Sunday, November 29, 2009

happy unicorn coffee

I find this amusing or enlightening or at least something worth posting. My three most common words in the last year, on twitter: thanks, blogging, time.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Imaginary Friends of Science: Descartes' Demon

Descartes' Demon all The 2nd in my 'Imaginary Friends of Science' series - after Maxwell's Demon* - is Descartes' Demon. Despite (or because) of his rationalism, René Descartes hypothesised the existence of an evil** daemon, a personification who is "as clever and deceitful as he is powerful, who has directed his entire effort to misleading me." The evil d(a)emon presents a complete illusion of an external world, including other people, or even his own body, when perhaps they didn't in fact exist. This is a sort of thought experiment to test the very idea of empiricism.

The modern version of this is the "brain in vat" (i.e. how do we know we aren't just brains in vats of biochemicals being stimulated to simulate what we sense). Descartes' Demon moves with the times, except perhaps when it comes to fashion. In fact, he bares an uncanny ressemblance to René Descartes himself, except for the horns, and the brain in a vat, of course.

Prior to taking the methodological skepticism (or, in the lovelier original, doute hyperbolique) to its extreme, in the Demon, Descartes used the dream argument as a thought experiment. Do we know this reality we each observe and experience exists or is it nothing but a dream? He uses this to show that in fact we can distinguish dream from reality. In this argument he was preceeded by two millenia by Zhuangzi (庄子;), 4th century BCE Chinese philosopher, who wrote, amongst other things "Zhuangzi dreamed he was a butterfly", which I came across in Jorge Luis Borges' famous essay "A New Refutation of Time".
Once Zhuangzi dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn't know he was Zhuangzi. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuangzi. But he didn't know if he was Zhuangzi who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuangzi. Between Zhuangzi and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things. (2, tr. Burton Watson 1968:49)

This philosopher was influential to Zen.

It's little wonder that in more recent and contemporary culture, we are still fascinated by these ideas. Consider Tweedledee and Tweedledum's warning to Alice in Through the Looking-Glass that the Red King asleep in the grass is dreaming about her, and that if he were to wake up she would "go out—bang!—just like a candle." Or The Matrix, which directly alludes to Alice. Likewise "Abre Los Ojos" (Open Your Eyes) (or its American remake, Vanilla Sky). Also the brain in a vat specifically makes appearances everywhere from Star Trek to Donovan's Brain.

Amsterdam: Descartes stayed here

Descartes himself was quite the character, alarming to contemporaries, even the scientists and philosophers. He liked to stay in bed until noon. It seems the enthuasism of his last great patron, Queen Christiana of Sweden, who demanded early morning tutorial, may have killed him. The moral of the story kids: no good come from studying before noon. Also, it's fun to try and tie all one's favorite things together.

Maxwell's Demon- closeup*Remember him? Maxwell's Demon fights entropy, rather than empiricism. I love these far-out gedenkenexperiments (or thought-experiments, but if you are trained in physics you take language cues from Einstein) of such solid rationalists. Maxwell's Demon is more benign... after all, he might yet save the Universe from heat death.

**Personally, I would translate malin in le malin génie as wicked, rather than evil. I associate the word with mischievious, clever elves in fairytales... a trickster rather than something you'd see on Supernatural.

Friday, November 27, 2009

O.O.T.S.S.O.E.R.A.A.A.P.: new Science Scout Badges!

Time for more Science Scout badges*! w00t! I am seriously inordinately fond of these things. I get several this time. Why? A combination of coincidence and input. That's right, through the wonder of social media, I suggested several badges and some of them were included. Can you (without reference to my twitter = cheating) guess which ones?

The “I could tell you about my research, but then I’d have to kill you” badge.
Also referred to as the "patent" badge.
Pretty self-explanatory.

The “I have served on a government advisory panel” badge.
Enjoying this experience is not a prerequisite.

Actually, I did enjoy it, but it was a lot of work.

The “I can say ‘Danger: High Voltage!’ (or something to that effect) in more than one language” badge.

See figure below. Somewhere I have a photo of our English-Spanish-German warning sign. I'm known professionally, for drawing skull-and-crossbones on experiments one mustn't touch.

The “that’s right people, I’m an artist, but I do science-y art and it’s cool” badge.

Simply scroll down.

Now the comp. sci. badges come in several different flavours. I'm not sure which one to award myself. I have certainly earned the level 1 The “I have written a computer program that I regularly use” badge. as well as level 2 The “I have written a computer program that others regularly use” badge. I don't program stuff for real-time, so I skip level 3. I did write a program which employed assembly code, but I made G "the liver" C write that part, so I don't quite qualify for level 4 The “I have written a program in assembly language that was used by others” badge.

This one is slightly ambiguous: The “my science equipment is so freaking big, that’s it’s bigger than where I live” badge. Our array is several kilometers in length, but long and thin. I think I qualify, as I certainly live in a much smaller place than it takes to deploy our experiments. Plus NEPTUNE is a 6000 km loop.

I even occasionally qualify for this one:
The “I’m a scientist but people tell me I look like a celebrity” badge. though it's a random selection of celebrities who don't really look like each other, and I take this as a sign of either dubious sanity, intention or eyesight on the part of the commenters.

Previously blogged here and here


*That's badges for the Order Of The Science Scouts Of Exemplary Repute And Above Average Physique, of course.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

More Handmade Goodies: The TCET Christmas Promo

come win the Team Canada Etsy giveaway! by rikrak creations. Check out the Trans-Canada Etsy Team blog for details! For every $10 you spend in any participating shop, such as things from secret minouette places, within these 12 days, gets you one ballot to the draw, for all this loot.
****1 bonus ballet can be earned by posting a "Letter to Santa" in our team blog's comments section; or blog your letter to Santa and mention this promo (please come back and leave your blog link here). This letter must contain you favorite item from each of 3 different participating stores: minouette, Trans-Canada Etsy Team shop, Chichi, La Paperie, inkyspider, kootsac, lotus paperie, mythicalmatters, tangente, pixel8ed,enthral, loopy4ewe, fiveforty, OffTheHooks, PrairiePeasant, PrairieThreads, RJcharms, rikrak, MyHandboundBooks, cleanbright, StringMeAlong, Intuibead, seaglassdesigns, WildWomanJewelry, & paisleybaby.

You can see my block printed butterfly pin in black ink on red silk up front.

Also, I've put all winter-themed block prints, including Vixen in the Snow, Winter Walrus and The Cottonwood Trail on sale for the next month.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Lioness and Lion

Lion and Lioness

My mother took this photograph at the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (the second 'n' is silent) in Tanzania, during her recent trip to Africa.

Isn't it ^%$# amazing!?

She's got other great wildlife shots, but this one is my favorite. I swear, Minouette gives me that look sometimes. I interpret it as, "When's dinner?"

MEGA handmade giveaway!

moon ornament for rikrak Check out this spectacular giveaway by the lovely rikrak! The incredibly generous gift pack (valued at over $450 US) of handmade items in red and silver, includes my moon ornament. There are many easy ways to play, for a chance to win. You can even enter by simply post a link to your favorite minouette item on her blog. Check her blog for all the details.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Lucinda the giraffe

Lucinda giraffe with treeback of giraffe Lucinda pillowLucinda the giraffe loves to surf, ride horses and go rock climbing. She's fascinated by geology, and mountain formation in particular. She loves the ocean and swimming. She's a little bit shy, until you get to know her, but she's a down-to-earth, clever, fun kind of giraffe. She's the sort of giraffe who makes a great and loyal friend.

reverse LucindaLucinda giraffe faceLucinda is an original lino block print giraffe in brown textile ink on hot pink cotton. The backside is patchwork in pink andburgundy. The top is burgundy and the bottom is a print fabric with mermaids, turtles, octopi and bathers - perfect for the surfing ocean-lover. She is roughly 30 cm or 12 inches tall.

minouette and friendsI think Minouette wants to add Lucinda to her posse of Elephant and Polar Bear.

mad scientist ornaments

mushroom ornaments There is a treasury of Mad Scientist ornaments here. You can vote for your favorite Mad Scientist ornament here, including my Natural History Ornaments.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

crosswalk robot

crosswalk robot

He's all reflective and everything.
I walk by him every work day morning.
I'd like to photograph him as he catches the headlights of a car.
It's like the 'Robot & Bike Lane' symbol.
Though, perhaps, it's a 'Help me, I'm a squashed Robot' symbol....

p.s. why yes, those are my crazy stripey shoes.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Reading is sexy XXVII

{Image: The South-Going Astronomer, a wonderful and topical etching I have on my wall, by Lindsey Clark-Ryan, ole rattlesnake herself} I've made the error of waiting too long before writing about books again, but here goes...
28. The Measure Of All Things - The Seven-Year Odyssey That Transformed The World by Ken Alder Now this is how you write a popular non-fiction book about science. Sit-up and take notice all ye of whom I have previously written. This marvelous book details the incredible, heroic story behind the birth of metric.* It should be required reading for undergraduates in science and physics in particular. As the image can attest, the story is one which can capture the imagination of an artist as well. Mid-eighteenth century revolutionary ideas about democracy, universality, human rights, trade and economics lead naturally to the realization that natural, universal units were a necessity (in the Old World and the New). We can little imagine the complete chaos of local units, based on the arms of merchants, or areas measured in days of labour expected to harvest a given crop which my vary depending on slope, or rocks, or who knows what all. It is in the last days of the ancient régime, before the French Revolution, that two self-made astronomers, Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Delambre and Pierre-François-André Méchain (illustrated in the etching) were despatched on the epic adventure of measuring the meridian from Dunkerque to Barcelona. The goal was to set the length of the meter as 1/10000th of the quarter-meridian, the basis of length from the shape of the earth itself. Neither scholar imagined that they would face such incredible obstacles, including arrest, the French Revolution**, ignorance of peasants at a time when accusations were often followed with prompt decapitation, war with Spain, life threatening illness and injury, the Terror, execution of loved ones and colleagues, dissolution of the Academie, astronomical inflation and associated severe budgetary crises, Napoléon, on top of all the vagaries of weather, and the incredible scope of the expedition. Most troubling of all was dealing with the unprecedented precision from Borda's repeating circle, recognition of errors (before error analysis) and the complete mental break-down of Méchain in view of his own mistake. Not only does this book make their adventures come alive, it is one of the strongest explanations of the importance of errors in measurement I have ever read. The significance of this to science cannot be over-stated. The cast of supporting characters is wonderful, including the ugly, egalitarian yet womanizing astronomer Lalande, famed chemist and (tragically for him) tax-farmer Lavoisier, and one-and-only mathematician Legendre are priceless. Basically, go read this book!

29. The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen Reading this novel I thought, yes, this is what I want to do all the time. Why can't I just get paid to read books like this? I would be happy doing this indefinitely. Of course, are there books like this one? That is a harder question to answer. Tecumseh Sparrow Spivet (best. name. ever.) is a gifted prodigy in cartography at 12 years old. He lives on a ranch near Divide, Montana, with his mother, stalled entomologist, Dr. Clair, his teenage sister, Gracie, who would love to escape their small town and peculiar family, and strong-silent cowboy father T.E. Spivet. His brother Layton, has died, and we slowly learn more. T.S. keeps different coloured notebooks*** for maps of people doing things; zoological, geological, and topographical maps; and insect anatomy (should Dr. Clair ever call on his help), respectively. for T.S. learns he has won the prestigious Baird Award from the Smithsonian, for his incredible mapping and scientific illustration work, and his adventure begins, as he decides to accept in person, but being 12, he sees his best means of transport as to hop on a freight train and hobo east. In this beautiful, whimsically illustrated book, T.S. maps everything from the Continental divide, to beetle subspecies, to cowboy moves, to facial expressions, to geology, to how McDonald's "penetrates my permeable barrier of aesthetic longing", to concentration of litter in Chicago, to his family history, to a many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics and what this might have meant for his family. This book is beautiful, in terms of the sensitivity and originality of the story (Wormholes of the Midwest! the hobo hotline?), the love of knowledge expressed, down to the layout of the text and images on the page. Maybe we will be lucky enough to be recruited into the Megatherium club. The manner in which this child's mind breaks up the world is a reminder of why science is wonderful and the joy of unfettered thinking. The story is also interwoven with that of T.S.' ancestors, including his great-grandmother the early geologist. We get both 'when science was young' and 'the young scientist'.

30.Enemies of Promise - Publishing, Perishing, and the Eclipse of Scholarship by Lindsay Waters. I bought this little book published by the aptly named Prickly Paradigm Press, because I am sympathetic to the notion that publishing at all costs is not good for academia, because I thought it might teach me something about what my colleagues in the arts actually do (i.e. how does one build knowledge without the standard of falsifiability), and because it was 50 cents. It was not a good investment. Unless you either a) believe that it is better for people to publish quantity than quality books or b) have a personal vendetta against Stanley Fish, I don't think you need to read this book.

31.Burnt Water by Carlos Fuentes I enjoyed this book of short stories, interwoven by linked incidental characters, buildings and Mexico City itself. Particularly, I enjoyed the magical realism of Chac-Mol wherein the Aztec underpinnings seep through, or In a Flemish Garden with its colonial ghosts. All the stories contained memorable characters and they work together to present a picture of a city of different classes, genders, and politics together as one cohesive whole.

32.You Don't Love Me Yet by Jonathan Lethem This was a very readable novel about art and music and love - and a kangaroo. Lucinda is a bassist in a band in LA. She gets a job answering phones as part of an art installation Complaint Line, wherein callers can complain about anything. Her depressed ex Matthew is the singer in the band, and works at the zoo. Denise the drummer, works in a 'masturbation boutique'. The band depends on their genius, socially inhibited songwriter, Bedwin, but he's suffering from writer's block.**** Lucinda begins to fall for a certain Complainer, and his complaints work their way into songs, and there are dire consequences. This is a short, fun, deceptively light novel. It somehow manages to blend the absurd with people and situations I swear I've seen. It feels real.

33. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing. Doris Lessing is the sort of writer who can write a memoir about her cats and it is profound, real and meaningful. This is a fascinating, book. This edition, published in 1971, just over a decade from his first edition, contains a Preface by the author, which instinct told me to save to the end. The novel has this interesting structure; it contains a small novel called 'Free Women' which is divided in five parts. Interspersed between these parts are the differently coloured notebooks of its protagonist, author (with writer's block) Anna Wulf. The notebooks contain her writing notes and issues (black), political life (red, as in Red, communist), her relationships (yellow) and a diary of everyday life (blue). It's a really interesting effect. We see the protagonist as she "is" (according to the author), as she is (according to herself), as she the writer chooses to represent in fiction (as Ella), and in non-fiction. All of these different facets come together to give a fuller expression of the whole. That is one of the messages of the book - that to be whole Anna must bring together her splintered life. Her insistence on separating aspects of herself has impacts on her mental health, though she is a highly intelligent, self-aware, psychoanalyzed person. The book culminates with the inauguration of a a new notebook, the Golden Notebook, for her full (no longer blocked) self. The novel tells the story of her life amongst bohemian socialists working for justice during WWII in Africa, deeply splintered by the colour bar. It tells the story of how a single woman could raise a child, with her fellow 'Free Woman' as support. It tells of the frustrations of the members of the C.P. and the disparity between their goals and the hypocrisy of reality and bureaucracy. It tells the story of her long afair, love, dependency and rejection. It tells of her psychoanalysis and attempts to work through her issues. Of her reacting to rejection by embracing a new personality. It tells of how she could finally reach wellness only through a breakdown in sanity. I was surprised by the idea that to represent the spirit of the times (1940s presumably Rhodesia and 1950s England) Lessing needed to write about a communist mindset, but it gives her a way to talk about not only specific politics and wars, but the failure of political systems. I was also surprised that it gives the impression that all married men in 1950s London were regularly having affairs. It is a strange book, at times difficult, at times funny, at times depressing but generally fascinating. I don't think I could explain more without writing at length, and what would be the point of that? Read it, if you are interested. She is a wise, if prickly, woman.

So I end with accomplishment through madness. Hmmm.....

{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}

*I've just realized, this edition of Reading is sexy is all about the beautiful myth of oneness and universality.... and cartography.
**Forget the Spanish Inquisition. Nobody expects the French Revolution.
***I've just realized, this edition of Reading is sexy is all about characters who divide their lives into different coloured notebooks for different purposes.
****I've just realized, this edition of Reading is sexy is all about writer's block. Come to think of it, there is also the theme of women who make odd choices in men and sacrifice careers, the need for unbiased, unfettered thinking as well as mental break-downs which winds through these books.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

fans from secret minouette places

Esmeralda with pine So I'm trying to make a fan page for things from secret minouette places on facebook. I'm not quite sure what I am doing, but the Storque is all excited about their new apps and I guess this is the thing to do.

Anyway, darling friends, if you want to see what's new in the shop, you can follow the fan page too. Because thus far, I am my only fan. *blink blink*

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Garlic and spice

garlic with shadow
garlic back

I've made another "Natural History" ornament. I had no plants (only fungi), but now I have a garlic bulb - which serves double duty as my entry to the Trans-Canada Etsy Team challenge for November: SPICE. I think of the textured cream fabric on the reverse as echoing the lines in garlic paper. Part of me wants to print this block on paper I make from hand with garlic skins, but more of me would like to preserve my sanity. I've made enough paper by hand to know what a monumental task that would be. Despite its papery texture, garlic skins are low on fibres, and brittle.

The Trans-Canada Etsy Team has a great give-away planned... I'll let you know when it begins. My fellow TCET member, the charming rikrak does a lot of give-aways on her blog. Soon there will be one involving a secret thing from a minouette place. Follow her blog or watch for a mention here. I'll let you know when there is a chance at free minouette loot.

The second interview for the Toronto Etsy Street Team will be with me. Check the blog tomorrow to find out what I had to say. I find this interview process interesting - like a means to learn something about myself.

Friday, November 13, 2009


Oh, by the way, I started a new blog for the Toronto Etsy Street Team and posted our first interview with team founder anotherangle. Have a look.

That's it! I need a samurai hat.

Black-lacquered kabuto (helmet) with the arm of a guardian deity wielding a Vajra
Edo period, 17th century
Iron, lacquer, wood, and papier-mâché
H. of outer bowl, 43.5 cm (17⅛ in.)
Yasukuni-jinja Shrine, Tokyo

{via The Awl}

You know if I were an onna bugeisha, I would wear a half-meter tall arm grasping a thunderbolt of firmness of spirit and spiritual power on top of my head. My headgear would be so fearsome, there would be no need to fight.

On an unrelated note, I wonder why what appeared to be a WWII-era bomber just flew by my window?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Meet Zoe, a custom giraffe

Zoe the giraffereverse Zoe the custom giraffe

Colour and bio are my delightful customer's choice, but I named her in honour of OZ, who got engaged on the weekend. NBQ called and told me the whole story, of course. Féliciations Ophélie & Lampros!


Sunday, November 8, 2009


The mushrooms are popular! See, people do want poisonous mushrooms as xmas ornaments. :) So I made a new set.

fly agaric square

reqbat has mushrooms on the brain too. She's been drawing them on ephemera (mainly older books).
It seems apt that the first set of both fly agaric ornaments is headed her way. ;) The second set is shown here.

I want to carve more mushrooms, but I am lacking in good reference material. I had a mushroom guidebook, but I gave it to my mother when she took up hiking in a big way. This is all I need: another excuse to go to bookstores. I watched a bit of a timely documentary last night, on the French CBC about mushrooms in Québec. The mushroom expert had the most extravagent, backwoods Québecois accent - the sort of thing which stops Frenchmen in the tracks, too dumbfounded even to mock. Though he was clearly quite the mushroom scholar.

vanilla, raspberry & pistachio

vanilla, raspberry & pistachio

vanilla unicorn

This time I printed my "Unicorn Amongst Umbrellas" block onto white cotton from a men's dress shirt to upcycle it into another pillow. The umbrellas are printed and cut from a variety of fabrics and appliquéd onto the white cotton. The stripe along the front and most of the back of this pillow are made from hand-woven Nepalese fabric, sent to me from Vancouver by my lovely friend Tanis. There is also a stripe of the herringbone fabric, from the Dagg and Stacy/Snoflake fabric sale. I like the idea of using upcycled fabric, designer overstock fabric and the eco-friendly (maybe pre-industrial is the word) hand-woven Nepalese fabric togther to make something desirable.

vanilla unicorn pillow

reverse vanilla unicorn pillow

I always think that a minimalist white ground with colour or pattern accents can be beautiful, though it is a look I rarely use, because I can't contain my own need or desire for more colour.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Pistachio unicorn pillow

Another day, another flavour....

pistachio unicorn pillow

pistachio unicorn pillow

reverse pistachio unicorn pillow

And because reynardin seems so curious, here is the cake I baked using 's recipe for devil's food cake and chocolate ganache frosting. I added raspberries.


Monday, November 2, 2009

Raspberry Unicorn

A new pillow....

Raspberry Unicorn Pillow

reverse of raspberry unicorn pillow

Raspberry Unicorn pillow detail

Raspberry Unicorn pillow detail

I printed my 'Unicorn Amongst Umbrellas' block onto pink cotton and several print cottons, and appliquéd all the umbrellas. Then I made a patchwork with the black and grey plaid. The reverse is a raspberry knit with a stripe of burgundy wool.

One of a kind pillow... but the first of a series of pillows employing the same lino block. There will be more flavours!