My New Hero

My brother threw me a link today. I clicked, and found myself looking at some pretty amazing rock sculptures. No, not just pretty amazing, downright stunning. There are quotes there, about finding the ‘tripod’ (which I call the three points of contact — always remembering that three points define a plane), and about finding that inner, most steady self.

His site, Gravity Glue, has more examples both of his ability to refute gravity and his skill as a photographer.

I hate the guy. Seriously. Tangentially and completely unrelated, I need to start balancing rocks again, and I need to go back in time and photograph my earlier efforts properly.


Rock Stacking and Balancing

I have in the past posted several episodes with photos of what I called “Rock Stacks.” It turns out that most of them were not stacks at all. What I have been doing all along is Rock Balancing.

I discovered this while checking the Search Engine hits that brought people to my blog. Occasionally “Rock Stacking” generates a hit. I decided the check some of the other matches, and came upon this page, which discusses the difference. The same search linked to an episode here at Muddled Ramblings called The Man is Keeping Me Down.

I’m not unhappy about being wrong. I have long tried to differentiate my delicate and transient works from the cairns and other piles that the kids are doing these days. I like their stacks, but the goals of the two crafts are different. Stacks are very much about the setting, and as you can see if you follow the above link, there are some pretty nice ones. From now on, therefore, I will adopt the correct nomenclature.

I do have one thing in common with the stackers, however. Most rock balancers create spires with three rocks, while I’m rarely content with that. Three rocks is relatively simple: base, left hand, and right hand – fiddle and nudge until everything is stable. It’s the rock you put on top of that mess (or if you use rocks too big to manipulate with only one hand) that really makes the thing. As a result many of my favorite efforts have come out something of a hybrid between stacking and balancing. Ultimately, however, it is the impossible-seeming, gravity-defying balance that I like the most.

An incomplete spire, but the tiny contact zones are lost in the background jumble.

An incomplete spire, but the tiny contact zones that make it interesting are lost in the background jumble.

While I’m on the subject of rock balancing, while on the cruise my partners in crime and I did some pretty sweet balancing of whatever items were handy. Naturally some of the items were glass, which makes the result more interesting and also makes the crew of the boat more nervous. Add in waves and you have yourself a party! I don’t have any pictures of the results (I was busy stacking balancing after all, and one of the stacks balances(?) included my camera), but others took pics. I’d love to link to those pictures here, if people will send URL’s.

Also on the boat was a guy who is way into 3D photography. He showed me how ridiculously simple it is to take 3D shots (the hard part is viewing them). One of the key things about 3D is that it really helps separate the subject from the background. Many of my old rock stack balance spire photos suffer from the rocks being exactly the same color and texture as the background. Boy, 3D would make those pictures better. If you poke around at Rock on, Rock ON! you will see some really good balancing (better than I have pulled off to date), including one 3D shot.

Next time…

Bar 300

I set out today to scout a place called Jazz Dock, a venue recommended by one of our musicians as a spot we could film the concert at a respectable hour. Let’s face it, one of the themes of the movie is the difference between the day world and the night world, and we are planning to simulate the night world during the day. The reason: the best places to film have actual concerts at night.

Jazz Dock is a new place, and is therefore not totally booked up. It is also completely, 100% wrong for our film. Oh, well. So there I was in Smichov, hanging with the guy doing the original music for the final scene. “Want to have a beer somewhere?” he asked.

He’s opening a sound studio around the corner from here soon, so he’s a bit familiar with the local drinkeries. His recommendation: Jungle Bar. As we walked it occurred to me that this would be bar 300 on my list.

Only, Jungle Bar was closed, and missed its chance at immortality. Bar 300 is instead Ragtime Bar, which is connected to Jungle Bar but had the advantage of being open. And here I sit. It’s a nice place.

Nice, but I can’t come up with much more to say about it. There’s lots of wood, which is good, a moderate amount of kitsch but not enough to bother me, decent music (not ragtime) playing, but somehow all of that leaves something missing. This despite the fact that we’re by the river and I had a great view across to the other side as the sun set and lit up the buildings. Meanwhile, a bunch of older guys who made me think ‘mafia’ were meeting here. What’s not to like?

Honestly, I have no idea. When you look at any individual facet of the place it comes across well, but in this case the whole is less than the sum of the parts. I think it comes down to a feeling that the place is calculated. It’s like a really well-executed chain restaurant. I’m not entirely sure what a place can to about that, except to allow the customers to leave an imprint on the place, to provide a little funkiness and family vibe. But pragmatically speaking, how do you bring that about?

Of course there’s always rock-stacking. There’s a way to set your bar apart: a stack pit, a web cam, exotic stones from around the world — some rounded, some angular. When the bar opens the stacks from the night before (if still standing) are knocked down with a toast to gravity. That would be the best bar ever.


Stackers know stackers

Tonight I was in the crossfire of a discussion between a new parent and expectant parents. The subject of appropriate toys came up (a subject I was not shy about participating in), and blocks were mentioned. You know what I did with blocks? I stacked them. The yellow pillars were good for altitude, but the red wedges were where the elegance happened. Until tonight, I had forgotten those stacks.

As I sat reminiscing, thousands of miles away another friend was writing me an email. You see, during my wanderings I have enjoyed the hospitality of a Piker family in Central California. More gracious hosts you will never find, but it is Lillian who makes the visit special. Within minutes of our first meeting (seconds, actually) she was attached to my leg, and I never really could figure out why.

Until now.

Now that’s an elegant stack. The kid’s a natural.

The Fields! The Fields!

I signed up to be judged at the Apple Design Awards this year. I really wanted to get one more release out before submitting, but it turns out that builds I do on my laptop aren’t working right. It doesn’t like some of the files I transferred over to the other machine, but it won’t say why. (Actually, is was only by accident that I discovered that a couple of the dialog boxes won’t load. I almost did a crippled release, which would not have pleased the judges.

There are two steps for entering. Fill out an online form, then send in the software. It did not go smoothly. Here is the message I sent to them:

OK, so finally I took the time to enter. I went to the site, selected country and type of entrant, then went to the next page and filled out all the stuff. Then I hit send. D’oh! Forgot to click the accept button by the rules. Did that, clicked go on, and on the next page all the fields were empty! The fields! The fields! All that work! All those words, lost, gone forever. Then I hit the back button, thinking, those words are still back there somewhere! Safari will know them.

Somewhere in there the “Thanks for registering” screen came up. At this point I have no idea whether you got my lovingly-crafted submission or whether you got a bunch of empty fields. As a writer I am required by law to be neurotic, so rather than waiting for you to contact me if something’s wrong, I am compelled to bother you about it.

ALSO, just so we’re on the up-and-up, I spend a lot of time in the Czech Republic, which for some reason is not an eligible country. (Yet China, pirate nation, is. I don’t get that.) Anyway, While this was mostly developed in San Diego, and I’m in New Mexico right now (which is mostly in the US), complainers and whiners could point to my strong Czech presence (although I don’t have a visa there and can’t stay longer than 90 days at a stretch) as grounds for disqualification. I’d rather you knew that now, rather than after I get the best in show prize. Really, my primary place of business is my laptop.

The best answer would be to make the Czech Republic eligible. Heck, why exclude any EU nation?

Thanks for your help.

After the form went in I got an automatic reply, with instructions on how to upload my software. It turned out to be remarkably simple. They have a cool thing set up where I had a temporary virtual ftp account of some sort that automatically put my entry in a bin where they could match it up with the entry. Pretty slick.

That was a couple of days ago. I’m in the wild unknowns of Northern New Mexico right now, where ‘broadband’ is thought by most to be an all-female musical group. I just managed to get online (dialup is painful) and there was a polite reply from the folks at Apple waiting for me. The form they got was filled out properly, but they said they didn’t have the software I uploaded. That’s the part that had worked flawlessly! Now I must scurry tomorrow to find broadband and upload the puppy again, before the deadline. Good thing I got some rock-stacking in today (a brief but heavy snowfall just added to the charm).

New Toys!

When Soup Boy moved out, he left a legacy behind. Nothing major — some dead flowers, some rocks, a few other odds and ends. I’ve long since taken care of most of those things, but after the disruption caused by the Great Flood of ’06, I was confronted once more with an odd assortment of pebbles and small stones. They ended up on the table where I put my laptop when I’m using it at home. So there I sat this morning, reflecting on the irony that it was the rocks that I was having difficulty getting rid of. I couldn’t put them in the yard, because the landlord would run over them with the lawn mower. Just putting them in the street seemed irresponsible, and putting them in the trash wouldn’t be nice to anyone.

City Life, I tell ya’.


Rock Stack SBL-1. Nothing mind-blowing, but likely the first of many.

This morning I was mulling this oddity of modern life, asking myself where I could put the rocks when I realized one particular rock clearly belonged on top of one of the others. I stared in disbelief, stunned that I had not noticed that simple fact before. After a few fairly aggressive stacks tumbled I relocated the operation so that I was not working my near the glass coffee table, and that was pretty much it for my morning.

Stacking small rocks is noticeably different than stacking large ones. The biggest difference is that the tiny adjustments you make to adjust the balance have a much more dramatic effect on a small rock, and even the smallest disturbance can have catastrophic effect. Getting all the pieces to work together can be tricky. On the other hand, it only takes a little bit of friction to keep a small stone at an improbable angle. The biggest advantage of the small stones is obvious when the stack falls over.

Eventually I got a stack that was fairly stable if not particularly breathtaking, and before I added the One More Thing I hauled out the big camera, tiptoed around the apartment while the batteries charged up, and then snapped a few picks. Maybe I can hone my rock stack photography skills as I practice my rock stacking.

Of course, then I tried to add the One More Thing and the stack collapsed, but that was all right. The rocks are still there, waiting for me.

Menorca – Land of Stacked Rocks

People have been living here a long time. When the Romans came this way they found the island (map) already inhabited, and the locals were stacking rocks. They had already made rock towers and rock shelters and rock walls between fields, and they have been stacking rocks ever since. If you visit this fine island, ignore the guide books. They have no idea at all what it is that makes this place special. Get your ass out of Maó, pronto; it is nothing more than a shameless mortar-using hive of modernity. No, my friend, get out of town, and explore the back roads (lined with stone walls stacked over the centuries), take in the ancient rock stacks, dodge the horrible giant resort hotels and find a secluded beach or dramatic cliff overlooking the sea.

Then it’s time to stack some rocks.

Today limited time and high winds hampered my efforts somewhat, but I did get a couple of nice stacks. Right at the end I had another stack (Menorca 3) going, and it felt like I was pushing the boundaries of world-class rock stacking. Alas, the top two rocks, while improbable, were not aesthetically pleasing, and I blew the stack when greedily adding a very large intermediate rock to set up the edgy top rocks. For Menorca 3 I was near a heavily-traveled hiking trail, and I had a couple dozen passers-by linger as I experimented with different top treatments. Maybe it was the pressure of the onlookers that undid me. I wonder how I appeared to them, scruffy and dusty, as I assessed the local lithage, selected interesting candidates, and hefted them with great concentration — I imagine I looked like some mad rock-stacking hermit (an image that pleases me greatly). But time was limited, and though I finally had in my mind just what I wanted to do, Avis waits for no man, and returning the car late would have been very, very expensive. the rocks tumbled one more time, and away we went.

I did, however, manage to document one complete stack (later enhanced by my two companions), and one partial stack. (approximate location)

Rock Stack “Menorca 1” (photo by Brian Sweeny)
“Menorca 1” (background) and “Menorca 2 (incomplete)”
Menorca 2 (complete) is undocumented, as my camera’s battery finally gave it up and a strong blast of wind hit the delicate structure as I was making a meaningless adjustment, before a backup camera could be brought to bear.

My best work went undocumented this time around, and that’s my fault. I got greedy. Just one more rock. The one complete rock stack standing at the end of the day was relatively simple, but very elegant. I need to study that stack and learn from it. One more rock is not always the right decision.

The Man Is Keepin’ Me Down

This just in from the parental news service:

Some of you are probably already aware of my penchant for stacking rocks upon each other when the opportunity presents itself. In Prague, although the streets and sidewalks are often made of stones, pulling them up and stacking them is discouraged. But this! This is an outrage! I think the photo was taken in Hawaii somewhere.
Apparently in Hawaii they don’t appreciate art. Sure, sure, they use rock piles to mark the trails and people would wander off, get lost, and fall into a volcano, but that’s a small price to pay, don’t you think?

You see where this is heading, don’t you? First it’s public safety, just an isolated case, nothing to worry about. But then, once the anti-stackists have a foothold, they will work away, slowly eroding our God-given right to balance stones up one another, gradually stigmatizing the practice until rock-stacking will only be done in remote areas and well-protected compounds in the desert.

I am outraged!

Litho, Ergo Sum

I need to be going soon, to get the pups back to Los Alamos and to meet up with Jojo et. al. to go watch Zozobra. So this morning I was right here in this chair, checkin email and whatnot, generally procrastinating. Outside the window was a stack of rocks. A few feet away was another rock, and as I looked at it I realized that rock had to go on top of the stack. It went from being an observation to an obsession in just a few minutes. The rock was yearning to be put in its proper place.

Time to take the dogs out. While the dogs explored I put the rock where it so clearly belonged, a definitive refutation of Aristotle. Mission accomplished, I noticed that there was a nice flat spot on the new rock that called for another rock on top of it. Thus was a monster created. There are now five new sculptures (if I may be so bold) in the area surrounding Five O’Clock Somewhere. Well, four and a half—one’s just a little guy.

rock pile 1
Rock Pile 1. I added the top three rocks to the existing pile. Hey, this is fun!

Rock Pile 2

Rock Pile 2, going for altitude!

Rock Pile 3

Rock Pile 3, defying gravity.
That top rock is pretty big.

Rock Pile 4

Rock Pile 4, getting fancier.
I almost knocked the whole thing down while doing “one last little adjustment”. This picture doesn’t show the structure that well, but I like its drama.