The Commuter Challenge

5 May 2008

The May 2008 Challenge

by CC @ 08:27

Design a tattoo for yourself. Be realistic in your design (i.e. respect the constraints on color and detail). Include in your submission any information you wish to volunteer on placement and its significance.

And really do design it for yourself. You should be seriously willing to consider getting the tattoo.

The results

Ryan Finholm

Brian Raiter

Placement: On the back, over the left shoulder blade.

This is an idea I had for a tattoo over a decade ago, realized here for the first time. It’s not quite as I had imagined it would look. There’s no particular significance to the image, other than the fact that I like the way ink-splatters look, and the inclusion of one of my favorite hieroglyphs.

This would probably give a tattoo artist fits trying to get all that delicate spikiness rendered accurately. Also, tattoos tend to blur over the years as the ink migrates, which would likely wind up turning this image into an unremarkable birthmark-shaped blob. Which is one reason why I decided to make it bright blue: the colored inks tend to break down and fade more quickly than the black ink. Ideally it would become a sort of ghost-tattoo before it became too muddy-looking.

Placement: On the left upper arm.

This is an idea I had for a tattoo a couple of years ago. Euler was responsible for discovering the famous equation e = -1, or as it’s often expressed, e + 1 = 0. This tattoo avoids the extras and just concentrates on the remarkable part, where three seemingly unrelated constants come together. It’s a charmingly mysterious reminder that mathematics is a game that seems to play by its own rules even though we invented it. I’m actually kind of surprised that this tattoo idea isn’t already a wildly popular one, at least among math geeks.

Placement: On the lower back.

“Foo was here” is the British/Australian version of our Kilroy (and was probably the basis for the latter) — though my main reason for choosing Foo over Kilroy is the term’s significance in computer programming. For maximum effect the tattoo should be oriented sideways, so as to suggest that it was drawn on my back while I was laying on my side, asleep. There is absolutely no personal significance to this one, other than making a simple visual joke.


  1. We had a few hot sunny days in the middle of the month, right in the middle of our more usual cool-and-cloudy May days, and on those days I walked around and noticed with some surprise just how many people have tattoos of some sort nowadays. I knew they had become common, but I suddenly appreciated just how common.

    The first time I ever seriously considered the idea of a tattoo was in the early 1990s, when the “modern primitive” movement had pushed them into widespread popularity. I still thought of a tattoo’s purpose was to illustrate something essential about your self. That is, the trick was to find a symbol that would still resonate with you many years later. But that’s obviously not the only reason people get tattoos — many tattoos I see are clearly just art for art’s sake. I think for a lot of people, a tattoo’s purpose is mainly to show a willingness to make mistakes. Life is full of irreversible decisions, and accepting that reality is a rite of passage.

    You could also view a tattoo as sort of practice for the real decisions. Given the choice between a bad tattoo and a bad marriage, I’d take the former any day.

    I also did some reading online, learning more about the sorts of tattoos people get. One thing that struck me after a while was regarding people who get tattoos they come to regret. I noticed that many people will, after enough years have passed, become reconciled and many even quietly fond of tattoos they once hated. The tattoo becomes something like a short left leg or a bum knee — a defect, yes, but a minor one. And I think people over time accept their minor defects as see them as just another piece of their identity.

    I find myself at the surprising conclusion that if I had to get one of the three tattoos I posted, I find myself leaning towards the last one. It doesn’t say much of anything about me personally, but the other tattoo ideas don’t really say much more. And the idea of a tattoo just being a piece of graffiti makes me laugh.

    by Brian — 1 June 2008 @ 12:17

  2. And then on the other hand, take a look at this website: — it’s a collection of science-themed tattoos owned by scientists. So many of them are just gorgeous. Were I a scientist, and not just a simple computer programmer helping corporations make money, I’d have give a different answer above.

    by Brian — 1 June 2008 @ 12:23

  3. My submission did not fit the rules 100%, in that I wouldn’t seriously consider getting that (or any) tattoo. My submission was obviously just for laffs.

    I’ll never actually get a tattoo because I can’t imagine anything that I want permanently etched on my skin for the rest of my life. Had I gotten a tattoo at age 18, it would’ve said “RUSH”, or “ZZTOP”, or worse. Had I gotten a tattoo at age 28, it probably would have been either a Maakies-related design or a scannable UPC barcode for “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” – so it’d be either a cartoon or a joke, neither really worthwhile. At 38, I can’t think of anything I’d want, and I’m glad I was farsighted enough to avoid getting one in the past.

    I don’t mean any offense to anyone with a tattoo; I actually like very many of the tattoos I’ve seen on other people. I just don’t think they suit me.

    by RyanF — 14 June 2008 @ 10:23