Tough decision

Here’s the thing… travel to Europe from Dublin can be crazy-cheap.

Last Monday (November 20th) Paula turned in her final project for her masters degree and a celebration was in order.  Knowing the event was coming we started preparing well in advance.  We figured the frugal thing to do would be to drive somewhere and haven’t been to western Ireland yet so Paula started looking into places to stay.  We assumed it wouldn’t be too expensive, November is windy, wet and cold in Ireland isn’t high season for travel.  The hotels were, however, pricey.

Out of curiosity we decided to price a flight to somewhere warmer.  Cha-ching!  Airfare to Rome: 100 Euros… round trip… for both of us… including luggage.  A full tank of gas costs us 55 Euros, the hotel was less and (here’s the kicker) the weather in Rome is hovering around 70 degrees Fahrenheit versus around 50 degrees in Ireland.

Can you say “no brainer”?  I knew you could.

Paula and Reeves in Rome


Quickie cartoon me

For a while now I’ve been wanting a caricature of myself.  Several friends have cool buddy icons for messenger or as a tile on their blog.  Two things stopped me though: 1. my artistic talent is mediocre at best and 2. I’m too cheap to hire someone to make one for me.

So, what’s a cheap hack to do?  Why, come up with a quickie technique to make my own picture, of course.

0. Basic training

Before we get started, here are a few tips and notes:

  • I use Photoshop – it’s what I have, it’s what I know.  If you’re a photographer or an artist and looking for a great program, I highly recommend it. Many other paint, however, will work just great for this.
  • Make lots of layers – anytime you think you’re doing something new, make a new layer, you’ll thank me later.  Besides… CTRL-e (CMD-e on Mac) will merge a layer down so there’s no downside.
  • If you don’t like the results, try a different picture.  You’ll be surprised at how quick this can be and trying again is no trouble at all.
  • Small is good – starting with a little picture (I used one which is 150px by 150px) means less detail to distract you.  A cartoon version of you shouldn’t have much detail, Snoopy didn’t have whiskers, did he?
  • I figure you know how to use your paint program, so I skip a lot of detail.  If you have questions, ask, I probably need to clarify these steps.

1. Pick a pic

First, I selected a picture of myself I like.

Reeves and Paula in Goshen

I recommend using a brightly lit picture, I’ve re-tried this technique on a few different pictures and found dark images are hard to work with.

2. Double your fun

The next step will take all the color out of the picture, and you’ll want that color, so make a new layer.

Layer -> Duplicate Layer

As you go along and create new layers I highly recommend naming them. Later, when you want to edit a specific layer, it will be easier.

3. Xerox it

After drawing my first cartoon me on paper I figured out where the hard lines for my face were… but there’s a shortcut.  Use the Photoshop “photocopy” filter, it’s under sketch.


For this picture I simply set the detail all the way down (1) and the darkness all the way up (50).  You should play with it on your picture to get some good lines.

4. Trace elements

The photocopy filter has now given you a set of lines to trace.  It has probably given you too many, in fact, so don’t get greedy.  Try to draw the minimum number of lines.

Make a new layer (don’t duplicate this time, make a clean, new layer).  I named this layer “face”.

Grab the brush tool and set the color to black and set the size.  You’ll want to get a size which feels kinda cartoony, you can play with it to see what you like.  Go thinner for less drama, go thicker for a more Scanner Darkly look.  As a starting point, go with about 2% of your image size (my picture was 150×150, I used a brush size of 3px).

5. The straight and narrow

The trick to make this fast and easy (and make it look kinda cool) is to not draw freehand.  Pick a place to start (the jaw, under the ear, is a good one) and put a dot.  Next, pick a place along the jaw, hold down the shift key, and click again.  Photoshop will draw a line between the dots.


Continue along the outside of your face, a couple clicks on the jaw, one on the chin, back up the jaw, around the ear and follow your hairline around.  Once you’ve done the full face shape, add the hair using the same technique.

6. Eyes and ears and mouth and nose

Once you’ve finished the shape of the head, move to the eyes.  You should be able to get the shape with 3 to 4 clicks.  Start at one corner then click a couple more times to get the other corner. Draw a small box for each pupil. For my eyes I didn’t need to draw the bottom, just the top.

If you’re smiling in the picture you’ll likely have some smile lines, add those in. 

Eyes and nose

A few quick lines under the nose is all that’s needed to highlight the bottom and then one line for the side of your nose.

7. Color by numbers

Hide the photocopy layer so you can see your original picture under your lines.  Create a new layer above the photocopy layer but under your drawing.  Triple your brush size (9px in my case) to give more coverage and sample the color from some place on your face using the eyedropper.

Color away!

Eyes and nose

Now you need to add a little depth.  Create a new layer on top of the coloring you just did.  You’ll need a darker tone of flesh than you used before, so click the color palate (if you drop the “B” in the HSB section by about 10, you should be golden).

On a new layer use the shift-click technique again to trace the outer edges of your face, along your smile lines, under your nose, along one side of your nose and over your eye lids.

Eyes and nose

Sample your hair color and fill it in (I used the magic wand to speed up this step).  Adding a second hair color will also help (hide your hair color, create a new layer and sample some highlights to paint in with a medium-sized brush… say 5px).

Eyes and nose

8. Mad props

If you have a hat you always wear or (like me) you wear glasses, add those in now.  For glasses I recommend a thin brush to draw the frames (on a new layer, of course) and then draw the shape of the lenses in a neutral gray (on yet another layer).  Put the lens layer behind your face layer so the eyes appear to be showing through the lenses.

Eyes and nose

9. That’s all folks!

Now all that remains is to be sure your original picture and photocopy layers are turned off and save your new cartoon you.

Eyes and nose


Reeves is just catching up with the rest of the world

Paula already knew it.  Trina already knew it.  Aw heck, it seems most everyone else already knows… Buffy The Vampire Slayer is hilarious.


When I was back in Seattle last month I picked up seasons two through seven for Paula… and ended up watching most of the episodes with her.  I’d never really seen more than a few episodes here and there, Paula, however, had watched most of them and was hooked.

If you haven’t seen them you should.  Go sign up for NetFlix (no, I don’t get a kickback for pushing them) and load up your queue.  If you’re feeling like it you might as well throw in the movie that started it all.

Why, you ask? Because it has great lines like this:

“Martha Stewart isn’t a demon. She’s a witch. […] Nobody could do that much decoupage without calling on the powers of darkness.”

Movies Video Games

HD TV and Movies on demand? Thank you Xbox 360… almost

Mike aggregated some wonderful news about a new feature coming to Xbox 360 on November 22nd: video on demand. HD content will be available for free and for pay to download direct to your hard drive-equipped Xbox 360.

My first thought? SWEET! Living in Ireland has a lot of upside but the downside is no NetFlix and no TiVo. This service is the answer to a huge need.

Xbox 360 Projector

Your 360 is now a great way to watch movies!

Well… it would be the answer to my need if it weren’t for the fact that the service will be for US Xboxes only. I suppose it comes as no surprise given that international copyright law is a deep murky pool… filled with hungry sharks… and with little floaty things edged with razor blades… and all the ladders out are greased… and electrified.

At any rate, Xbox owners back in America: congratulations… [scowl grumble grumble]


The Emperor’s new wheels

AutoBlog posted some pictures of the latest in bling: invisible bling.  Say you have a little extra cheddar, aiight? To boost your steelo and pimp out your hoopty, jack some of these tight rims… they’re da bomb.

See-through rims: image (c) AutoBlog

For the 911 and more pix bounce over to AutoBlog.


What makes an interesting self portrait?

As I was browsing my friend network via my space… yes, I may yet breathe some life back into it… but I digress… I came across this self portrait in Tim’s space:


The picture itself wasn’t that striking to me until I read “self-portrait” in the post title.  This got me thinking… what makes an interesting self portrait?

True to my inner geek… admittedly I don’t keep it that deeply hidden, get within 3 feet of me and you’re likely collide, rather suddenly and sharply, with my “inner” geek carelessly strewn about… but once again I digress… true to geeky form I went to the web for answers.  I didn’t go looking for a treatise on the self-portrait, I wasn’t wanting for someone to spell it out for me,  I wanted to look at self portraits to try and understand what grabbed me.

Any image search will return thousands of self portraits… lots of paintings & drawings… fewer photographs.  The photos are, however, what I was looking for and find interesting.  Sure, there are a ton of pictures people took of themselves by holding the camera at arm’s length (and I love ’em, lord knows Paula and I have taken enough of those) but there are occasionally the pictures where you feel the picture contains a bit of “self”.  Self portraits which demonstrate the unique style of the artist (such as paintings by Van Gogh or photos by Warhol) are wonderful  but not quite what I was trying to find.  I was trying to find photos where it looked like the photographer was trying to tell the audience something more than “this is what I look like”.  Paintings, drawings and other “hand-made” likenesses allow the artist to dispense with some real world constraints and give a little glimpse into their inner-self, I want to do something like that with a camera.

I’m always telling myself I’ll start taking more pictures. I’ve been carrying my camera around on a daily basis, trying to keep an eye out for something interesting.  To and from work every day with my camera by my side… and yet… I have taken almost no pictures.  Tim’s picture got me thinking… I’m looking for subject matter… here’s some subject matter I’m carrying with me every day.

A picture taken of me, by me, will, by the very fact I took it, have some of my “self” imbued – it’s unavoidable.  Ask ten people to each take a picture of the same thing and you’ll get ten pictures.  Each picture will be affected by anything from the artist’s personality, sense of composition to things as simple as the height of the photographer (granted only five photos may be truly unique in an artistic sense, but you get my point).  I am going to try to unchain the creativity even more by allowing myself the unfettered use of Photoshop for this project as well.  It will still be a picture… and it will still be of me… but I’m hoping by adding a little “hand-made” to the photography I’ll be able to get closer to the “self” of self portrait than simply snapping a candid of Reeves.

I encourage the viewers at home to play along, I know Tami will be up for it.  I’m sure after I get through the first 4 ideas I have I’ll hit a wall and will need inspiration so I definitely encourage you to send me links to your work… oh, wait,  one exception: Steve, please refrain, I’m still going to therapy to recover from the last self portrait I received from you [shudder]… I’m going to try for a weekly (weakly?) self-portrait and hope my reliability for this project is better than it was for my picture a day for a year attempt which lasted all of 2 months. 

So…  Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more…

Net Video Games

A long way from home


Moving from California to a… well… less warm island can make one long for sunnier climates, Mexican food and definitely makes one miss their friends.  Thank goodness for cheap calls via VOIP, friends with blogs and the wonder that is Xbox live.  Last weekend we had a great time playing a very long-distance game of Ghost Recon. Ah… technology… ain’t it grand?