Friday, April 29, 2011

If you're in Toronto tomorrow,

Please join 25 local handmade vendors for the first ever The TESTy Spring Craft Show The Gladstone Hotel Ballroom, Saturday April 30th, 10:00 AM - 4:00 PM!

Great time and place to pick up some handmade goodness for Mother's Day!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Reading is sexy XLIV

(image credit: Ramon Casas- Decadence 1899) Wow, I have been woefully neligent of reporting on my reading. I've also been reading a bit less, but the main problem was my response to a certain book (see below). I felt so strongly that a proper review required re-analysis of data, charts and maps (undoubtedly a surefire way to diminish my imaginary, book review audience to vanishingly small size and/or make it come to question my sanity) and then never found the time to do so. Of course, the solution is to post some brief reviews with a pointer to a future planned post where I explain that those of us with a facility with numbers are not mean, arrogant, ogres to be avoided, and we may even have incredibly useful data-analysis skills which we would be willing to share with people who are not self-righteous jerks or glorying in their innumeracy as if that made them culturally superior collaborators in other fields.

4. Heavenly Intrigue - Johannes Kepler, Tycho Brahe, and the Murder Behind One of History's Greatest Scientific Discoveries by Joshua and Anne-Lee Gilder This was great. You should read it. I read a lot of history of science, and sometimes when you read a book like this you think perhaps the history of science books should be left to people who aren't scientists. I am a big fan of Tycho Brahe. The Danish sixteenth century astronomer not only found a supernova, but his excellence as an experimentalist and insistence on repetability of measurements literally provided a definition of the modern scientific method. He does not get enough credit. That's partially because he had one biographer who disliked him (as the Gilders convincingly show) and he was painted as a hot-head, who lost his nose in a duel over a woman of questionable reputation (which is quite unfair, and also fails to express the sheer commonplace nature of dueling amongs the Danish nobility of the time). Further, Tycho lived his life in the open, including his devotion to his life-long, common-law wife and his efforts to ensure his offspring could inherit, so it's not so surprising he had a metal nose made and got on with it. Without Tycho's data Kepler would not have been able to calculate his three laws of planetary motion (and come within a hair's breath of Newton's law of Universal Gravitation). It would have been very easy to erroneously assume orbits were circular, not ellipses (as the orbits are damn near circles) but Tycho's data was too good for this and included estimates of accuracy. Tycho often gets a lot of flack from theorists for failing to entirely accept the Copernican heliocentric model of our solar system. The Tychonian model has the planets rotating the sun, and the whole kit n' kaboodle circling the Earth. This is often explained as his reticence to make that 'paradigm shift'. The Gilders put the lie to this idea. They show that he would have accepted the model, except the notion that the Earth rotates around the sun would lead any good astronomer to deduce that there would be stellar paralax. (Hold your index finger up and look at it with alternating eyes closed - left-right-left-right. The finger appears to move because of binocular paralax. As we trace out our orbit through space, we expect the stars' observed positions to change through the same effect. This does in fact happen, but because the Universe is many many orders of magnitude larger than Tycho knew, the effect is so small, it was not observed till the 20th century. So, like a good experimentalist, he was unable to accept a theory which was counterdicted by the data.) I've read previous (disappointing) biographies of Kepler. This biography certainly paints him in an unflattering light, though the assessments from his diaries are self-assessments. The authors produce a convincing argument that Tycho Brahe was murdered (an expert experimentalist and alchemist/pharmacist, he was poisoned) and then establish a motive, a rather bizarre and anti-social character, opportunity for Kepler that they use to argue that .... guess who did it? While a using forensic science to solve a murder from 1601 will by necessity require some circumstantial evidence (I am convinced of the poisoning but not entirely of the poisoner), they tell a good story. Further, since they go back to the primary sources, they avoid the mistake of far too many scientists, of re-telling legends. It's good to know that one does not in fact die from neglecting to relieve one's bladder at a royal banquet. I'm sure some guests of this week's upcoming nuptials will be relieved.

5. Natural Experiments of History. Edited by Jared Diamond and James A. Robinson. Now, I read this because the journalist brought home the uncorrected page proofs, as newspapers can not store these free books from publishers indefinitely. So, it's not impossible a couple of the more eggregious statements were removed by a sensible person at the Harvard University Press before the final version was put to press. One can only hope so, though I doubt they will bother re-plot the data, unfortunately. I was intrigued. The editors point out that any field of study involving the past cannot be directly investigated with experiments, however some "natural experiments" can often be drawn from amongst events which have occured which can allow us to draw insight from comparative case studies on one end of the spectrum through to quantitative analysis. I think this is great, and fairly obvious to an earth scientist - someone trained with all the numerical tools of a physicist to study the earth where natural changes happen over geological time. I read the chapters on a variety of subjects which would not normally cross my path (Polynesian cultural evolution, parterns of boom and bust in settler societies of the 19th century, development of new world banks and the relationship to government, ecology and inter-island comparisons in Polynesia or intra-island comparisons between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the present-day economic consequences of slavery on Africa, land tenure and public good in India, the spread of the French revolution in conquered regions of what is now Germany). These were very interesting and for the most part convincing - partially because the analysis of numerical data was so shallow and claims so small that they had to be convincing (i.e. x and y are positively corrolated, when with some no-how it would have been posible to establish far more significant claims.) The attitude of the editors, Diamond in particular, was rather unfortunate. I should have guessed when I read in the Prologue that the inability to make controlled and replicated laboratory experiments "misleads laboratory scientists into looking down on fields of science that cannot employ manipulative experiments" that perhaps this was not to be a book which celebrates scholarship without petty inter-disciplinary biases. The comparisons to science are neither helpful nor accurate and the comments about statistics are downright rude. By the time I reached the Afterword, and read the scorn-drenched sentence, "Mathematicians and physical scientists who have never tried to measure something as important as urbanization or happiness often sneer at the efforts of social scientists to operationalize these concepts, and they quote examples of operationalizing pulled out of context to justify their scorn," I wondered about the burden of carrying around such a chip on ones shoulder and whether that was what blinded them to the possible benefit of seeking some advice from "mathematicians and physical scientists" - you know they sort of people who have known about the importance of error analysis since Tycho Brahe, when handling messy data. I will say what I do think is dreadful: Diamond's own chapter actually states that he and co-author aren't staticians so they hired one and these are the results (without any sort of evidence whatsoever... unless you count the advice to go read the article they wrote with the aid of the stastician elsewhere). That would not pass the peer review in science. It's simply inconceivable. I doubt that there's anything wrong with their models, but have the respect to share them with your audience rather than say, this is the right answer, trust me. Further I am saddened that a dataset which strikes me as downright heroic (imagine gathering the records of all slaves exported from Africa for centuries) is not used to its full potential (and I indent to show what I mean by this in a further post). Lastly, there are entire paragraphs written to explain the unexpected "trends" in voter turn-out versus nature of land tenure in India when is obvious that a random-number generator could produce an equivalent plot. THERE IS NO TREND. Basic hypothesis-testing, which is something taught to undergraduates in say, biology or statistics could have avoided these needless errors. Some of these articles could have been vastly improved if the authors learned to judge the quality of a linear fit by looking at the chi-squared per degrees of freedom. Pity they took more time taking cheap shots at the numerate, and too little time to learn why and how we apply numerical methods. These words and attitudes really taint what otherwise would have been a fascinating book.

My desire to read any of Diamond's other books has plummeted.

6. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
. This gothic novel set in Franco's Spain (well, Barcelona, which thinks of itself as Catalonia) is a wonderful read. We have the romance of books, the intrigue of noir tension of life in the dictatorship, love stories, loss, families, tremendous characters, and real suspense. It's also a love letter to a wonderful city. Read it.

7. Demons in the Spring by Joe Meno. I really enjoyed these bittersweet, occasionally surreal or magical stories illustrated by some of my favorite illustrators (kozyndan, Caroline Hwang, the little friends of printmaking, Jay Ryan, Rachell Sumpter...). They really are beautifully crafted. Plus, it raises funds for literacy programs, so go ahead and buy it. The Swedish bankrobbers in 1973, the wife who turned into a cloud, the tragic miniature elephant, the imaginary Iceland and the city in the heart will be with me for a while.

8. Why work? Liam Gillick I picked this up at the Biennale at Auckland because I could, and the title amused me, and I liked the Medieval woodblock prints. I can't say I fully understood the turgid prose. Someone might suggest that grammar is useful when trying to communicate effectively, and introduce Mr. Gillick to the concept of the apostrophe. Just sayin'

{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, XXXV, XXXVI, XXXVII, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XL,XLI, XLII, XLIII}

Big Head

big head torosaurus detail Torosaurus with its big frill had the largest known head of any land animal. It was a sort of long-frilled Ceratopsians who lived in at the end of the Cretaceous period, 70 to 65 millon years ago. It might even be the same thing as best-known of the horned dinosaurs, the Triceratops. Recent research suggests that Torosaurus were not a distinct genus, but a mature form of Triceratops. Either way, this animal had one impressively large head. Skulls have been found which are 2.6 m or 8.5 feet long.


This is an original, first edition lino block print on Japanese kozo (mulberry paper) 8.25 inches tall by 13 inches wide (21 cm by 33 cm). The edition is limited to 6 hand-burnished prints. The colour is a somewhat variable green-bronze mixture, reflecting the variability we see in nature.

By the way, Torontonians should all come out to see the first ever Toronto Etsy Street Team Spring Craft Show at the Gladstone, this Saturday, April 30, 10 am to 4 pm. The Gladstone serves brunch (and drinks) you know. Any friend who wants to help me at said show would receive free minouette merch. ;)

Friday, April 22, 2011

and while we're at it, happy Earth day!

scan of Mercator Mercator knew a thing or two about his environment, and scale, and the disruption caused by people, so he's here today to remind us to be kind to our planet. He's printed in water-soluble ink on kozo paper (from leaf fibre rather than wood pulp, so it's more easily renewable), by the way.

also, happy birthday to synap too!

I'm sure you're launching into a great new decade for you!

Happy birthday!

double portrait

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Earthquake seismology great Inge Lehmann

The Mad Scientists of Etsy theme for the month of April is Earthquake Seismology. This was inspired to honour the victims of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. I decided I did not want to make art about the destructive power of earthquakes. (I'm offering a copy of my moku hanga woodblock print with all proceeds to the Canadian Red Cross for relief of those effected by the disaster. I hope this is more constructive an approach.).

I had been thinking, rather, for some time, of doing a portrait of Inge Lehmann (1888-1993), a Danish (or, as she put it the Danish) seismologist who was at the forefront of the field in the early twentieth century. In 1936, she wrote a paper, entitled simply P', in which she laid out her arguments supporting her discovery of the inner core of the earth.

Inge Lehmann portrait

We now know, as she first postulated, that the earth has roughly three equal concentric sections: mantle, liquid outer core and solid inner core. The crust, on which we live is merely a thin, um, scum really, on top of this slowly boiling pot. The only way to probe deep into the earth's core is to employ massive earthquakes, the waves they generate and the paths they follow. There are two main types of seismic waves used for studies of the globe, unimaginatively named Primary (or P, or compressional) and Secondary (or S, or shear). Imagine a glass of water with a straw; the straw will appear broken at the air-water interface, because light bends as it enters the water. Just like light travelling through different media, these seismic waves can bend, reflect or be transmitted at any boundary. The difference in physical properties between the mantle and outer core causes a P-wave shadow. (For S-waves, the shadow zone is absolute because liquids, like the outer core, do not support shear - imagine trying to cut water with a pair of shears and you can see this for yourself. Thus, no shear waves can make it through the outer core, and thus we can be certain the outer core is fluid). That means, the compressional waves from an earthquake can be recorded at seismic stations out to 105o from an epicentre and then there is a zone which is in the core's shadow. Lehmann found that there were some late-arriving P-waves are much larger angles (142o to 180o) which had been vaguely labelled 'diffractions'. She showed that these could be explained instead by deflections of the waves which travelled through the outer core at her postulated inner core boundary.

She later discovered a discontinuity in the mantle (confusingly also called the Lehmann discontinuity). She did important work well into her 70s and lived to be 105.

When she received the Bowie medal in 1971 (she was the first woman to receive the highest honour of the American Geophysical Union), her citation noted that the "Lehmann discontinuity was discovered through exacting scrutiny of seismic records by a master of a black art for which no amount of computerization is likely to be a complete substitute..." (1, 2).

I think her accomplishment is downright astonishing. To have the exactitude to work with the data and the daring to neglect the irrelevant and offer up a simple, elegant - correct! - explanation is a rare and marvellous thing. To be the top of her field in 1936, when she was a pioneer for women in science and had to compete in vain with incompetent men (her words,1) is heroic.

There are a grand total of two easily found photographs of Lehmann I was able to find on the internet. I based my portrait on the earlier one, to match the date of her phenomenal P' paper. I also show her model of the earth in red-orange ink, complete with mantle, inner and outer core, and travel paths for rays through the layers, including into the shadow zone.

Cats in Space

Things I learned today (when not doing serious physics stuff):

I knew about Laika and Ham but did not know that anyone attempted to train catstronauts. There is more information here. There seems to be some real confusion over the identities of Félix and Félicette, and which was the tabby and which was the black and white cat, but since I found a peer-reviewed article in Médecine aéronautique et spatiale which states that it was the female cat Félicette, I figure that must be true, and I thought you (especially Faunalia) should know that the French sent cats into space in 1963.

That is all.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Unicorns & Umbrellas


So, the first three Unicorns Amongst Umbrellas are either sold, or framed on my wall... thus, I decided to continue with a fourth.

Carved in linoleum, and printed on variety of Japanese washi paper (kozo, or mulberry and chiyogami and katazome-shi patterned paper) is a unicorn, strangely amongst a welter of lovely umbrellas. This piece employs the techniques of printmaking and collage. I am making a series of these multimedia; each one is unique. This is forth in the series.
Dimensions are approximately 12.5 inches by 18.5 inches (32 cm by 47 cm).

Also, I've been making some bookplates!

rainy day bookplates

My previous bookplates were all octopus-and-books, for some reason.

octopus bookplate

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Predicitive Twittering Abstract Poetry

Indigo Bunting Sings in Japanese So I know some of you hate the idea of twitter, some of you love it. I've been using it for quite some time now (@minouette), and enjoy it a lot more than I would have suspected. If you're curious there are many tricks to making it work for you. It's pretty easy to avoid the mundane, the shrill, or otherwise unfortunate users, and their existence shouldn't deter you from the entire concept. I find it a great news source for specific interests, and a means to filter the internet for interesting links. (I can follow everyone from @NASA to @feministhulk to @DAVID_LYNCH to @rebelmayor (William Lyon MacKenzie, Toronto's first mayor and 1837 rebel) to @sockington (a rotund cat) to collections of artists and science journalists, and of course several of the people on my friends' list here and this works for me). But it is, what it is. I doubt anyone's tweets warrant archiving (I'm looking at you, @librarycongress the Library of Congress). One can only be so profound in 140 characters. So, after that verbose caveat, let me pass on this funny Twitter tool du jour, That Can Be My Next Tweet, which employs your previous tweets as a means to predict your next (via teenangster, who calls it "like magnetic poetry, except way more embarrassing and personal.")

Here are some of the funnier suggestions for @minouette:
“More block print of Memories’ wedding guestbook will show up the pussycat… pillow. congratulations!”

“You promised tweets. Still waiting. : enough seismic data. perspective is crazy, but luckily not inside.”

“Haha! I watched a carpentry tool? It ought to Scott Walker and eating a documentary about reindeer and.”

“Radiolarians block prints. Will be at Pearson. Somehow, I’m listening to radiolarians Working on my block.”

“New monster avatar : today too!”

“Model wireless solar-powered charging ‘tree’ for a block printed pillow new monster avatar ; drinking tea?”

and, my favorite, (though I do love the idea of listening to radiolaria at the airport),

“Debugging imaginary problems is crazy, but more elegant than Toronto Street Team.”

Monday, April 11, 2011

Etsy Magic Monday link

Lady Giggleswick Thinks of Love

One of my fellow T.E.S.T. team members Lisa of Girl Can Create just dropped me a line to say she's included me in her Etsy Magic Monday post on her blog. Check out her blog for more art, Etsy goodness, and events in Toronto, several of which she hosts herself! It's great to receive such a lovely compliment, particularly on a Monday. ;)

Thank you!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Cloud Classification Pillow

Cloud Classification pillow
reverse cloud pillow

I took my cloud classification block and made a pillow!

A who's who of the clouds in the sky are handprinted in a cloud-like mass of circular diagrams on blue-indigo cotton, in this one of a kind pillow. The clouds represented are shown as they would appear in the sky; the lower altitude clouds are lowest, the mid-altitude clouds in the middle and the high altitude clouds at the top. We have cumulonimbus, stratocumulus and cumulus at the bottom. There are three types of altocumulus and one altostratus in the middle. The top level contains cirrocumulus and two types of cirrus clouds. Each is denoted by its own symbol. The reverse is a cloud-patterned print fabric. The pillow itself is cloud-shaped.

The pillow is roughly 38 cm across, 30 cm high and 7 cm deep (15" x 11" x 3").

Toronto Etsy Street Team Spring Craft Show!

Come find handmade wares from things from secret minouette places and 19 other vendors at the Gladstone, April 30!