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the various and sundry creations of sylvus tarn

24nov2014

This is another one of those tedious me, me, me posts I've made as a reminder to myself next time I have to photograph stuff for my friend, Kristin. If you are an amateur photographer getting into using a manual flash, you may find it slightly useful. Otherwise, yawn.

However, I've accumulated a buncha other links—how a Deutsch town ju-jitsued (I prefer this to the ‘prank’ characterization boingboing used) a neo-nazi group; how music engages the brain (though I wonder what would happen if they MRI'ed someone doing a difficult arty task like, say, making a bead, which also has something of a real time performance aspect to it...?

Racism has long, deep roots. The distribution of blacks in my home-town was determined shortly after the Civil War, when covenants were created that restricted where blacks could live; and those distributions remain largely the same, over a century later. F2tY is applying for colleges, and finding the process frustrating and tedious—not least because of the racist roots of the admissions process.

On a slightly more upbeat note, I'm proud to be part of the creative commons. Even if today's aspect of it ain't that exciting.

UPDATE (27nov14): Whoopsie, forgot to finish the page! Well, I made the second checklist visible, and added another photo while I was at it. Sorry about that!

19nov2014

Sorry about the no-posting—first, I caught something at our guild show in the beginning of November; not to mention I had all these bulbs. I managed by Monday to finish planting them, however haphazardly, racing snow and cold before the ground froze hard. On the plus side, perhaps this means the various little rodents won't be able to dig them up and eat them!

Today's piece is a blast from the past.

And seeing as it's wood, a material I'm more likely to compost or burn than string, this rather cool link about flame shape seems apropos...I do wonder what it would be like to try making beads in space—for one thing you wouldn't have to constantly spin the mandrel to keep the glass from drooping!

6nov2014

Today is Japan Day:)

First up, via boingboing, a couple of interesting links—one of a short video of a traditional wooden dollmaker; the other about one of those organizer/tidy-types. I have battled clutter all my life, and have slowly gotten better at it (though frankly I think having more resources has helped a good deal—i.e., I either can spend more money for storage solutions, or am more willing to get rid of crap because I know I have the wherewithal to replace it).

Thus far, the most useful (recent) decluttering advice I got was fly lady's shine your sink. I didn't really think it would help that much, but it did. (Again, I was helped by the fact that we recently [almost finished the ] redo of our kitchen, so it's a lot more functional—and pleasant—than it was.) The Japanese woman Marie Kondo's advice is interesting: focus not on what you discard, but what you wish to keep, and keep only those things you love.

Right now I have to pull financial records from 2008–2013. I do not love them, but having them has certainly made coping with bureaucracies much easier. —There was (not altogether to my surprise, having just visited Japan, and stayed in/visited several Japanese homes) a very minimalist aesthetic shown in the author interview. It's lovely, but obviously these folks have someone else to deal with all the paperwork necessary to run a household (another thing that's slowly making super-tidyness more available: computers, which make the necessity of storing a lot of boring crap much more compact.)

But even leaving aside the issues of ugly-but-necessary stuff, or things I would happily get rid of (because they belong to other members of the household who would like to keep their possessions, thank-you-very-much), there's another issue, which is that, because I am an artist who works in so many media, I have an awful lot of stuff with highly variable desirableness. For example: I have some reproductions of old coins that have been sitting around for years. Decades, literally. Currently I mostly use them in my fukaro (the counterweight bag for kumihimo) but I just have started a new hobby for which they will come most extremely handy. Because I cycle in and out of media, and have a difficult time predicting when I'll need something (not to mention the fact that I often make my best art out of my most despised supplies, because I don't care so much about the outcome, and can let go) this philosophy, while most extremely appealing, is difficult.

I guess the bottom line is that, even more than being tidy (much as I love that) I derive satisfaction from ‘perfect use’ —finding the most efficient way to use, store or deal with a given item.

Finally, to round out my discussion of things Japanese, I thought I'd mention a brilliant manga I recently read: Nijigahara Holograph. This horror comic came out, I wanna say, in 2006, but was just released in English in 2014. It's an absolutely brilliant story, with multiple points of view (and some very unreliable narrators to boot) that took about 5 readings to nail down the plot. Briefly, the story is about a young man, a 5th grader who transfers to a school in which another girl was killed—drowned—by her classmates.

The art is very nice, and the character design is top-notch (absolutely necessary; otherwise figuring out the plot would be impossible), and the transitions—oh, man, the transitions in this book are amazing —as, for example when the two teachers are discussing the protagonist's history, and that he possibly jumped from his prior school's roof; then we cut to him, listening to the other children tell their victim to jump—there are lots of other examples, in which the text and images work in concert to switch from one timeline or character viewpoint to another's.

Despite the intricately plotted storyline and the richness of the characters—with the possible exception of the murdered girl(s), everyone is culpable, cruel, damaged and damaging—the story is, at bottom, the tale of a paedophilic rape; and the failure of everyone, but everyone to protect the victim. The book is so brilliantly done that, for the moment, I'm inclined to let this pass; but I can't help wondering why, if the other main plot thread is the protagonist's existentialist despair, we need a harrowing rape (with a side of incest) to balance his angst.

Despite this reservation, this has been the most engaging thing I've read in a very long time, and if you're looking for something with layers and layers of symbolism, then I recommend this book.

Or, you can check out the propane shed mouse.

5nov2014

Just finished Ann Leckie's Ancillary Sword, which, I'm guessing from internal details as well as some other evidence (the fact that the classes of ships in the Radch empire are divided into Justices, Swords and Mercies) is the second book in what I presume will be a trilogy. Her first swept the awards, garnering hugo, nebula, locus’ best new writer, etc.

The worldbuilding is so delicious I hesitate to say much about it, lest I spoil the surprise; but if you'd like the smallest of tastes, one of her short stories, set in the same universe (though from quite a different point of view) is available online. It's a very good story, though I like the novels better.

Also highly recommended, from another beginner, is the film Dear White People. Looking over the rotten tomatoes’ reviews, most people focused on various aspects of the film; only one of the reviewers was made seriously uncomfortable by its racial themes, a tribute, in my opinion, of its creator's sincere effort to make, primarily, an entertaining film more about people's assorted coping mechanisms for dealing with structural racism.

The film is an ensemble piece, focusing mostly on the efforts of 4 people, 2 men and 2 women, to fit in at an ivy league school. The protagonist might be said to be Sam White, a fiery would-be film-maker with light skin privilege whose scathing indictments of everyday microagressions she illustrates on her eponymous radio show:

Dear White People: the number of black friends you need not to look racist has been raised to two; and your weed-man Tyrone doesn't count.

Ayup.

In a similar way, the quiet, reserved Lionel acts as the viewpoint character, observing much and saying little: as someone who fits in nowhere, black or white, straight or gay, he makes for the ideal observer.

What was particularly interesting to me was that since I've read (for years) about most of the problems illustrated in the film (why do the black kids get their own space, tragic muluttas, black names being less ‘salable’ on resumes, touching hair, etc) I didn't feel particularly uncomfortable that these issues came up; they are, after all, facts of life if you're (USian) black. But what I didn't realize till I thought about it later is that there is almost no male gaze in this film; or rather, the eye candy is, for a change, all male: Troy, whom one senses in other circs would be perfectly happy to smoke weed, play video games & watch brainless sf, has huge pecks and a very nice six pack, which get shown off in the film. Repeatedly. Personally, I would have preferred the opportunity to admire skinny, nerdy Lionel, but the absence of boobage was so refreshing I'd nearly forgotten how truly rare it is in any kind of a film you'd see in a mainstream theatre.

This movie was (at least partially) funded by indiegogo (to which I was goaded into contributing by f2tE), and, as it happens, I actually know somebody who reminds me of Lionel, so I was predisposed to like the film. It is, perhaps a bit rough around the edges (though I'm not of a film critic to be more specific) but I really enjoyed it, not least because it so thoroughly demolished that ‘those people are all alike’ myth.

Plus, serious as it is, it has some great humor, and a pretty upbeat ending:) \\

So go see it. Otherwise, you're stuck with a post that languished for three years before I finally got desparate enough to dig it out of storage.

4nov2014

So one of the reasons—though hardly the only one—I've not been posting much is that the wizard set me up with a dual monitor system, and the new monitor is quite a bit brighter than the old one. Which makes all my image settings, that I've been using for my camera(s) and the website, for years, look terribly overexposed. I actually ordered a monitor colorimeter (not that I've figured out how to use it to actually calibrate said monitors, mind you) in the hopes that I could somehow deal with this dilemma.

Eventually, I suppose I will figure this stuff out. (Not helped by the fact that I sit at a bright window, because, um, I like looking out the window...?) In the meantime, some non image related updates:)

Lessee, I finished the Piketty (Capital in the XXI Century). I gather the author did a TED talk, but his frenetic delivery drove me absolutely batty, so I much preferred the book. Yes, I read the entire 700 pages (though only some of the endnotes—personally, I detest them, and with modern typesetting, it's not really that big a deal to park them at the bottom of the page as proper footnotes, so those of us who like footnotes can, and everyone else can ignore them—and btw, the design of this book was quite handsome, with proper ffl ligatures and everything). You don't have to read the entire thing to get the idea, because like a lot of truly passionate academics, Piketty lays out his arguments in a clear way. The thrust of the book can basically be summed as follows:

  1. The ROI (rate of investment) on capital (i.e. housing, land, factories, whatever your money is invested in) is roughly 4%–5%, on average. The rate of growth, which is birthrate (less deaths, so it can be negative, though currently isn't) plus increased efficiency per worker was historically 0.8% and may go as high as 1.6%. (For example, it is far more efficient for me to sell 10 prints over one drawing, and a 1000 books over either, and potentially unlimited page-views on this website over any.) Obviously even 4% > 1.6%, so capital will accrue to people who already have it. Or IOW, the rich get richer, which is not exactly news, but now we have a nice, simple mathematical model to explain why, in a structural manner.
  2. The other half of his thesis is that current technology makes nailing down the numbers, and then crunching them, to extract long-term historical trends, much more feasible.

The part of the book that's exciting all the discussion, of course, is his claim that the 20th century is an anomaly: the shocks, as Piketty calls them, of WWI and II redistributed the fin-de-siècle fortunes of the 19ca robber barons—and everyone else for that matter (via taxation and/or inflation); and the deep and vivid memories of the Great Depression promoted more progressive tax schemes.

It was a bit of a shock to me that not only during the ancien regime did the bottom 50% own only 5% (if that) of the wealth, but even after the revolution the bottom half still only owned 5% of the wealth. That is, it didn't (and still doesn't) seem to matter what sort of government you have, the top 10% are gonna have most of the money, with the top 1% owning anywhere from a quarter to half of all the wealth in a given country. (This is one reason I'm not certain campaign finance reform will “fix” things; it will help, I have no doubt, but the rich will figure out new ways to protect their resources.)

Back in the day, these moguls justified their greed with the divine right of kings: if you were a better sort of person, then of course you had more money—hence the class system of the UK, or India's castes. It took us americans (usians?) to come up with a new (and horrible twist) on this thinking: we invented whiteness to justify greater wealth. It also acted as a handy wedge to set poor whites against poor blacks; much the way wealthy conservatives currently set poor religious christians against women with all this abortion reproductive-justice-of-any-kind folderol.

There are a good many wealthy people who claim (with justification) that they've worked very hard to earn their money; but that the 50% 47% who have no wealth are simply too lazy to do equally well brings to mind one of the most striking asides Piketty makes: if those wealthy people are so rich by talent alone, then really they oughtn't mind resetting the clock of their wealth back to zero every 20 years, because they'll surely regain their place!

That framing makes very clear how absurd any claim that doesn't take into account luck (which is mostly how wealthy one's parents are).

I once read an interview of a bunch of people, each making 10x more than the last, starting with an immigrant dishwasher. I can't find that article, but the striking thing was that no-one, even the poorest, was particularly angry at the next level up...except the very wealthiest, who seemed deathly afraid, and angry, at all those below him. I strongly suspect, if we could reset the clock of wealth every twenty years, free education, UBI (Universal basic incomes) and other programs would suddenly become a lot more popular. Yet, as the story above makes clear, such drastic measures are not necessary; for everyone except the very richest (i.e. those making over 80–100x average wages, or whose fortunes are over 100 million*), one merely need promote a little generosity for all.

The ‘[y]ou're not paying taxes, you're buying civilization'was tremendously helpful for dealing with that resentment (of paying taxes); so too the memory that social programs were very popular in this country—till black people started benefitting from them. Well, I want everyone to have a good life, and what a stupid reason for cutting well-fare. Nobody needs nor should have so much money that they can spend millions if not billions on political campaigns, or outbid museums for art we should all be able to enjoy (as opposed to a form of showing off to one's peers). It's not healthy for society, and I don't think it's particularly healthy for the billionaires, either—who wants to spend their lives worrying the proles are coming for them with pitchforks? (In fact, Piketty argues the reason US super-managers are making 23million/yr and the like is because we no longer have that 1950s 90% marginal tax rate, which obviously needs to come back—for one thing, is it really in a corp's best interest to be shelling out that much for one person, when the folks cleaning the toilets are barely scraping by? Dunno ’bout you, but I bet being a manager is more enjoyable.) Most of the wealth does not need to belong to the 1%; we, the people, can change our laws.

If we so choose. Speaking of which, today (in the USA, at least) is election day...

*Calculations: if for convenience we set the average household income in the US at 50,000, then people earning over 5 million dollars a year, either as wages, or interest on capital (a 4–5% annual income on 100 million dollars would yield 5 million a year) should pay back that extra (e.g. taxes), to be used to build infrastructure: roads and bridges and internet and free college educations for all. Yanno, the civilization that makes 100 million dollar fortunes possible. (Or they can go the Carnegie Mellon/Bill Gates whitewashing route, and give it away to the charities of their choice—libraries and malaria respectively.) Cuz frankly I think anyone ought to be able to live on an income 100x the average!

13oct2014

I have not been very productive lately, despite the gorgeous autumn weather we've been having: at least, not on the art front. (I have been plowing through Piketty's Capital, plus a book on Korea, and have yet to extract “homework” from that massive reprint of the seminal Josef Albers 2 volume manual on color, which I can tell already is gonna be a lotta work—it's been a loooooooong time since I took Tammany's 2-D design color theory class...)

However I did want to post the Oatmeal's exhortation to rename that holiday we have here in US on the 2nd Monday of October.* Which I guess around here would mebbe be ‘Happy Huron Day.’ To round out the links that have been aggregating, here's a splendid short video about Turkey courtesy of boingboing, an amazing video of a woman doing overtone singing (scroll down for a guy demoing a variety of Tuvan styles, which is what most people think of when this technique of throat singing comes up—aaaand, update, languagelog's take); finally, in honor of my, um, host-family|not-quite brother-in-law, an absolutely stunning photo of the blood moon we had recently as he was kind enough to send me a really nice one via email:)

I have sort of a soft spot for ‘blood moons’ —not just because I got a glimpse of one of the most gorgeous orange moons I've ever seen the following evening, but also because I wrote a story about one in which I was finally beginning, at least, to get the hang of plotting.

Anyway. In celebration of yellow, orange and red moons in particular and autumn colors generally (the trees are now turning some truly spectacular colors) have an autumn colored mouse.

*Content note: it should be noted, that though hetries, there's a lot of sexism (not to mention fat-shaming) on the site, though the link I posted is ok.

†This would be one of the wizard's faves, frex.