Art Deco Poster Design


A couple of weeks ago I got to design the main poster for the annual Remembering WWII event in Linden, TN. This is a local event organized by some good friends, and lots of folks from our church participate in it. Its main purpose is to honor WWII veterans, and let them teach important lessons from that war. There’s live music, lots of vintage vehicles, and an ever-growing battle re-enactment. I was really happy to get to work on this poster, and I gave it a late 1930s Art Deco style.

Obviously, actual American propaganda posters from WWII were painted in the 1940s, and the most iconic posters have a style and design elements from the 40s. There wasn’t as much Art Deco influence at that time, partly because design fads are usually short-lived, but also because of advances in printing technology. As cheap, mass poster production moved from basic screen printing to four color half-toning, poster design moved from simple geometric shapes and minimal colors to full color paintings, often by brilliant illustrators like Flagg, Barclay, and Rockwell.


However, an Art Deco poster is much easier to imitate than a Norman Rockwell painting, and much more retro. It’s instantly recognizable as something from the past, which is why movies like Captain America usually lean more heavily on the flamboyant and distinctive styles from the early 30s than the more utilitarian designs of the 40s. Have a look at my vector draft after the jump:

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Gun Control, Modern Manufacturing, and Arbitrary Laws

Ar15 Lower Reciever

Fact: private citizens are allowed to manufacture their own firearms, as many as they like, without having a Federal Firearms License, and without giving these firearms a serial number. It is only when transferring that firearm to someone else that it needs a serial number and paperwork, and so forth. Fact: the lower receiver is the part of the AR-15 that is legally classified as the firearm, and if that part is less than 80% finished, it is legally not a firearm. Many Americans buy these unfinished blank receivers freely on the internet, finish the machining themselves, and are technically the private manufacturers of the resulting firearm, which is perfectly legal for them to own.

Seems pretty simple, right? Not if you are the BATFE. Take the case of CA resident Daniel Crowninshield, who began renting out his CNC mill to folks that wanted to finish out their 80% lowers. In 2013, an undercover BATFE agent documented how Crowninsheild helped him build a jig for a lower, instructed him on how to fixture it in the machine and how to start and run that machine, and then (at the agent’s request) sold him more lower receivers. In 2014, Crowninsheild was charged with unlawful manufacturing and dealing of firearms, and five other charges. In 2015, the BATFE made a new ruling (2015-1) that more clearly defined Crowninsheild’s activities as unlawful firearm manufacture. Last week, he plead guilty to two charges, including unlawful manufacturing and dealing of firearms.

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Introducing the New CNC Machine


This is the CNC router that I’ve been working on for the last two months; the first one I’ve ever worked on. It’s a 4×8 PRT Alpha from Shopbot, and we bought it used, which means that it’s the older model, but it did come all wired up. That means that we got it up and running quickly, but it also means that I don’t really know what I’m doing when I have to find a wiring issue. If I’d wired all the connections from scratch, I might actually remember what things are. As it is, I find that I have to talk to tech support about once a week.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with this machine. In function, price, and capability, it sits somewhere between a DIY hobbyist tool and full-fledged production machine. It’s cheap (for what it is), and you are expected to be pretty handy with a multimeter and machine code to keep it working (I am not handy with these things). There is no hand-holding or helpful software wizards or internal digital diagnostic checks on this machine. On the other hand, it is a sturdy steel table equipped with fast and powerful stepper motors and a 4hp spindle that can do a lot of serious work.


Here are a few “starting-out” lessons I’ve learned that seem really obvious in hindsight. As you might guess, these are trial and error kinda lessons:

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The FBI, Apple, and Why Encryption Levels the Playing Field


Last December, Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife murdered 14 of his San Bernadino County Dept. of Public Health co-workers at a holiday party, and wounded 21 others. After leaving crude explosive devices behind in hopes of killing emergency responders, the two Islamic terrorists fled, and were themselves killed in a gunfight with pursuing law enforcement officers.

The subsequent investigation turned up lots of physical, financial, and computer evidence, but the FBI was unable to get into Farook’s encrypted iPhone 5C. Last month, they demanded, through a U.S. Magistrate Judge, that Apple, Inc. create a custom iPhone operating system, one with all security features disabled, which the FBI would use to recover all the data on the phone. There’s lots of good reporting on this case, so I’m mostly going to talk about the attitudes involved in the ongoing debate about privacy, encryption, and surveillance.

Despite FBI Director James Comey’s previous statements that Farook and his wife were not part of a larger terrorist cell, but had “self-radicalized” using freely available internet material, the need to get into the phone is described as of utmost importance. Despite former Counterterrorism Chair Richard Clarke’s observation that the NSA could easily crack the phone, the FBI demanded that the entire weight of Federal authority instead be used to compel Apple to create a reusable phone-breaking tool.

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Making Heidi’s Engagement Ring


Tomorrow is the two-year anniversary of our engagement, but since Heidi and I plan to be busy then, I thought I’d post about this ring tonight. I think I’ve gotten more questions about this ring than she has, which is a little strange, but then again, I spent a fair amount of time thinking about what Heidi might be looking for an engagement ring before she was probably ready to think about being engaged. It is, by far, the most special design project I’ve ever worked on.

When Heidi first saw this ring it marked the very special first day of our engagement. Interestingly, because I’d been working on it for so long, I more thought of it as marking the end of our wonderful but much more uncertain un-engaged relationship. I started working on it so early because I didn’t know how long it might take to learn how to make a ring like this. I only worked on it when we were apart. When things were going well, I’d sketch on it while I prayed about my hopes. When things were going not so well, I’d worry that I’d never be able to show it to her.

And two years ago, she saw it for the first time. And now, the boring technical background. This was only my second jewelry experiment (here’s the first), and I didn’t know anything about rings, but I knew what I wanted, and thanks to some undercover research that her sister Megan had done on my behalf, I thought that I had a pretty good idea of what Heidi would want.

That being said, my first design didn’t actually work. I sent drawings around to a few foundries that specialize in mechanical parts and jewelry casting, and I was told that I hadn’t made the prongs that hold the stone quite strong enough for the angle I had placed them in. I wanted a strong, practical ring that would last, so I tweaked the angle and thickness of a few parts, and ended up with this:

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Real Legislators and Mock Legislature


Last week a bunch of families from our church organized a tour of the Tennessee Capitol. While many state homeschooling organizations have annual rallies at their respective Capitols, it can also be helpful to show up more regularly, and to spend time with elected officials in smaller groups. Developing real relationships with legislators takes one-on-one time, but provides good opportunities to offer input and hold our representatives accountable.

We were able to do the usual field-trip stuff around Legislative Plaza, but we also got to talk to Senators and Congressmen, folks from the Comptroller’s office who tried to explain what our tax money was doing, and the Director of Non-Public and Home Schools. The highlight of the day was hearing from Rep. Mark Pody, who proposed the Natural Marriage Defense Act, but I think everyone had the most fun during our mock legislative session.

Our group was able to fill almost every desk on the House floor, and thanks to the assistance of the helpful clerks, we were able to use the mics for procedure and the buttons and board for voting. Since we didn’t have much time, we jumped straight into consideration of two fake bills, presented by a couple of sneaky devil’s advocates planted in the unsuspecting crowd…

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Puritans, Witches, and PR


Last week, an interesting film came out. I haven’t seen it, and I don’t plan on seeing it, but I’ve been reading reviews and commentary on it for a few days. Written and directed by Robert Eggers, The Witch is a simple horror story set in the American wilderness of the 1600s. What’s more interesting than the film itself is what it reveals about film critics, audiences, and Satanists.

I had the opportunity to talk to Kevin Swanson about this film on his Generations Radio program, which you can listen to here:

The film revolves around a family of Puritan caricatures, who are building a little house in a big woods. Complications ensue when witches begin killing members of the family, starting with the baby. The film is not ambiguous about this; viewers actually see the witch sacrifice an infant and do blood ritual stuff on screen.

Things go downhill from there, with everyone mysteriously disappearing or dying horribly on screen, until only the 14-year-old daughter is left. It is bleak and horrible, and unlike the semi-triumphant endings of most horror movies where the main character finally defeats or escapes from the monster, this protagonist loses everything, and then joins the coven to become a witch herself.

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Superfortress Sunrise

For the last month or so I’ve been buried in work relating to CNC machines and material constraints and toolpaths, so it was nice to do a quick, straightforward animation job. This was a very fast project for a friend, and I think it turned out pretty nicely. It is extremely simple; the B-29s are textured using blueprint drawings as bump maps, the exhaust plumes are textured boxes, and the planes and camera were animated procedurally. All light and cloud stuff was done in After Effects, as you can see here:

Many, many, Januaries ago, when I was just four years old, my Dad took me to see the Enola Gay, the B-29 that dropped the first atomic bomb on Japan. At the time, it was still being refurbished, but the Smithsonian used to let folks behind the curtain if they asked nicely. Last January, when my niece Katherine was almost four years old, her Daddy took her to the Air and Space Museum’s giant Udvar-Hazy Hangar, where the completely restored Enola Gay is currently exhibited. She was fascinated by the big planes, but her little brother Nehamiah was most intrigued by the P-40 Warhawk that “had a mouth on it.”

The Incredible Mr. Trump

I’m constantly amazed by Donald Trump’s ability to caricature himself beyond the bounds of satire. It’s becoming impossible to tell if we are watching a heavy-handed cartoon parody or a piece of officially authorized Trump Campaign media. Take this song, which opened Trump’s Florida rally earlier this month. Of course, this is not the first time kids have been forced to literally sing the praises of a political savior, but I would be less surprised to see this song in a Trump-mocking internet skit than an actual rally.

When I first heard this, I assumed that the girls on stage were a random selection of Trump staffer children. I was also pretty sure that its clunky lyrics had sprung from the pen (or stream of consciousness) of The Donald himself, so keenly representative of his flashing wit and deftly woven wordplay as it was.

After doing a little more research, it seems that the song was performed by the local girl group USA Freedom Kids, and written by their manager. I’m still convinced he swiped most of those rhymes from Trump’s Twitter feed, though (just like he swiped the melody and chorus from George Cohen), and that song made me realize who Trump has been reminding me of all these years: The Wind in the Willows’ highly self-celebrated Mr. Toad of Toad Hall.


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The Death of House Bill 1412

I was at the Tennessee Capitol yesterday to see the first, and last, discussion of House Bill 1412, “The Tennessee Defense of Natural Marriage Act” in the House Civil Justice Subcommittee. I was one of about 150 supporters of the bill who showed up to watch, and most of us overflowed out of Hearing Room 31 into the hall. As the subcommittee began the order of business, we were joined by seven or eight activists who were protesting the bill. Despite our differences, we all squeezed tightly together to watch 90 minutes of wrangling on the monitor, and I don’t think either side could have counted the outcome as a serious victory.

For those that don’t know the backstory, HB1412 was a fairly simple bill, short and to the point. You can read it here in its eight-page entirety, but I’ll summarize it. It consists of seven pages of WHERASes, decrying the Supreme Court decision Obergefell v. Hodges and judicial supremacy in general, quoting historical commentary by legal scholars on the Constitutional limits of Federal courts, and praising the Tennessee Constitution’s own statement on marriage.

The final page contains the three actionable sections of the bill, which basically just state that Tennessee will continue to obey its own Constitution, and that it will defend its citizens and employees who obey their own Constitution. Pretty strong stuff, right? Imagine, a bill just flat-out quoting the Constitution instead of hiding its intent in hundreds of pages of dense vaguery. For reference, here is the relevant language from Article XI, Section 18 of the Constitution of Tennessee:

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