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the various and sundry creations of sylvus tarn

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.

15sep2014

Well, just to continue on with the monarch theme, I was lucky enough to score some caterpillars (my milkweed evidently not being enticing enough to attract monarch eggs on its own...just milkweed moth caterpillars, which are furry and cute, to be sure. But not monarchs.)

I've been collecting and losing links, as usual. At the urging of my bead buddy Frances, I read the ‘Steal Like an Artist’ guy's latest (Show Your Work) which is sort of the reverse (sharing your stuff so's people can steal from you;) There's a lot to like in this quick and easy read, and much I agree with: sharing—documenting—your ongoing thought processes, and letting people bounce their concepts off yours—that bouncing back and forth, especially amongst several people (a ‘school’) sets up a chain reaction that's good for everyone. This is why cities foment ideas: as the number of people goes up, their number of interactions scales logarithmically, and the ideas start fountaining.

The only place where I stumbled was mebbe half way through, where the author urges his readership to sort of ruminate half-baked ideas publicly. Yes, that can be helpful (though an awful lot of people get themselves into trouble posting ill-considered stuff), and to be just Kleon does admit you should keep the stuff you can't bear to have torn apart private, at least for a bit; but I was getting a bit of the ‘I'm a white cis het male’ vibe, which was perhaps strengthened by his mentioning Kathy Sierra.

Kathy Sierra was the first woman I saw hounded off the internet waaaaay back in 2007—all for the innocuous crime of being a woman in tech. Seriously. She was signed up to do a talk at some tech seminar, which infuriated a bunch of dudebros and was sent death threats. She's still off the internet afict, and has been joined by a bunch of other women suffering similar horrid abuse—Rebecca Watson and Anita Sarkeesian immediately spring to mind, and of course, Zoe Quinn, who like Sierra was (is?) involved in gaming and is, um, also currently “enjoying” an appalling stream of rape and death threats. So why is Kleon talking as if Sierra's still a presence, as he advocates in this book ‘Stick Around’ is the title of the concluding chapter? And, while the author deserves kudos for alternating the genders of indeterminate persons, of the named individuals I counted in the first 50 pages, 36 were men and two were women (one of which was cited as a reporter, rather than a creative.) I doubt the ratio of PoC was much better.

So I'm thinking I'm not entirely unjustified in believing the author has a bit of blindness to the problems marginalized folk have trying to make their voices heard.

But, like all good self-help books, this one ends with the caveat of ‘keep what's useful, dump the rest.’ Which brings me to another self-help book, more specifically about learning to draw. I like the Betty Edwards’ book, because most people firmly associate being an artist with being able to draw representationally, which is what she focuses upon. Mona Brookes’ Monart method, originally developed for very young children (who aren't necessarily fixed on representation) backs up further to simply the joys of making marks on paper. She has a number of step-by-step by-the-numbers approaches to constructing drawings, for example a 5-category vocabulary of shapes, and a ball and cylinder method for laying out the human figure. The book is further helped by showing a wide variety of artists: it's extraordinarily inclusive.

But most of all she simply encourages people to believe in themselves.

That is most extremely important. Particularly when I taught adults, I spent a significant amount of time reassuring them that they weren't making a mistake, or that, even if they did, it wasn't a big deal.

I'd like to think I'm pretty fearless in art (I mean, paper is cheap. So, if you screw up, no worries, shred, compost or pitch and try again. It's not rocket science, where someone's gonna burn up in the atmosphere if you screw up.) Yet even I found her citing a study that showed students who copied photographs and/or other artists’ figurative works to be more proficient than those who worked/learned from a live model alone to be incredibly liberating.

(Why oh why didn't my frustrated mother, when I asked her to draw me a horsie to copy, didn't she simply plop of a picture book, ideally of photos, but even of illustrations, instead of trying to make a drawing—badly—all the while complaining she couldn't do it well? Big big kudos though, for trying, rather than hiding her lack of skill by discouraging me from wanting to make art. Similarly, thanks be to my early grade school art teacher, Mrs Smith, again for encouraging me. —Someday I'll post some of my childhood scribbles; until then you'll just have to accept my word for it that I had excruciatingly average talent; I've simply put a lot of time into getting better, and putting the time in is pretty much available to everyone. Born to genius, not so much.)

Photos simplify the problem, breaking it down into more steps, and thus manageable pieces. We slow learners need that. That said, Drawing for Older Children & Teens (Adults too) is not the work to consult for perspective. Brookes’ understanding of the subject is weak enough that a drawing purporting to show a box in 2 point perspective looked as if it were floating off the seemingly trapezoidal table it was supposed to be resting on, despite other sketches in the series clearly indicating said table was supposed to be rectangular. The artist failed to finish the bottoms of the legs of said table, a clear indicator of her confusion. Use David Chelsea's Perspective for Comic Book Artists (though women and PoC should be prepared for what I sincerely hope were unintentional sexist and racist flubs.)

Well, I think that's enough ranting for one day. Perhaps next time I can talk a bit medium and Marmite Sue. Oh, and perhaps squee some more over the fact that inkscape is jumping from v0.48 to 0.91, and remind people that the National Weather Service is uber-cool, and getting more so: they evidently have worked up a bunch of resources for coping with extreme weather events (beyond hiding in the basement, which is my basic response...)

Or you can enjoy my admittedly so-so (but CC licensed) pix of monarchs in the making:)

25aug2014

As usual, when I do the instagram/tweet/tumble/fb thingie, I tend not to post here. Some day, I will learn how to embed links to longer posts in those other places....

I've been meaning for awhile to give a shout-out to the Ames people. They make a variety of garden tools, under an assortment of names (e.g. ‘true temper’). Some years ago—more than five, mebbe even 10, I purchased one of their easy roller plus garden cart, the four-wheeled version, and I have been really happy with this thing. It's not perfect—it stumbles over rough ground or curbs, because its wheels are small—but it was inexpensive, fits through my narrow garden gates, carries heavy loads, and has served me very well. Along with my D-handled spade, my trowel, and garden hose, it's one of my most important gardening tools.

Until, that is, someone borrowed it and knocked the cap off one end of the front axle, which meant the wheel kept falling off. I resigned myself to buying a new one, but they didn't seem to be in stock. I had few hopes the things were even still being manufactured, I'd bought this so long ago. Sighing, I went to the website, and lo and behold, not only are they still in production (albeit with a slightly different name and color—mine is dark green) they offer to replace missing parts. Free of charge.

In fact, aside from a slightly plainitive request to please be patient for the week or 10 days it would take them to ship the part, this was the most incredibly gracious interaction I've had with a firm in a long time. And yes, they promptly shipped out exactly what I needed—in fact, they sent me a pair of ’em, in the cutest sewn cotton bag, to which they stitched a card with address. My cart is once again working perfectly.

So, brava Ames. I saved some money, didn't have to consign my plastic cart to the landfill, and now, if I can just deal with my crappy shoulder issues, I can get back to fighting the clearweed that's trying to take over my garden. To help with that, I recommend their garden carts unreservedly.

Not only that, the more time I spend outdoors weeding, the more likely I get to see creatures like this.

13aug2014

Hideho, people. I actually did make a bunch of posts, but the intros didn't seem quite right, and quite honestly, if I didn't need to turn in the pix being shown today, I'd probably still be waffling.

So awaaaaay back when, when the GLBG was still quite a young org Pattee Goodman (now Goodman-Baker) was first its display chair, and then its second president. I can't say we were ever close friends, but our history is a long one, and I was bummed when she got married and followed her husband to the Saint Louis area, because that's where the guy had work.

She told me it was worse than Detroit.

More racist than Detroit? Land of my childhood, where the tanks rolled down Woodward Ave during the rioting...? Yes, she said. Much worse.

So I suppose I shouldn't be totally surprised at all this crap going down in Ferguson (a St Louis suburb, but techically I also was in a suburb, Highland Park, that nevertheless was 3 miles from the riot epicenter) —But it's just so appalling. The Civil Rights Act was enacted 50 years ago. The ’67 riots were almost 5 decades ago, and, surprise surprise, the main complaint back then was also white police brutality on black bodies. I was too young to really understand anything except that I was to stay in the back yard, but I wonder, did people wonder then, if they were sliding into a police state? Or if all the deaths and suffering (and property damage) would cause things to change?

Before then, Detroit was cited as a hopeful, model city of race relations. It was the ‘Murder Capital’ during my teens, and now, finally, is showing modest signs of growth, fostering street art and ambient music, efforts to live a green and sustainable life with urban farming. I can't really think of any places that would be considered ‘model cities’ of race relations, so perhaps we've made a bit of progress (or we have ‘post-racial society’...?)

My heart goes out to these, the latest in a long line of young men, victims—warriors—ordinary folk—embroiled, as Ta-Nehisi Coates says, in a centuries long war against them. May the tide finally be turning, and not be just another useless turn of the wheel, a senseless cycle of violence.

Yeah, this sort of thing is part of the reason I haven't been terribly enthusiastic about posting.

8jul2014

’Fraid this is probably going out a little late—I realized the pix all needed to have the background either cropped, adjusted or both (honestly, I need to get one of those 36" diffusion cubes...) and while I've certainly been wasting lots of time vegging in front of the computer, I don't really feel like ranting today. Hurray:)

Oh, wait, a garden tidbit—evidently, according to the local wild ones list, it is safe (on large, mature specimens) to grow virginia creeper up one's trees. Ima gonna try it!

In the meantime, some fake vegetation for you to enjoy.