Author Archives: Vironevaeh

Free Downloadable Science Brushes for Adobe Illustrator

I’ve used Adobe Illustrator for years, but I didn’t use brushes very much. This weekend I watch the course “Creating Custom Brushes”. My library gives me free access to through their website; yours might too so check it out.

In my zeal, I created a few science-themed custom pattern brushes. Two of them are created from real experimental data. You can see them drawn onto paths below. If you like them, you can download the .ai files through my Creative Cloud presence at the following link:

If you use the files, please satisfy my curiosity, and either comment here or mention my twitter handle @Vironevaeh. I hope they are as fun to use as they were to make!

What are the paths? (counting from the top)

  1. The top path is loosely based on the body-centered cubic crystal (BCC) structure. A real BCC crystal has atoms in the middle of every cube, rather than every other. It also extends in all three dimensions. Iron and chromium form BCC crystals.
  2. This path is real experimental data from coupled Colpitts oscillators. A Colpitts oscillator is a simple electronic oscillator made from resistors, inductors, capacitors, and a transistor. Without coupling, the oscillations are simpler; the interactions cause them to make this interesting pattern.
  3. This path is the “skeletal formula” for a random organic molecule. Next time I will make some polymers, but this one was for play.
  4. A cubic molecule.
  5. More real experimental data, this time from an electrochemical experiment. This is the current produced from the dissolution of nickel oxide in acid. Here, six oscillators are locked in a pattern. (Note that this path has a lot of anchors so it’s a little slow. Maybe this one was more for my fun.)



Utopias in America

Does dystopia seem more tangible than utopia? Media such as Handmaid’s Tale, Hunger Games and Mad Max depict fractured futures. Science and economics speak of the effects of climate change, the next big flu pandemic, wealth inequality, and dark campaign money.

Utopianism seems gullible and naive, while dystopianism seems world-weary and chic. But it wasn’t always this way. 19th century America was littered with utopian societies. There were the Shakers, the Rappites, the Owenites, the Associationists, the Oneidans (yes, the silverware folks), The Amanans (yes, the refrigerator folks), and others. Look it up; there were probably utopian communities in your area too. In St. Louis, the Icarians briefly settled near present-day Dogtown. A German utopian group called the Giessen Emigration Society settled near Washington, Missouri. In New Mexico, we have Blackdom, a settlement for black families; there’s also the Faithists who founded the Shalam community. Most of these communities lasted only briefly, but vestiges of many remain; Washington, Missouri remains heavily German today although the surrounding area is not.

Some utopian colonies, like Blackdom, were more pragmatic than religious or dogmatic; Blackdom was founded to leave behind the KKK and Jim Crow. Millenarians, like the Shakers, believed that the Second Coming was imminent; they had to prepare for a thousand years of heaven on Earth, as predicted in the book of Revelations in the Bible. This thinking was influential in the Second Great Awakening. Others, like Robert Owen’s Owenites, were secular and believed that the industrial revolution could be harnessed to improve life if people pooled their efforts.

So why were there so many utopias founded in the United States in the 19th century? Europeans interpreted the Biblical arc of history as traveling from east to west; they saw history as starting in the Middle East, advancing in Europe, and ending in the Americas. The American revolution still seemed truly revolutionary, but also to some, incomplete. There was a lot of cheap land available for purchase. The industrial revolution destabilized long-standing traditions. The woman who brought Shakerdom to the United States, Ann Lee, grew up in the industrial miseries of Manchester, England–the city where Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels also developed their social theories.

These intellectual ties to 20th century communism probably explain why we’ve forgotten these kooky and imaginative social experiments. Marx and Engels used the term “communism” because “socialism” was so tied to Robert Owen in the public imagination. The utopias of the 19th century inspired later communist theory, but they differ immensely from later authoritarian regimes. They were voluntary social experiments. The Shakers were led by a woman and preached celibacy and gender equality. Many advocated gender equality, universal education, sexual liberty (or at least relaxation), and later, abolitionism.

The utopian thinking of the 19th century, though largely forgotten, was influential. Robert Owen spoke to congress twice and President John Q. Adams displayed a diagram of Owen’s utopian “parallelogram” in the White House. Many of the famous transcendentalists of New England, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, participated in the Utopian colony of Brook Farm. The famous editor, Horace Greeley, advocated Associationism. Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, was brought up in the vegetarian Fruitlands Utopian Colony. (Not strictly relevant but hilarious: In the book Paradise Now, the author describes a few Fruitlands residents; “the community included… a man who refused to eat tubers because any vegetable that grows downward displays questionable ambitions;” another man “advocated spiritually cleansing obscenity. ‘Good morning, damn you,’ was his preferred salutation.”)

I think today’s dystopianism and 19th century utopianism are two sides of the American coin–we think expansively. Things are either the worst or we’re going to create heaven on earth in western Indiana. Both utopianism and dystopianism emerge from the observation of fault in today’s society. Both today’s dystopianism and 19th century Millenarianism utopianism are obsessed with the end of the world. Current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has raised eyebrows with his talk of the rapture. Either way, we like to think that, when it all goes down, we’ll be at the center of it.

Some good resources on American Utopianism

Apple Watch: Water Polo and Swimming

I am a verified stat head. I keep a spreadsheet of my swimming yardage. I love to swim on intervals and work against the clock. I always missed that feedback playing water polo.

I recently got an Apple Watch. I intended it mostly for swimming, but I wore it for a few water polo scrimmages, out of curiosity. I’d never had any statistical insight into those workouts.

Below are examples of heart rates for a swim set and a water polo scrimmage.

The swim set is so orderly. The first plateau is my 500 yard warm-up. I go really hard to see how I’m feeling that day. Then a gap, then kicking. Then I take a break before the main swimming set. While I’m swimming, the trace is pretty constant (sometimes even more than this one), and when I take breaks, the trace drops. The fluctuations at the end are 6 x 50s, alternating between sprint and recovery.

The water polo trace is so noisy. They all look this way. You can see my warm-up and some inactivity before the play starts, but after that it gets fuzzy. The whole last 3/4 looks like the sprint/recovery set from swimming. The average BPM are nearly the same.

I love water polo and swimming, but these traces lent insight into why some people like one and not the other. I hadn’t realized just how different they were as workouts.

Soviet Anti-Alcohol Propaganda

After visiting the Museum of Communism in Prague, I have been fascinated with propaganda posters. They share attractive design and typographical movements from their brethren in advertising, but they are grounded in darkness. Advertisements appeal to desire, ambition, family, and goodness (to a laughable extent, seriously is there anything more candy-coated than a McDonald’s or a Coca Cola ad?) ; propaganda posters appeal to fear, resentment, social-approbation, and shame. Advertisements recede into history, but they retain their emotional glow—we still enjoy old neon hotel signs and Coca Cola ads on the side of brick buildings. Propaganda maintains its darker emotions too—some of the kinder ones, like Rosie the Riveter, have crossed into pop culture, but war bonds posters from WWI and racist posters from WWII have understandably vanished.

Propaganda posters from other cultures fascinate me because they contain grim honesty. What people were meant to fear and how that fear was instilled is telling. It seems to me that propaganda varies between nations more than advertising because differences are often the source of fear.

The publishing company FUEL has a series of interesting books about Russian and Soviet culture. Their book Alcohol collects dozens of Soviet anti-drinking posters. Some of their are stylish. Some are tacky. They depict every manner of disordered drinking–children drinking, drinking during pregnancy, factory workers drinking, drivers drinking, people drinking poisonous moonshine. These are distressing ideas; they must have occurred often enough to cause anxiety.

I’ve mentioned this book to several people, and they are always surprised to hear that Russia ever suggested drinking less. They find drinking and Russia to be synonymous. Most of these posters are from the 1980s, as part of an initiative under Gorbachev. If American perception is any measure, the propaganda seems to have been ineffective.

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February 17, 2018

I haven’t disappeared; I have been traveling a lot for family illness. I’m finding rhythm again, so I think I’ll be posting again soon.

Tea for December: Week 3

It’s been a challenging week, but tea has been my companion. At the beginning of the month, I wondered if I would be able to stay interested for 31 days. The more I learn, the more curious I am. This little challenge will stick with me for a long time.

Little tea factoid of the week

Tea is like wine: there are many different cultivars (cultivated varieties) and teas taste different when grown in different soils and in different weather. Like wine, teas that grow in challenging environments gain interesting flavors; many famous growing regions in China, India, and Taiwan are over a mile in elevation.

Unlike wine, tea can be picked multiple times per year. Darjeeling autumn crescendo is the fourth and final picking of the year. For various teas, there are spring pickings, summer pickings, monsoon pickings, and winter pickings. Some teas are made only from specific leaves; Pai Mu Tan white tea is made with the bud and the first two leaves. Some premium teas are even more selective.

With all these variables, there are many ways to make a tea. 31 days starts to seem like not so many days to fill.


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Tea for December: Week 2

The tea consumption continues! This weekend I went to the shop and got adventurous. It’s going to be a flavorful December! Some days I revisit an old stand-by, some days I try something brand new. Every day I learn something new about tea. This week, I tried straight Assam tea for the first time, and had my first Taiwanese and Thai teas.

Little tea factoid of the week

Tea all comes from the camellia sinensis plant. There are two subspecies: var. sinensis and var. assamica. Sinensis is the Chinese version that has been cultivated in China for many centuries. Assamica was first globally known in 1823, found in eastern India.

Before the discovery of Assam tea, China supplied Britain with tea. Britain really wanted tea, but China only wanted silver bullion in return. Britain began introducing opium to China to create demand for a product more easy to produce than bullion. Between 1821 and 1837, British delivery of opium increased fivefold. During this time, Britain also began extensive tea plantations in India. Britain got their tea fix and China went on to suffer the Opium Wars.

Today, Assam tea is still grown in the Assam region of India. It’s maltier in flavor, and if you’ve had English Breakfast tea, you’ve probably had a blend with some Assam tea. I don’t drink my tea with milk, but Assam tea is supposed to be especially good with it.


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