Thursday, July 29, 2010

SF Queens

In 1971 Bobby Fischer was on the verge of becoming the World chess champion. In the U.S. interest in chess was at an all-time high and games could be found in progress at every lunch break. I had finally landed a job as an eligibility worker in San Francisco's Food Stamp program. Getting my first paycheck, I went next door to a Goodwill shop and bought an antique bone chess set for ten dollars.

I was thrilled with my purchase of the chess pieces because of their graceful design. Over the years, I have searched for clues about the origins and age of my chess set, but to no avail. The pieces are made from columns and disks of bone, turned on a lathe and threaded with tap and die for assembly. Red and white were the standard colors for chess pieces around the turn of the Century, and whale or camel bone often provided the raw material. My set exhibits the basic design simplicity that was introduced by Staunton in the late 19th Century, but the lines and proportions have a wonderful combination of strength and delicacy which I have never seen in another set.

The image above and a few others are available on the Free Wallpaper Downloads page of my web site.

I did a Google image search on "bone chess pieces" this morning and turned up an image of a set nearly identical to mine in an antiques sale listing. The context implies that the set is of American origin, though there is a good chance it is English. The red paint in the advertised set has faded, possibly from being displayed in a location too exposed to the light.

"[Item] 109, Ivory or bone chess set. Early 20th century (or earlier). [Estimated value:] $50-$150."

And then I found another image of the set on Flickr. I also found a couple ebay listings which describe the pieces as being "antique ox bone". I would still very much like to know who designed and produced the set, and when.

The chess set turned up again in an Aug. 29, 2014 photo essay in the New York Times.  This time it was set up ready for a match in front of a New York psychiatrist.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

game pieces

One of the most interesting features available in all 3D computer graphics programs is the capacity to emulate forms produced by a lathe. In SketchUp the "follow-me" function is most often used for this purpose. A 2D cross-section of a form is drawn, and that is then spun around a central axis to produce the rounded 3D form. While one can thus produce round vase-like objects, the process is also useful for creating new shapes and surfaces through the intersection and joining with other shapes.

The pawn figures were actually an intermediate step in the creation of a thumb-latch in the model I am working on at present. After spinning the form, I sliced it vertically through the middle, and then laid it over on the newly-created flat surface. I like the simple elegance of the unaltered form, however, and perhaps I'll use it as-is in some future composition.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

shape shifting

When I get stuck trying to model a particular shape in SketchUp my first step often is to do a search on "SketchUp [shape name]". That sometimes turns up a solution if the problem is a common one. Recently, for instance, I was able to generate a shape I needed, but when I tried to combine it with another I ended up with a bunch of fractured faces. It turned out that I just needed to up the scale of the model by a factor of ten to achieve a higher level of precision in joining complex surfaces.

Failing to find a needed solution via the search engine, I turn to plugins, which are Ruby-scripted add-ons for SketchUp which extend its capabilities. That seldom solves any immediate problems, but it does provide the opportunity to play with some interesting shapes. The above shape was generated by an edge extrusion plugin from a suite written by TIG and posted on the SketchUcation site.

The above shape also demonstrates what it is you have to work with in SketchUp and most other computer graphics programs. There are only vertices, straight lines and flat surfaces, which are defined by triangles or quadrangles. Smoothing curved surfaces is accomplished by adding additional basic elements, such as in the subdivision of surfaces with additional vertices and edges.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Chapter 2

(Write your own caption.)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

lonely penguin

I'm slowly working my way through the Blender tutorials. My models never look quite like the examples, but they are close enough so that I feel I'm making some progress.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Back at the Airport

I'm working at learning the rather daunting interface of the Blender 3D drawing program. Meanwhile, I'm still having fun noodling around with Google SketchUp.

The small airport composition is made mostly from recycled parts. The planes were replicated from a previous drawing. The two figures, the bike rack and the bench are from SketchUp's sample box. The spiral stairs is nearly a one-click production, thanks to the marvelous on line plugin from The Engineering Toolbox.

The inspiration for my small airport came in part from the ad below which appeared in the Nov. 1944 issue of Popular Mechanics. I also have my own memories of flying off grass strips in the '40s and '50s in Kent and Renton, Washington.

It certainly made good sense for Aeronca to target farmers with their ad pitch for new dealers. Farmers had the land, as well as the necessary mechanical and construction skills to support such an undertaking. I don't know how many such ventures were successful; probably a rather small percentage in the long run, I'd guess. Ultimately, of course, the small airports succumbed to the same suburban development onslaught that contributed to killing off the small farms.

I suppose there is still some possibility that one could start up a small aviation business these days, but the budding entrepreneur had better have an MBA, and maybe a minor in computer science.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Meeting Suzanne

Suzanne is the iconic mascot of the Blender 3D drawing program.

I thought I should give the program a try; it is open-source and free. Blender has built-in animation and rendering capabilities. More importantly for me, it is capable of producing organic designs which are hard to achieve in Google's SketchUp. I've had fun so far learning a bit about the user interface, and tinkering with the controls. Whether the program can be mastered by the average 70-year-old is something that remains to be seen.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010