeopteryx. What body part did I steal from this ancient ancestor of birds?

Answer: the legs:

The bones of the leg are essentially the same as that in humans – thigh bone, knee, shin – until you get to the ankle. This is the point at which the leg of the Archeopteryx looks as if it has a second, back-to-front knee. It doesn’t. That joint is basically the equivalent of our ankle, but the foot is different. The reason is that humans are one of the few animals that walk with a ‘plantigrade’ foot posture – i.e. heel down first. Most other animals, including the Archeopteryx, run on their toes.

I’ve turned comments off as this kind of research is my obsession not yours, but thanks for keeping me company!

cheers

Meeks

 

 

 


Echolocation in iVokh, dolphins and humans

I started thinking about the creatures of Vokhtah back in November, 2004 when I did Nanowrimo for the first time. I knew right from the start that the Vokh would be vicious, psychopathic hermaphrodites with wings, but as I explored their lives I realised that they couldn’t possibly live together without killing each other. That was when I stumbled across a weird fact from nature – crocodiles allow plover birds to hop in their mouths and clean scraps of meat from their teeth!

This is called ‘mutualism’, a symbiotic relationship in which both parties gain benefits. In the case of the plover bird, it gets to eat the meat it picks from the crocodile’s teeth. The crocodile, on the other hand, gives up a very small snack in exchange for keeping its teeth clean and healthy.

I have no idea how such a relationship would have evolved in nature, but it did give me the answer to the Vokh riddle: my huge, intelligent aliens would live in a symbiotic relationship with another species. Enter the iVokh.

I won’t bore you with a history of how the iVokh evolved in my mind, it’s enough to say that they had to be similar to the Vokh, but also different. One of those differences ended up being teeth, or to be more exact the shape of the iVokh jaw. You see the reason the Vokh tolerate the iVokh is because they need the iVokh to raise their offspring. Part of that requires that the newborn Vokh be fed a gruel of mashed up grains and tubers.

But if the iVokh were like the Vokh and only drank blood [sorry I’m kind of skipping a few vital facts here], then how would they know to give the Vokhling gruel?

The answer lay in the fact that the iVokh had retained their molars [grinding teeth], and hence could chew. This gave them the ability to feed on a number of different types of food, not just blood. By contrast, the Vokh were so powerful that they could live on nothing but blood. In time, their teeth and jaws evolved to make it easier for them to eat their favourite food. That required bigger, stronger fangs, not molars.

But what do molars have to do with echolocation? Before I get to the Vokh and iVokh, I’d like to give you a quick description of how echolocation works in dolphins:

https://dolphins.org/anatomy

  1. In the simplest terms, dolphins send clicks through that bulge on their heads. It’s called the ‘melon’ and it amplifies the sound.
  2. The clicks spread out through the water and ‘bounce’ against objects in the water.
  3. This bounce returns to the dolphin as a kind of echo.
  4. The echo is captured by the dolphin’s lower jaw and is transferred to its inner ear [maybe like a vibration?].
  5. From there, the echo goes straight to the auditory part of the dolphin’s brain where it is translated into a kind of ‘image’.

The important thing to note here is that the echo does not return to the dolphin’s ear, or at least not directly. First it goes to the jaw. And there, tah dah, was one perfect, evolutionary difference between the Vokh and iVokh. As the lower jaw of the Vokh changed, so too did its ability to echolocate. It can still ping enough to avoid walking into things in the dark, but not enough to ‘see’ objects at a distance.

In my mind, I see this qualitative difference as being similar to the difference between the echolocation of a dolphin and a human:

I’ve mentioned Daniel Kish and his amazing ability before, yet for all of his skill, he cannot operate in his own environment as well as a dolphin operates in the ocean.

So that’s how the iVokh got echolocation. 🙂

In case anyone is wondering, the world of Vokhtah is a strange melange of science and paranormal fantasy. Along with their physical characteristics, most of which have parallels in real biology, the Vokh and iVokh also have mental skills that don’t. Despite the best efforts of all sorts of scientists, we still lack proof that telekinesis or telepathy actually exist. But while I love science, I’m not a scientist, and paranormal talents are fun to write about. 🙂

Thanks for coming on this odd little journey with me!

cheers

Meeks

 


‘Musick has charms to soothe a savage breast’

William Congreve wrote that line in a play called ‘The Mourning Bride’. I’m long past the point of being a bride, but I am in mourning so it seemed appropriate. A lot of hopes and dreams of a better, fairer life went up in smoke on May 18, but now it’s time to heal.

I can’t remember how I stumbled onto this song – thank you unknown blogger! – but I’ve been listening to it a lot lately. The composer is Ramin Djawadi, and the song is called ‘Light of the Seven’ [Season 6 of the Game of Thrones] :

cheers

Meeks


Australia voted…

On May 18, 2019, Australia voted in an election that we all thought was in the bag. We all thought Labor would win because their policies would be good for the whole country…and because the hard right conservative government was so on the nose. We were wrong. The hard right conservative government was returned for another three years.

The talking heads on the tv were stunned as the unfolding result went against the last 50 polls. I was stunned because this expletive-deleted government was not only being voted back in, it was being voted back in with an increased margin.

Peter Dutton, the most hated man on #auspol, retained his seat of Dickson…with an increased margin.

George Christensen, a politician who posted a photo of himself shooting a handgun and spent more time in the Philippines than in his own electorate, was returned…with an increased margin.

Why? I still don’t know. The voters of Queensland were certainly sending a message, but they were not alone. Even in Victoria, the state considered the most progressive in Australia, Labor did not make enough gains to make a difference.

For a while, I hoped that the results were skewed out of shape by the huge number of pre-polls, but by the end of the night it became clear that even if the pre-polls all favoured Labor, it still wouldn’t be enough. To put it quite brutally, Australia has done a trump, and we have no excuse. All of us voted. Half of us ignored the scandals, the corruption and the actual economic record of the LNP and voted in favour of fear and self-interest.

I am more shocked than I can say. But. The people have spoken, and that’s what democracy is about. The fact that I don’t like it is neither here nor there.

The only bright spots to come out of this election all centre around Independent women:

  • Zali Steggall beat Tony Abbott in Waringah
  • Helen Haines won the seat of Indi after the former Independent [also a woman] retired from the seat. That’s a first.
  • Dr Kerryn Phelps may, possibly, retain the seat of Wentworth.

Whether these Independents will be able to change things for the better is doubtful. There are just not enough of them, and it doesn’t look as if the conservatives will have a minority government. Ergo, they won’t have to compromise to get the votes of the Independents.

To be honest, at this point I’m pinning all my hopes on people who don’t even have the vote yet. In three years time, the 15, 16 and 17 years olds of today will be eligible to vote. Many of them care about the future. I hope they vote in a government that’s prepared to do something about it.

Meeks

 


The Eye of the Spine

I have a bad cold and my brain feels like cotton wool, so rather than doing productive work, I’ve been doing jigsaws on screen. This is what I just found:

It’s a lake in the caldera of an extinct, or at least, inactive volcano. If you were to flip that image vertically and then rotate it a little, you’d end up with something like this:

Now, let’s just draw a rough outline of the lake and fill it in…

And finally, compare it to the eye of a cat…

…and…hey presto! You have the Eye of the Spine!

Many years ago, when I was working out the geography of Vokhtah, I came up with this rather crude map:

The blue blob at the top of the map [just above the label for ‘The Spine’] was my idea of how the ‘Eye of the Spine’ might look. I never imagined I’d ever find a real picture that actually looked like the eye of a Vokh! -dance-

As a quick explanation, the map is drawn from the perspective of a Vokh, one of the flying alien species in the story of Vokhtah. The eyes of both Vokh and iVokh have vertical pupils similar to those of a cat. Unlike cats, however, their nictating membrane [semi-transparent, inner eyelid] opens and closes vertically rather than horizontally.

Thus, from a certain angle, a Vokh flying high above that lake would see the shape of an ‘eye’, its own eye. Hence the name given to the lake.

I’m going to count this amazing find as ‘research’ rather than play. 😀

cheers

Meeks

 


Fried Rice with Soffritto

Most people know what fried rice is, but I bet very few of you know what ‘soffritto’ is. Don’t worry, I’ll give you a hint, in French it’s called ‘mirepoix’. Still no takers? Don’t feel bad. I didn’t know what soffritto was until a few months ago either.

Okay, no more teasing. Soffritto is an Italian flavour base made of onion, celery and carrot. All three ingredients are chopped very fine and then sauteed in olive oil or butter until they soften. When used in a bolognese, for example, the soffritto cooks down so much that you can’t distinguish the separate ingredients. But you can taste the rich flavour they impart to the dish.

For those with an inquiring mind, here’s a link to a full explanation:

http://www.italianfoodforever.com/2011/11/soffritto-the-holy-trinity-of-italian-cuisine/

But what does an Italian flavour base have to do with an Asian dish? It turns said dish into a one-wok meal, that’s what!

This is a picture of what the finished dish looks like:

Apologies for the shadow. My head got in the way.

As you can see from the photo, there’s a lot going on in this dish. Apart from the carrot and celery there’s red capsicum, chopped bacon, sweet corn, spring onions and one egg. The dish would have been a bit healthier if I’d added some pulses, but that was a step too far, even for me. Read on for the recipe.

Ingredients

1 cup of long grain rice cooked using the absorption method [or any kind of rice you have on hand].

2 rashers of middle bacon, rind removed.

1 egg

1/2 of a red capsicum cut into thin strips

1 large stick of celery, washed and cut into thin strips

1 medium carrot, peeled and cut into thin strips

1 corn on the cob, cooked

3 spring onions [mostly the whites]

1 – 2 tablespoons of peanut oil

a few drops of sesame oil

about 1 tablespoon of light Soy Sauce to drizzle over

Method

Add the oil to the wok and bring it to medium heat. [I have a cast iron ring that sits on my gas burner and raises the wok above the flames. Highly recommended as it ensures more even heat to the wok].

Add the chopped bacon and fry gently until the bacon is just coloured.

Add the carrots, celery and capsicum to the bacon, lower the heat and sautee very gently [approx. 10 minutes]. It will look something like this:

Some of you may have noticed that my soffritto vegetables didn’t include onion. That’s because I’ll be using the spring onions to add a slightly more Asian flavour at the end of the dish. Oh, and the capsicum is in there because I really like capsicum. 🙂

While the soffritto mix is softening, cut the kernels of corn off the cob and give them a rough chop:

You can also chop the spring onions but do NOT add them to the dish yet.

Once the soffritto is done, add the corn and toss through the other ingredients:

Allow the corn to heat through for a minute or two and then add the rice:

Break the rice up in the wok and toss it through the soffritto base to absorb all those delicious flavours.

It was at this point of the cooking that I suddenly remembered I hadn’t cooked the egg ahead of time. Oh woe! Luckily, fried rice is a very forgiving dish. I pushed the rice to one side, cracked an egg straight into the wok and quickly turned it into scrambled egg with the spatula I use to toss the rice:

As always, abject apologies for the out-of-focus photo. 😦

Once the egg is incorporated into the rice mixture, there are only 3 ingredients left to add. Sprinkle a few drops of sesame oil over the rice [a little goes a long way]. Next, sprinkle or slosh the soy sauce on top. Add the chopped spring onions and quickly toss through the fried rice.

And that’s it. Serve in a small bowl and eat however you wish, chop sticks, forks, spoons, who cares. 🙂

If you have any rice left over, scrape it into a small saucepan and place in the fridge. When you’re ready to reheat, simply add a teaspoon of water to the pot – to stop the rice from burning – cover and steam gently for about 5 minutes.

Buon appetito!

chī chī chī” 吃吃吃 [I think this mean ‘eat, eat, eat’. Please correct me if it’s wrong!]

cheers

Meeks

 

 


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