Tuesday, April 27, 2010

graffiti faces

sad flyer

I like to think this graffiti was made by a child, saddened by the end of his yoga class.

postbox character

All the mailboxes and most of the newspaper boxes in the neighbourhood are now graced with theses black and white faces.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Seahorses & nautilus

pillow 016
pillow 015
pillow 030
pillow 029
view nautilus pillow
reverse nautilus pillow

Yesterday, I organized the back room and the fabric situation stash. It's actually organized by colour now. At least, the contemporary fabric is... anyhow, with this new-found organization, I quickly made a new seahorse and a nautilus pillow. The turquoise seahorse I've had for a while, but had not photographed. In fact, I was going to give it to a friend's son, but I made him a dinosaur instead.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Euoplocephalus Pillow

Yes, more pillows. Today, we have Late Cretaceous Dinosaurs:
euoplocephalus on chair
euoplocephalus pillow back
with a vintage quail or pheasant or something.

euoplocephalus reverse bird

euoplocephalus patchworkThis pillow features my block printed Euoplocephalus dinosaur in mauve on gold silk. The front side is a patchwork with two other contemporary fabrics, one floral the other like marbled paper. The reverse is a patchwork of handwoven Nepalese fabric (screenprinted with leaves by etsy textile artist tanisalexis) and vintage 'gamebird' fabric in earth tones. The pillow is 14.5 inches (37 cm) wide and 11 inches (28 cm) high.

Girls like dinosaurs too you know.

euoplocephalus pillow

Euoplocephalus, a tank of a plant-eating, Late Cretaceous Ankylosaur dinosaur, has a name which literally means well-armoured head. He had fused plated protecting back and neck and triangular horns protecting his face, shoulders and tail. His main weapon was a ball of fused bone which acted as a club at the end of his tail. He was 20 feet or 6 m long, had thick legs to carry his heavy weight and likely ambled through woodlands in what is now Alberta and Montana.

This pillow is one of a kind!

Friday, April 23, 2010

High Five Raccoon Pillow... with aeroplanes!

Cause that's what it wanted.

raccoon high five pillow
raccoon high five pillow
raccoon high five pillow reverse

This is a second pillow pillow (~38 cm by 41 cm or 15 inches by 16 inches) featuring my neighbour, a raccoon and "HIGH FIVE" text (hand-carved in reverse) block printed on striped silk in a patchwork with other fabric. It is different dimensions and different fabrics than the previous raccoon pillow - so each is unique. The reverse features a print fabric with gray and black patterns or aeroplanes, dots and stripes in a patchwork with a burgundy wool and red pin-striped, block-printed minouette label.

I like having some fabric which is fun, but not too feminine:
raccoon high five pillow reverse top
The raccoon is the ultimate urban animal. It thrives in cities. Urban animals like typography.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Henrietta Swan Leavitt

Henrietta Swan Leavitt time series

This is a first edition lino block print of the woman who was able to set the scale of our Universe. A portrait of Henrietta Swan Leavitt is printed in silvery lavender ink on Japanese kozo (or mulberry paper). Behind her is a line showing stellar luminosity (capital L with subscript sun-symbol, a circle with a dot) as a function of time (t). She is printed over constellations in gold (Cepheus, Cassiopeia, Draco, Ursa Minor and Andromeda). The first edition is a run of 6 prints, each 10" by 12.5" (25.4 cm by 31.8 cm).
Henrietta Swan Leavitt

Henrietta Swan Leavitt (July 4, 1868 – December 12, 1921) was an American astronomer. In her day, women scientists were regularly hired to do menial chores. She was hired to count images on photographic plates as a "computer".* In studying these plates, in 1908 she was able to deduce a ground-breaking theory, which allowed Hubble's later insight about the age and expansion of the universe**. Her period-luminosity relation for Cepheid variable stars radically changed modern astronomy, an accomplishment for which she received little recognition during her lifetime.

Cepheid variables are a class of pulsating star. They are named for the star Delta Cephei in the Cepheus constellation. The relationship between a Cepheid variable's luminosity and pulsation period is quite precise. It had not been obvious to tell whether a star was dim because it was less luminous, or whether it was merely further away. Swan Leavitt's discovery lets astronomers use Cepheids as "standard candles". They allow astronomers to determine distances to celestial objects and form the foundation of the Extragalactic Distance Scale.

Henrietta Swan Leavitt

This April, the Mad Scientists of Etsy are celebrating Henrietta Swan Leavitt, who died too young, but accomplished more than most and greatly added to our understanding of our place in the Universe.

Also, she's a serious contender to battle Annie Jump Cannon for "best astronomer middle name".


*These "computers" were quite literally treated like automatons.

**Ejnar Hertzsprung used her discovery to plot the distance of stars; Harlow Shapley used it to measure the size of the Milky Way; and Edwin Hubble used her work to ascertain the age of the Universe.

Monday, April 19, 2010

High Park

Pictures from High Park, yesterday.

blossomsblue flowersblue flower carpet
cheery blossoms
bottoms up goose
turtle on branch
Canada geese
duck couple

We had a visiting student from Victoria last week. Yesterday, we wandered around High Park all morning, then out west along the beach, past the butterfly sanctuary to Reconciliation Beach, and back. Then I made the group stop for brunch before continuing east along Queen W. By Gladstone I bailed, being somewhat exhausted. I happened upon Reynardin on my way home, which never happens. So, she invited me for dinner. :)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Reading is sexy XXXV

(photograph by Nina Leen)

17. The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing edited by Richard Dawkins. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. There were some excellent selections, interesting themes, authors who were new to me, and I (a professional scientist) learned many things. Some authors are stars or revolutionaries in their fields. Some are scientists with a real gift for communication. A few science writers are represented. Any anthology, as soon as it is published, is open to second guessing about content. I can recommend this book The Oxford Book of Modern Science Evolutionary Biology with Bits of Astrophysics and Some Other Things -Especially Entropy* Writing (note: entropy is over-represented but it is arguably the portion of physics with the most ramifications for, you guessed it, evolutionary biology and genetics) as an excellent repository of some science writing over the last century. The content is excellent, if biased towards Dawkins' own field of evolutionary biology. Now, when a scientist accuses another scientist of bias, well, them's fightin' words, but I'm not certain Dawkins would find an accusation of bias in favour of evolutionary biology all that insulting. It's sort of like water to fishes, or the air we breathe; when something is omnipresent sometimes it's difficult to notice. Like a good experimentalist, I thought I would try to be quantitative, not just qualitative in my analysis. (I recognize by presenting statistics in a book review about science writing I'll probably loose my last imaginary reader, but I'm afraid I don't care. Numbers are useful, and our friends, so stick with me!) In order to insure some sort of impartiality, after doing my own count, I switched to identifying author disciplines based on his one-line biographies. So these are disciplines according to Dawkins himself:

Number of entries in the book: 88
Number of Featured Authors: 83 (this does not include hapless co-authors)

You can see that 'soft' or biological sciences in cool colours are well over half the entries, leaving the orange and red 'hard' physical sciences a mere third of the entries. The slight to chemistry seems very odd, but poor Earth and planetary science (geology, geophysics, geochemistry, atmospheric science, oceanography) are not represented at all (though one paleontology entry comes close to geology).

Biological Sciences
Biologists: 12 (4 of whom get two entries)
Zoologists: 3
Evolutionary Biologists: 11
Molecular Biologist: 1

Philosopher of Biology: 1
Ecologists: 2

Neurobiologists: 1
Neuropsychologists: 2
Psychologists: 2
Medical Doctors: 2

Paleontologists & Paleoanthropologists: 5 (2 of whom get two entries)

I confess I would lump a lot of the above into an undifferentiated mass labelled 'biology' or 'soft sciences'.

Earth & Planetary Sciences
Geology: 0 (though in fairness, one of the Paleontologists is pretty close)
Geophysics: 0
Geochemistry: 0 (though one of the chemists give a hint)
Planetary Science: 0 (though some astronomers allude to it)
Atmospheric Physics: 0
Climatology: 0
Oceanography: 0

Physical Sciences
Chemistry: 2
Physics: 16
Astronomy: 7 (3 of whom get two entries and 1 of whom writes about, you guessed it, evolutionary biology)
Frankly, differentiating these last two groups is somewhat arbitrary.

Mathematics: 7
Philosophy: 1 (about, you guessed it, evolutionary biology)
Cognitive science: 1
Engineering: 1

Another bias might be somewhat less obvious, unless plotted.

Male featured authors: 77
Female featured authors: 2
(though one male authour writes about Dorothy Hodgekiss, and Barbara Gamow, not a 'featured' author, gets a half credit for one song, though in the actual book the credit is for the music, not the words)

But, science is male-dominated, you can't imply bias just because an anthology of science writing only has 2.4% entries by female writers.
Can't I? Considering the strong bias towards biological sciences, which are far less male-dominated, in fact, I think allowing women less than one twentieth of their statistical representation in nature, in a discussion of SCIENCE, one of the greatest intellectual achievements of our species, is, in a word biased. Let me be clear: I use the word not in the colloquial sense to mean close-minded, but in the technical sense to mean that there is a systematic error. The data are not reflective of the candidate population, even when we take into consideration that women represented less than half of all of the sciences included, with decreasing representation the further back in time one looks. The above pie chart might have been somewhat representative in the Middle Ages, but it is strongly skewed for selections since 1900.

I noticed that all the glowing reviews in serious periodicals, and wondered if anyone else objected to this bias. A google search lead to the book's wikipedia entry which details how well-received the book has been, but that the book had been critized by many science bloggers for its lack of female authors. If you follow the link you can see some discussion. Dawkins defends himself by claiming "It is not an anthology of 'science writing' ...[rather] It is a collection of writing by good scientists, many of them dead and very distinguished." Strange, as this is not strictly true, since he includes Martin Gardner, a (male) science writer, so he could just as well have included "Olivia Judson and the other admirable science writers" who happen to be female. Further, I do not buy his claim that he was limited by the demographics of scientists from 1900 onward (because the pie chart above still wouldn't match, and would be off by more than a factor of 10, anyway you slice it). Now, I do not think either a) he should include more women merely on principle or b) that there should necessarily be a one-to-one relationship between gender of scientists and authors in the book. However, I do think that even if quality of writing is the sole guide, his list is biased, as there are many excellent female scientists who were or are known for their writing ability. Further, I think that it is harmful to make that group even more invisible, by implicitly denying their existence. Lastly, readers are missing out on these other voices, and entire fields of science.

For reference I checked a couple of anthologies of science writing which happened to be on my shelf -both managed more than 2 female authors despite beginning at earlier times (mid 19th century) or being limited to physics, the most male-dominated field, respectively.

I will also comment that in an otherwise excellent and fascinating entry on the mathematics of the growth of spirals in nature (in everything from ram's horns to nautilus shells) D'Arcy Thompson repeatedly uses the word 'velocity' in error. He tries to define a spiral as 'If, instead of travelling with uniform velocity, our point moves along the radius vector with a velocity increasing as its distance from the pole, then the path described is called an equiangular spiral.' The problem with this, as every high school physics student knows, is that velocity is a vector quantity with a magnitude and a direction. One cannot speak of moving with uniform velocity while continuously changing your direction. There's a good, simple, old-fashioned, Old English, monosyllabic word that would suit the purpose (where the fancier velocity does not fit). It's called speed. I hate when people use polysyllabic words erroneously rather than simple words correctly. I can only assume our biologist/mathematician/Classicist and our evolutionary biologists/anthologist were ignorant of this fact.

So, now that I've taken an excellent book to task for not being better, I thought I would do the unfair thing and list some people who I feel he left out.

J. Tuzo Wilson - Not only was Tuzo Wilson one of the sources of the major 20th century revolution in earth sciences - plate tectonics (filling that gap in subject matter) - but he was an successful author as well. His seminal (there's a loaded word for someone complaining of gender bias) 1963 paper 'A possible origin of the Hawaiian Islands' is so readable, I would quote it directly even for the lay person.

Derek York Derek was a geochronologist, a leader in his field, whose paper 'Least squares fitting of a straight line with correlated errors' has 1852 citations - its applicability and reach extending far beyond his own field. He also wrote popular science books and a science column for the Globe and Mail. He was, full disclosure, a friend and colleague.

Ted Irving As another revolutionary of plate tectonics - but also a world expert on rhododendrons- I would think his writing about the spread of plants through plate motions would give Dawkins another excuse to talk about evolutionary biology. He is, full disclosure, a friend and was a colleague.

Ursula Franklin I've already explained why renowned scientist and engineer Ursula Franklin ranks amongst my heroes. She is both a brilliant physical scientists and famous author.

Dava Sobel - astronomer and psychologist by training, first-rate, award-winning science writer by vocation, I think if Martin Gardner met Dawkins' criteria, Sobel does as well.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell - though in a typical move they opted to give the Nobel to her supervisors, for research she did, Jocelyn Bell Burnell is widely recognized as world-class astrophysicist and author and has even edited a volume of poetry.

Melba Philips - developer of the Oppenheimer-Phillips theory of neutron capture renown for her skills at physics education, writer of texts on electromagnetism from the introductory to the graduate level she would have made a great author to add to this collection.

Lisa Randall - well-known particle physicist, cosmologist and author (her allegories recall George Gamow, according to the New Yorker), Randall has also had a popularization of modern particle physics book make the New York Times Bestsellers List.

These are skewed perhaps to physics and geophysics*, but it isn't hard to think of some renown biologists and writers, who happen to be female.

Jane Goodall - renown primate biologist, ecologist and popularizer of science
Olivia Judson - evolutionary biologist and award winning science writer

I can also think of many excellent female science bloggers, but bloggers are probably too hip for Dawkins and OUP.

{Series so far: books read, more books read, books read, books read continues, more books read, I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII, XIII, XIV, XV, XVI, XVII, XVIII,XIX, XX, XXI, XXII, XXIII XXIV, XXV, XXVI, XXVII, XXVIII, XXIX, XXX, XXXI, XXXII, XXXIII, XXXIV}

*Also biased towards people I've met, but if I were actually editing an anthology, I could devote some time to acquainting myself with more world-class scientists and authors who I have not met and I would find some chemists, as a matter of principle.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


cat pedestal by sewing machine I have a weakness for various art, design and fashion blogs. One of the biggest street fashion (cum high fashion) blogs around is The Satorialist. In fact over the course of its existence Sart has gone from amateur to professional, shooting on the streets to shooting at the shows and writing for magazines. They say imitation is the highest form of flattery. The TCA today directed me to The Catorialist! Check it out; they've re-created the The Satorialist look, right down to the American Feline Apparel ad on the side with cats. It's awesome. Minouette would approve.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Reading is sexy XXXIV

{image via Daquar} 13. Grimus by Salman Rushdie This is Rushdie's first novel, and it is in fact science fiction (not magical realism). The cover, of course, is replete with "too good to be science fiction" reviews by the usual suspects of serious-periodicals-who-do-not-want-to-be -caught-dead-reading-SF. Mainly it's a fable, but immortality, other dimensions, extra-terrestrial life, and a quest, do play a part, as do anagrams.

The Native narrator's mother dies in childbirth. Our protagonist's gender is ambiguous for some years after birth and young Born-from-dead (nicknamed Joe-Sue) is inexplicably pale. All of these things make him an outsider, raised by his rebellious older sister Bird-Dog. Breaking taboo, Bird-Dog ventures down the plateau to learn about the people there (and names herself after a song she hears). Her brother comes of age; she takes his virginity and he is attacked by an eagle on the same day. He takes the name Flapping Eagle. Bird-Dog meets a gypsy named Sispy who offers her two bottles (for her and her brother each); a yellow liquid to proffer eternal life and a blue to take that life. Bird-Dog drinks the yellow bottle and smashes the blue, but Flapping Eagle saves his - a decision which drives a wedge between them. Bird-Dog runs away with Sispy, and Flapping Eagle finding himself is ostracized, drinks his yellow liquid and ventures into the world. He ends up a kept man of the hideous and mysteriously long-lived Livia Cramm, learning to sail the seven seas. He finds he has a competitor for the inheritance in despised occultist Nicolas Deggle. One day, Livia dies and his blue liquid goes missing. For seven centuries, he lives a nomadic sailing life* and grows tired of it all, when who should he meet, but "the Deggle himself". Through Deggle he finds himself washed up on the shores of Calf Island, home to immortals tired of life among the mortal. He is taken in by oddball couple Virgil Beauvoir Chanakya Jones and Mrs. O'Toole. He learns he must climb the mountain and face the mysterious, psychologically damaging 'Grimus Effect' if he ever hopes to find his sister Bird-Dog. He must fight his inner demons when a Gorf (an intellectual rock-like creature from the planet Terra, obsessed with ordering and anagrams) interferes with their progress, but he survives and makes it to the town of K. The town filled with immortal barkeeps, miners from the old west, failed academics, Russian aristocrats and token Marxist, and of course, a whore-house, where people avoid the Grimus effect by focusing all their attention on one thing, to allow them to ignore anything else. All this is back-story to allow Rushdie to use the utopian society of K, to critique society.

There are the usual Rushdie intellectual games; Gorf is an anagram of frog, and the quotation involving the myth of the simurg might prompt you to consider the word Grimus. I cannot consider a town named K without thoughts of Kafka though he cites Qāf (ق), a letter in the Arabic alphabet - hence, 'Calf Island'. I identified the philosopher-gnome as Polonius, and was rewarded with several allusions to Hamlet. The bar-keep is Flan Napolean O'Toole and his bar is called the Elbaroom. If the relationship between Flapping Eagle and Bird-Dog does not trigger thoughts of Freud and Oedipal complexes, consider the Madam named Jocasta and her flop-house called The House of the Rising Son.

This is an interesting book. He followed it with the more substantial Midnight's Children, but Grimus has its own rewards.

14. boring boring boring boring boring boring boring by Zach Plague. Yes, I read a book called boring boring boring boring boring boring boring; a "typo/graphical novel" "written and designed" by Plague. It's a satire about a town dominated by an arts school, Uni-Arts and the associated art culture (or lack thereof). It mixes imagery, typographical games with the text. For instance the hero Ωllister (almost exclusively written with an omega, not an O) faces the patriarchal figure and Mogul for the art scene The Platypus (written in a Gothic face) who is determined to get his hands on the Ωllister's grey book. Ωllister is the cool aloof outsider, and art prodigy, but really a sort of fledgling mover and shaker, all too often not only setting up the exhibits of his peers, but giving them the ideas and means necessary to to make the art. Adelaide is his ex and perhaps true love (allowing the author the rather bizarre typographical play on the Ω & A). Punk, is a punk, a loyal side-kick, and incredible source of chaos. I enjoyed this book. It's rare to see a real satire. Parts of this book were also surprisingly real and authentic feeling despite the outrageous absurdity, post-modern tricks, Appendices, plot around 'art terrorism' and copious drug consumption and students hooking up. There is also some great word-play which had me laughing at details such as a girl reading a magazine 'charticle' on 10 ways to get it on in a pond. The portfolio class was priceless. This book is also about loneliness, coming of age and trying to connect with people. The set up to the climax deserved a better denouement, but I recommend this book nonetheless. You can even read the book on his website.

15. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger I've been wanting to re-read this for a while. I think I last read it when I was about 15. One of my favorite authors, Douglas Hofstadter has written that he re-reads The Catcher in the Rye once every 10 year to see what each new decadal incarnation feels about the book. I appreciated that when I mentioned this to my Mom and the DJ and we all agreed this is a book we wanted to revisit. (I was scandalized that a friend - you know who you are- harboured strong opinions about the novel without ever having read it). It was fascinating, though I had forgotten many things, what had stayed with me. It was, much to my surprise, funnier than I recalled. Holden Caulfield's voice is so strong, and he has some observations which are pretty witty, despite the darkness of the larger story ark. There's so much of what it feels like to be human here, of grief, of frustration at having to play a role in society (prisons we choose to live inside), of how people mistreat and ignore each other, of games men and women play, the tragedy of growing up. If you haven't read this book, why not now?

16. Blindness by José Saramago. This was not what I was expecting, though I now realize in hindsight that The Cave was alluding to one horrific episode. A man is driving home when he is suddenly struck with 'white blindness'. A stranger helps him home and then helps himself to the man's car - but karma is swift as the thief is soon blind. The government quarantines those infected in a futile attempt to avoid an epidemic of blindness. The ophthalmologist's wife feigns blindness so as not to be separated from her husband. The society within the quarantine rapidly degenerates; hygiene is a challenge for the newly blind and the soldiers guarding them at gun point (for fear of infection) supply insufficient food. As the quarantined group grows rapidly, the small society around the doctor's practice is faced with some of the worst horrors humans can create. New inmates use guns and violence to hoard food and turn the quarantine into a veritable concentration camp. After extracting all the valuables from their fellow blind people, the women are the next 'commodity' to be extorted under threat of starvation. Saramago writes in a particular style, avoiding names and referring to characters by titles like 'the man with the eye patch', 'the girl with the dark glasses' and 'the doctor's wife' which gives the feeling of a fable. Further, he avoids most punctuation, particularly in dialogues, but his characters are so strong that one can generally identify the speaker. The doctor's wife is not only sighted but a true hero. The connections and artificial family which develops in the face of extreme hardship is touching and a sign of hope, but this book made me weep.

17. The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing edited by Richard Dawkings. I needed to know that I had found a book which wouldn't make me cry.

{Series so far: books read, more books read, books read, books read continues, more books read, I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX, X, XI, XII, XIII, XIV, XV, XVI, XVII, XVIII,XIX, XX, XXI, XXII, XXIII XXIV, XXV, XXVI, XXVII, XXVIII, XXIX, XXX, XXXI, XXXII, XXXIII}

*Any boat which survives seven centuries of sailing is definitely science fiction.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

minouette cards

minouette moo

I got some business cards made for things from secret minouette places (from moo). The photo is poorly lit, but here's an idea of the set. I like 'em! The reverse includes a stripe of the jellyfish print and all my contact info.