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the various and sundry creations of sylvus tarn

21may2018

cropHi all—what is it about Thursdays that derails my blogging? (Um, the fact that if I don't queue up all the posts for a week, I tend to run out about then...)

Anyway. Today's page was supposed to go up Thursday, but it didn't, so we have it today. As it turns out, the travelling paint kit I used to make these pages—which I purchased in Miami Florida, while at a kumihimo workshop, so I could make sketches at Fairchild Botanical Gardens, and which I've been fairly happy with, excepting wanting to squeeze more colours in a flatter box (so it would fit in my travelling easel drawer) was lost when I left it on a neighbour's fence after painting some of her flowers. The 4" or so of rain we've had in the last week washed the paint away, and, thinking the empty container useless, she pitched it.

f2tE, to whom I gave my old painting kit after getting this one, kindly loaned it back, but I've become spoiled, so I did some research on amazon to see about getting a flatter, slimmer tin I could fill with tube W&N paints bought on sale when our last, local art supply store bit the dust. Well. There are indeed empty pans and tins available, and I've learned a few things about watercolour, frex, those little cubes into which they dispense the paints are called ‘half-pans’ and standardized, throughout the industry. Also, pan pigment is denser than tube pigment (which I hadn't realized). Also, that one doesn't have to spend $200 or $400 on paint, W&N is quite good (and I already have an assortment).

And, finally, the point of this rambling conversation, other artists have already done—and documented—just the sort of comparisons I was looking for. (Btw, a trick that works fairly well for me when researching a topic: try to find a personal blog, as opposed to a generic ‘rating’ website: the person will certainly have strong opinions, but will also explain their biases, rather than attempting to hide a commercial, i.e. paid, preference behind a bunch of vague blather Quite often, if you're really lucky, they'll even point out other, equally useful resources: exactly what happened here, in that, in one of those rare luck-of-the-draw, I got two top links on the first try.)

So, when oh when is ze going to get to the point? Well, the motherlode (or load, as my eggcorn would have it) of info is this blog by a watercolourist who has tried them all and whose recce for thorough discussion was my second choice for research, handprints which has an exhaustive comparison of everything out there. Be still my beating heart.

In the meantime, however, Ms. Sutherland is achieving exactly the sort of thing I aspire to, so's I can just cheat and copy her palette. Easy peasy! —Well, getting the paint; getting the technique is gonna be quite a bit more work, but in the meantime, some quick sketches.

16may2018

cropWhen I went to visit Frances in NYC with the f2s, I took this journal with me, with the idea of filling it up during my journey. I had several inspirations for it, one of which is mudhound's found object pieces. Unfortunately she doesn't seem to be updating this blog anymore, but has kindly left some of her older work for us to enjoy.

Which is what I hope you'll do with my little effort as well.

15may2018

cropBoingboing (and some other sites) were once again putting out urgent notices to contact senators for net neutrality. I managed, the first time around, to do what they asked (despite absolutely despising making phone calls) but have failed, pretty much ever since. Marcus Ranum's glum assessment didn't help and I s'pose I ought to bear in mind that he's a self-described nihilist. He also seems to be pretty knowledgeable about this stuff.

It's so odd—the wizard is something of a Liaden universe fan, and so, because of some forearm issues (that prevent full-scale arting) and the convenience of having these works available on our phones, I've been (re)reading them, mostly in the order they're written. I've mentioned some of my issues with these books before but they show up even worse in the earlier works.

Take, for example the squabbles between two powerful clans in Conflicts of Honor: one maliciously destroys the reputation/work history of an employee because her boss suspects she has deduced that they're engaged in illegal activity. (Persons in her milieu have their publicly-available work history written pretty much by their employers, or, more rarely testing agencies, with little recourse for disputes.) She hooks up with a different clan that uses its greater wealth and political influence not only to reverse the record, but pile on even more commendations with a specific eye to rehabilitating her reputation.

At one point in the story, the protagonists escape death because they've been adopted into a vengeful alien species’ clan, which promises extirpation of an entire clan/organization of anyone who kills them. Another time, when the feuding Liadens meet up on a world, with one claiming to a planetary authority that the other carries contraband, the second more powerful clan/commercial entity manages to commandeer the services of 3 or 4 ranking ambassadors of other planets.

While it's certainly the duty of an embassy to assist unjustly detained members, the sort of corporations that have that kind of power in our world do not—for very good reason—tend to be looked upon very benevolently.

I don't mind the authors making these clans being this powerful; but having the protagonists indulge in smug self-satisfaction at siccing their greater political and financial power upon their enemies grates. So why, you ask, am I reading this stuff? —To be sure, it's an improvement over the prior book, in which the protag spends most of his time slaughtering people.

I know, from having read later books, that the protagonists’ having things go extraordinarily well for them will be somewhat addressed; and though fighting (especially over honour—and I should note, nearly all the Terran characters and many of the Liaden ones are very hot-tempered indeed) will continue, at least it will be less monotonous.

On the one hand, as light entertainment, I enjoy watching the growing relationship between the lovers in this story, depicted with considerable skill and realistic obstacles that come out of their differing personalities and experiences; but I can't help thinking their clan, were it real, would be just the sort that makes pleas to government officials for net neutrality so necessary. Reading something that celebrates can't be good for my mental diet, any more than excess sugar is for my physiological one.

Well, even so, I have a lamp pull. Enjoy.

14may2018

cropThis week's sort of a mishmash:) I get into these periodic tidying modes, which for the website means clearing out odds and ends, such as the review below.

I really like Laurie King's re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes’ later life, and her 10 or so volume series of her Sherlock Holmes fanfic featuring OC Mary Russell is a fabulous argument against our current, ridiculously long, copyright terms...I keep hoping Lord Peter will soon be similarly released into the wild—which I guess is not gonna happen for at least another decade. Sigh. If in the following I seem unduly harsh(1), it's not because the books fail, but because they come so close to succeeding in what is admittedly a difficult task: hewing to beloved characters (while, ideally, updating/excising the original racism/sexism/classism, etc) yet placing them in new, equally intriguing adventures. King's top-notch with the first part; it's the second at which she sometimes falters. Language of Bees is pretty successful; its continuation, God of the Hive unfortunately less so.

Several new Russell/Holmes mysteries had been written since I'd read the last one and been vaguely disappointed. King knows her characters and her depiction of Holmes, as well as the believability of the relationship between Holmes and his much younger wife, always came across very well, once the reader is willing to accept the idea that Holmes never had a love interest in the original series was because there wasn't really anyone suitable, as opposed to the Doylian depiction, in which he's asexual. (Asexuality just seems to have been more acceptable for Victorian era protagonists—the only modern character I can think of that was positively identified that way was a secondary character in some steampunk novel (by a well-known author) who is some sort of extreme athlete who, in order to gain another 5% (or so) of functionality, has her sex organs removed, because they're interfering with her climbing. (The male protag, of course, keeps his, wins the contest—his asexual competition dies.)

Back to Sherlock & Mary, and their peripatetic adventures. One of the things that's kind of interesting about this series is that the author has started to jump around in the characters’ timeline, so the books are no longer sequential—one trick is to set up the story in an earlier time, then continue with the main action some while later. Thus, Locked Rooms (which explores Mary Russell's childhood, and which emotional resonance lends vigour to the book) goes all the way back to her childhood when she was six; similarly, this book starts out with a brief years’ earlier encounter with Sherlock Holmes’ son, folded invisibly into the timeline covered in earlier books.

And now he's back, with a missing wife and child, which quickly balloons into secret societies, ritualistic killings, contrasted with Mary's efforts to figure out why one of Sherlock's hives is ‘going mad’. The parallels between that minor mystery and the larger ones didn't quite work for me, but the book ends with a thrilling cross-country ride in an attempt to rescue an innocent—all very traditional in the best of Doyle's adventures, and to be welcomed.

However, it's really only half the story. The villain is soon found to have escaped, Mary and Sherlock, now both far from either Sussex or London, must split up, and even Mycroft is shifted out his usual [venue]. The book proposes some interesting historical elements (shell shock, what we now call PTSD, also a vital component of Lord Peter Wimsy's post-war character) not to mention the difficulty of passing the reins of power in Mycroft's shadowy, and enormously powerful, organization.

Controlling all these characters—Mary, Sherlock, his son Damian, and (grand)daughter Estelle, not to mention Mycroft, Lestrade jr., two new secondary protagonists (both of whom I found delightful, though the one was sadly underused) the villain from the prior book and a new one for this book, all in various locales—Scotland, Holland, London, etc—proved awkward. (Major spoilers follow.)


Mycroft's need to address the orderly transfer of power never really is addressed. Mary is appalled by his peculation, which frankly in light of his international manoverings, seems like very small potatoes indeed—nearly a subset of Mycroft's usual activities.

The overarching villain in book one is revealed to be a an easily controlled (& eliminated) catspaw in book two, and the setup for the big bad—one of Mycroft's rivals—was nonexistant in the first book, and unconvincing in this one. Yeah, sure, Mycroft had a heart attack and was incapicitated for a couple of months. But no-one that clever could have failed to see plots like this coming years in advance, and to be very watchful for them.

In the same way Damian's wife is casually killed off, so too is her murderous ex-husband; meanwhile, Damian and the new (male) secondary character is left behind in Holland, while Sherlock bums around and Mary triapses into London, leaving the three-year-old charge she's promised to guard like a tiger...everyone is sort of wandering around rather randomly, picked and put down without slowly increasing tension and drawing together for a final climax.

Mycroft's escape is particularly poorly rendered, to the point where even I could see the author was really flailing. And his mathematical musings show, again, why a non-mathematician should never try to depict one who's a genius. Yeesh...as Holmes (both of them) cry, you need data to plug into equations, not vague ideas or people, which are diffuse and anything but (heh) rational, or rationalizable. I've always felt it's much easier to set up thrilling stories than successfully land them, and even really good authors fail occasionally.

(1)One reason this review has languished some 7 months since I wrote it.

11may2018

cropSo those two spacers in the background are the fugly part:)

As someone who's had to wear glasses since 7th grade, I can totally get behind the idea of eye exams for everyone, and passing out the first pair free or for a nominal fee. Like depression, vision difficulties are nothing to be ashamed of. —I do recall reading somewhere that the single most frequent ‘differently abled’ accommodation we make is wearing glasses (or other corrective therapies.)

Glasses permit me to drive, read computer screens, watch videos (and especially, read subtitles, practically a necessity anywhere except a theatre, because of another mild disability, the lack of proper processing wetware to distinguish conversations from other background noise and/or increasing deafness.) It's such an easy fix, (NYT link) but mebbe all these hotshot donors don't realize just what a lifesaver this tool is? (And I do mean that literally. Cars and poor vision don't mix well, especially when darkness or bad weather joins the fray.)

David Graber has a new book out, based on his essay about bullshit jobs; like a lot of people, I think it's more the problem of too many jobs having that 80% crap component, and while I agree most meetings are a bore, I will note the wizard does actually have to meet with his boss (or some other people) in order to discover what it is they actually want him to do. And wasn't it not that long ago I posted some link or other about current tech driving people back into city-level concentrations?

More than a few people have pointed out the thumb-twiddling receptionists might be critical for signalling one's got an actual going concern, or door(wo?)men as nice, non-violent guards. Nevertheless, there is a lot of tedious, mundane labour that could and should be automated. The only real argument I've heard for a 40hour week is that some jobs require you put in that much time simply to stay at the top of your game. —I suspect that category is small, and moreover, even they would be happy to dispense with the BS, i.e. the tedious parts of their jobs.

Still need to listen to the rest of this talk, but the coloured chart alone is a very nice presentation on how writing systems have evolved.

Speaking of rainbow presentations, I think I got some level of that with today's focal which rather surprised and pleased me, considering how fugly my first two attempts, the spacers, were.

10may2018

cropSo stories about depression seem to be making the rounds again. I've never had the lie-in-bed-without-even-the-energy-to-dress-or-feed-myself levels of depression, but even the mild condition (which to be honest probably alternates between anxiety and depression, those two often being comorbid and more difficult to distinguish than you might think) is bad enough that I'm happy to do what I can to push these PSAs along.

One of the ways I combat bad moods is stringing(1): once I figure out, more or less, any difficulties, it's a nice, engaging way of living in the moment, probably as close to peace or meditation as I'm likely to get.

(1)And one of the horrible ironies of depression is that it cuts off these helpful activities—things you enjoy, good food, taking a walk in the sunshine: it all becomes too much.