Sunday, December 4, 2016

Goodbye Ginger

It was over two decades ago during my first year of vet school that I lost my childhood cat, Blackie, and found myself going with a mentor to select two new cats to adopt from the colony that lived at his farm. It was with a heavy and reluctant heart I looked over the crowd, drawn by their dinner of cat food spread in a wide dish in the center of the barn floor. I didn't want another cat, I was still grieving the loss of Blackie, but we lived in an old country house and mice were a very real issue out there.
These are not the droids you are looking for.
From the many cats of varying ages, colours and sizes one that I picked was a small orange-and-white female who we named Ginger. I chose her because she was one of the last cats still eating at the communal food bowl after everyone else had dispersed, I figured a good appetite and persistence meant she was probably robust and healthy. I was right. Today, at just shy of 23 years of age, we said goodbye to Ginger. 
In those first years in Prince Edward Island she learned to hunt, and what a hunter she was! While we lived in the old house she kept the mouse population in check. When we later moved to Saskatchewan her hunting options were greatly reduced but that was fine by her, she was just as happy to sit in the sun. 
However, once in a while she would catch something, but instead of making a gift to us of a dead mouse or bird she would give it to Michael (the lovely but dumb-as-a-post three-legged cat). He would toss his 'prey' in the air proud as punch as she sat somewhere nearby grooming her paws and watching him smugly.
Vomit on me one more time Michael...

On one of our numerous cross-country (and inter-country) moves she even sat with Michael in the back of the car. At least until his motion sickness got the better of him and he vomited on her head., at which point Michael was banished and it was several days before he made it back into Ginger's good graces again. 

Ginger was an old soul. Never really excitable, she loved to get affection, she loved to sit in the sun and contemplate life, she loved to take a little walk about the yard and nibble some grass and most of all she loved her food....

She was heathy most of her life, except for a mild rhinitis that flared up from time to time. She developed thyroid issues in the past few years and, as is common for old cats, some mild kidney issues. Over the past months though her health had started to deteriorate with a few low points followed by a rally when we made changes to her treatment.
We've said goodbye to many (many) pets over the years and one thing we've observed is that if you are paying attention they usually will tell you when it's time. She had significantly declined in the past week and this morning she just looked spent and was having trouble walking. True to her nature she still ate a bit for us when we brought her a fresh can of Friskies, but you could see in her eyes how tired she was. We knew that today it was time. 
We sat in the warm Caribbean sun on our back patio. She had some food and water and then just slept while I stroked her. Placing the catheter barely bothered her. When we had said our goodbyes and started to inject the barbiturate she sighed once and left us.
It's strange. 
We are sad, of course. It is the sorrow of loss. It is the empty space she has left in our household. 
But at the same time it's hard to feel too sad when we think about her life. She was happy and healthy for close to twenty-three years. She has lived in many places; from the east coast of Canada to the broad prairies, from the suburbs of Chicago to a remote town six thousand feet up in the Colorado mountains, from the freezing cold of Saskatchewan to the tropical heat of St. Kitts. She was an elegant old lady and lived a long and full life. 
So we are sad, but at the same time we are happy for a good life, well lived. 
Tonight we raise a glass to Ginger!

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Saturday in the Studio

I'm in the studio this afternoon - it's a quiet, peaceful day today. This weekend is a long weekend here in celebration of St. Kitts' Independence and I expected downtown Basseterre to be crazy busy but instead it's actually surprisingly empty.

Flamboyant (St. Kitts' national tree) in Independence Square from the studio window.
The weather today is relatively cool (for this time of year), it is grey and overcast. We've had a fair bit of rain so the air, normally very muggy, is even more soft and thick and fragrant. I forget during the drier seasons just how lovely this place smells when the plants are fresh and the flowers in bloom. It's just one of those days I love! I even have a couple of companions on the roof outside my studio window....

Two pigeons keeping me company today
And in spite of this post I actually ~AM~ getting work done! I am trying to capture the progress on one of my current pieces 'Lickfoot' to make a timelapse video like I did once before with my lion scratchboard (HERE). I think I have found a camera setup that might work! My setup isn't the most technically advanced (yes, the camera is clinging to a piece of wood taped to an easel XD) but it seems to be getting the job done - no promises, but I'm hopeful!

First stage of a scratchboard - the sketch!
Now back to work!

~ Pam

Saturday, May 14, 2016


Because I found this...

I made this....

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Dream deeply

There are many things that fascinate me - some visually, some emotionally, some intellectually.  I subscribe to the Singularity Hub newsletter and enjoy browsing IFL Science when I can, as both of those sites generally stimulate and sate my intellectual curiosity. But sometimes things that I stumble across in those places satisfy multiple curiosities at once, and Google's Deep Dream is one of them. It invokes the same fascination I have for fractal images and architectural drawings... while also making me wonder what it would be like to try LSD.

If you haven't heard of it I'll give you a layperson's rundown (I really have no idea what I'm talking about, so if you want the real scoop read this great blog post). My understanding is that the ongoing quest to develop AI that can recognize images (not just match pixels but actually interpret the image) is part of a broader area of research into artificial neural networks (the underpinnings of true computer learning). When they train an artificial neural network to recognize a certain thing they show it tonnes of different images of the thing and it, not unlike the way the human brain does, interprets what it 'sees' through various stages of recognition (shapes, lines, then associations with other structures, etc) to learn what the target thing is.

They can test how this training is going by giving the computer some 'noise' (random pixels of color) and asking the neural network to visualize the thing they are trying to train it to, it will show what it has learned and you can see how on-target that is to the images you want it to be looking for. Basically this strategy shows researchers the difference between what they are teaching and what is actually being learned (as a teacher I have come to appreciate very much the gap that can exist between those two things and how important it is!).

So here's the fun part. For the  Deep Dream Generator Google has created a website that allows you to upload images to their neural network (one not trained for any particular image, I believe) and it is set to visualize what it perceives in the image. The results are freaky and intriguing and sometimes beautiful... the digital painting that I posted in the last blog post looks like this after being run through Deep Dream:

Come on - tell me that isn't awesome.. and creepy...

I think this whole thing taps into the same wonder I feel watching someone look at a piece of my art - especially if it's not a photorealistic piece. Is the subject sad or tired, or just contemplative? What are they feeling? What does the atmosphere feel like? What just happened? What is about to happen?

Each person views an image through their own filter and sees the piece a little bit differently - and looking at Deep Dream's images shows what feels like an alien, yet somehow weirdly familiar, kind of visual filter.

It also makes me feel like there are hidden chimeric animals all around me. And really - invisible gerbilfish just can't help but make the world a bit more awesome, amiright?