Thursday June 25, 2015


UC Davis held a retirement celebration last night for anyone who had retired since June 30, 2014. I’ve “retired” in that I draw a check from the university every month that is a “retirement” check, but Listen-ink is moving along. I love this new work I’ve chosen to do and it’s a great fit. (I just volunteered, perhaps rashly, to record a session in Spanish at the IFVP Conference in Austin in three weeks. The speaker will be speaking in English, I’ll be recording in Spanish. Translation and translation on the fly. Wish me luck!)

Here’s a list of Things I Know Now. I am so behind with blogging it seems like the only way to give the space to Numenius, who has been gently pressuring me.

  • If you wind a warp on a loom unevenly, threads will pop. This is really annoying.
  • Hens stop laying eggs reliably when they’re over 18 months old, and much less in winter. The rest of the time you have stroppy pets that make a mess and try and escape at any opportunity. I maybe should have let the hawk keep one of them instead of chasing it off.
  • Daily Life for Working Americans consists of a lot of rushing about. It’s been very nice to turn down that spigot.
  • If you stop rushing about (to get to work on your bike, say), it’s really easy to pack on the pounds. Forget the Freshman Fifteen; this is more like the Retirement Eighteen.
  • Obviously, more exercise and less food is a way to address this. Obviously. Hmm.
  • The U.S. confectionery lobby has succeeded in banning Cadbury’s chocolate from retail outlets here on the dodgy loophole that it doesn’t quite count as chocolate. It can still be found, however, in a drugstore in Davis (not telling which one). Obviously, this is not helping with the Retirement Eighteen thing.
  • I really hate housework (except mopping floors). It was easy to find excuses when I was working. Rushing about. Now I just have to fess right up here and say I’m a slob, I live with someone who doesn’t see the mess, and though I don’t like it, I’ll tolerate it because I don’t like housework more.
  • There is lots of suffering in the world and it can get overwhelming.
  • A lot of suffering in the world, and particularly here in the U.S., is inflicted by people of my skin color.
  • One small thing I can do is speak up about it. Speak up against even very veiled racism. And start talking to other white people about it. People of color are so exhausted by the futility of trying to educate us, plus it’s not safe for them. We can work to get to a place where we educate ourselves. It’s really important right now
Posted by at 05:56 AM in Miscellaneous | Link | Comment

Sunday April 5, 2015

The Perils Of Color In The Digital Age

Last fall we bought a digital DSLR, and this has led me to dabble in a bit of astrophotography, even buying a good equatorial mount to facilitate this. Astrophotography is an interesting hobby. Practiced at its upper echelons (which I have no aspirations towards), it calls for extremes of technique, patience, and expensive gear. The aesthetic which many astrophotographers aim for is a quite colorful image showing many subtleties in the details of a nebula or other deep-sky object.

The use of color in this manner is in most ways an illusion, at least from the point of view of human visual perception. Cones, the anatomical structures in the retina that respond to color, are not sensitive to light at low levels, so looking through even a very large telescope at the nebula one will not discern the color brought out in the photograph. The color in the image may be useful in terms of scientific visualization, for instance illustrating different emission spectra, but it’s not what the eye can see.

Astrophotography is perhaps an extreme example, but I’m philosophically confounded by the question of representation of color in the digital age. Consider what might be the modal life of a digital photo shared with others. A snapshot taken with one’s smartphone, then posted to the web via Facebook or Instagram. The issue is of calibration. How does one ensure that the color intended by the photographer is what is seen by the recipient? Without both the creator’s and recipient’s monitors calibrated to a common standard, one cannot. These standards exist, but 99.99% of the time both parties are not so calibrated. Even enthusiastic photographers tend to spring for new lenses in lieu of color calibration equipment. One can adjust color curves in image software to one’s heart’s content, but without calibration both sides, one’s artistic intent in terms of color cannot be reliably shared.

And what if the intent is simply to record the colors one sees? The problem persists and is refracted twicefold. First, how faithfully do the levels of color recorded by the digital sensor represent the spectra of light being reflected by the object? Second, what are the colors being displayed by one’s monitor?

A solution I often adopt is to directly record the color in watercolor paint. With sufficient practice in color mixing, this can work reasonably well. Soil scientists have a more scientific answer to this problem — they go to the field armed with Munsell color swatch books to match and note the color of a soil unit. And the astrophotographer in me wishes there was a market for black-and-white consumer digital cameras: these problems go away, and cameras without RGB filters are more sensitive to light.

It’s also not clear where octarine fits in any color calibration system I know of.

[Image below is one of my attempts at astrophotography, being of the Orion Nebula.]

Orion Nebula

Posted by at 06:15 PM in Design Arts | Link | Comment

Thursday February 5, 2015

New Directions

I’m finally able to announce that I’ve retired from the University of California in order to start my new graphic recording/facilitation business, Listen-ink. So excited, a little daunted. Many thanks to Rachel Rawlins for doing my website for me — quickly and efficiently!

I am looking forward to helping people find their way.

Posted by at 05:43 PM in Design Arts | Link | Comment

Sunday November 16, 2014

A Day On The Rift Zone

Walked down Shoreline Highway in Point Reyes Station yesterday in search of lunch. I was quite happy with the burrito I eventually found at a Whale of a Deli, but feeding myself cheaply was otherwise going to be a challenge. Pica spent the day at the 2014 Fibershed Wool Symposium, and I tagged along to wander along the San Andreas Fault for a bit, hiking along the Rift Trail and visiting a few cows.

Point Reyes Station is an odd place. Marin is one of the very richest counties in the United States, and on weekends the town is a gateway for recreational and culinary tourism. Cyclists meander in over the hills from towns on the San Francisco Bay side of the county, stop to browse at the Bovine Bakery. The food here is pricey, emphasizing the local and organic — if I hadn’t found my burrito, I was going to settle for a $8.95 mac-and-cheese. West Marin is quite stably rural though — most of the land is in agricultural easements, mainly for dairy ranching. It made perfect sense for Pica’s symposium on locally-sourced fiber production to be held in this town.

Barn at Pt.Reyes Station At left is a view from Point Reyes Station, looking west towards the ridge of the Pt. Reyes Peninsula.

Posted by at 08:38 PM in Nature and Place | Link | Comment

Saturday November 1, 2014

Supporting the Student Farm

I have to make a big confession here: I’m not a fan of the Davis Farmers’ Market. It was one of the big selling points about Davis, and when we told people we were moving here from Santa Barbara they drooled. When I got here I admit to wondering where the rest of it was… It’s tiny compared to so many of the markets I grew up around in Spain and France. I guess I am a fan up to a point: I think it’s a wonderful place to go and socialize and enjoy good music and pretty stalls and it’s a great place to sit and spin, under the big valley oak, but for buying vegetables and fruit? Not really.

Here’s how it goes: I have, in my head, that I need to buy carrots, leeks, turnips and parsley for a soup base, along with several leafy greens and whatever else. I get there. I peruse the 4-5 organic sellers. Not one of them has all four items. In fact, I can’t find turnips anywhere in the whole market, so I end up spending $50 on stuff I didn’t come here for and end up at the Co-op anyway. It just doesn’t work for me. I know people love it and I really want to support local growers but I can buy what I need from local growers at the Co-op. (I haven’t put in a garden this year because of the drought.)

We have recently gone in with a friend on a CSA box from the UC Davis Student Farm, which is organic. The past three weeks have seen us awash in vegetables and fruit. Nothing has gone to waste. We are getting things picked three hours before we get them, and it has forced us to be creative about getting things cooked quickly. Delicious food. Stuff I ignore week after week at the Co-op. I even used dill in the soup this week, which was a stretch for this dill-averse girl.

Even half a box is almost too much for us vegetarians. But not quite. We are throwing nothing out.

We got half an inch of rain yesterday, it’s definitely soup weather. And the students know how to grow turnips…

Posted by at 06:30 AM in Sustainability | Link | Comment

Sunday October 12, 2014


It’s interesting how small changes in one’s information systems can lead to successful outcomes. Last May, Pica reported on adopting the Bullet Journal. We both tried it, and by now I can report it’s working brilliantly for me. The system is a favorable combination of organic notetaking with enough structure to keep track of information in sequence. No need to rigidly fit things into narrow calendar boxes, no struggles with cranky software, and plenty of room to annotate special projects.

Last month, realizing it was finally time to get a handle on household finances, we started using the software You Need A Budget. Two themes to this software are 1) defining an explicit monthly budget and being able to track expenses against subcategories in the budget as they occur. 2) being able to sync transactions instantly across multiple devices, both desktop and mobile. We haven’t accumulated as much history with YNAB as with the Bullet Journal, but so far it is working really well for us.

The latest innovation I brought back home from my office, where it was merely accumulating dust. This is a wooden four-slot stacked filing device. We are now using it to sort incoming mail, keeping it off the kitchen counter. The simplest of devices, but need here.

Organization. What a concept.

Posted by at 07:16 PM in Miscellaneous | Link | Comment

Monday August 11, 2014

Brum Meetup

Yesterday we traveled to San Francisco, to the Off the Grid food truck Sunday event, to meet up with other alumni of Birmingham University who happen to live in Northern California. I’ve been invited to several of these before but since I’ve never felt much of a connection to the university, haven’t made it a priority to attend (I’ve hardly kept in touch with any of my classmates, I who keep in touch with everyone). However, this time we thought we’d go.

Sketch of Birmingham alumni meetup I was pleasantly surprised by the event. I found myself in the middle of three distinct cohorts representing three brain drains to the U.S.: graduates from the 50s, 70s, and 00’s. Most of the folks were people in tech or engineering fields, which of course weren’t my own (language graduate here), and since I’ve come home to Northern California which is where I was born, I don’t consider myself quite typical of the group. They didn’t seem to mind, though.

We ate excellent food. Numenius sketched. I held a cricket bat for the first time in 35 years. And I got a prize sunburn through the San Francisco fog…

Posted by at 04:49 PM in Miscellaneous | Link | Comment

Thursday July 31, 2014

Chromophobia, Colonialism, and the Freeway

Often when I find myself in traffic I marvel at just how dull the colors be of the American automotive fleet. Dark grays, white, blues that are no brighter than midnight, and only the occasional red, but even that not straying to the glories of vermilion. The lack of imagination — where are the sports cars banded like king snakes, the station wagons two-toned in cerulean and stratus gray? — depresses me a bit.

Here is a historical gloss on the lack of color choices in the American car market, from an article Color,Chromophobia, and Colonialism: Some Historical Thoughts (via the estimable medievalpoc)

According to some art critics, sensory anthropologists, and historians, this mutual attraction and repulsion to color has centuries-old roots, bound up in a colonial past and fears of the unknown. Michael Taussig has recounted that from the seventeenth century, the British East India Company centered much of its trade on brightly colored, cheap, and dye-fast cotton textiles imported from India. Because of the Calico Acts of 1700 and 1720, which supported the interests of the wool and silk weaving guilds, these textiles could only be imported into England with the proviso that they were destined for export again, generally to the English colonies in the Caribbean or Africa. These vibrant textiles played a key part in the African trade, and especially in the African slave trade, where British traders would use the textiles to purchase slaves. According to Michael Taussig, these trades are significant not only because they linked chromophilic areas like India and Africa, but also because “color achieved greater conquests than European-instigated violence during the preceding four centuries of the slave trade. The first European slavers, the Portuguese in the fifteenth century, quickly learned that to get slaves they had to trade for slaves with African chiefs and kings, not kidnap them, and they conducted this trade with colored fabrics in lieu of violence.” Ironically, many of these slaves were then put to work in the colonies cultivating plants like indigo, that yielded dyes whose monetary values sometimes surpassed that of sugar.

Posted by at 08:03 PM in Design Arts | Link | Comment

Wednesday May 21, 2014

A Trip to the Southland

In 1996 I moved west from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to be with Numenius while he finished his PhD at UC Santa Barbara. In the manner of these things it took longer than the year we were both expecting, and we moved up the mountain after the first year to live in a cabin porous to weather (it was a ferocious El Niño year) and vermin, mammalian and insect. (We didn’t consider the canyon wren, whom we named Marcel, to be vermin, but we did discourage him from building a nest in the light fixture of the entryway.)

We left this idyllic setting to move to Davis in 1999. We’ve been back a couple of times since, but this past weekend was to help a friend celebrate his 25th anniversary of ordination as a Paulist priest. Catholic gatherings are often large, chaotic and sloppy, and I enjoyed spending a quiet couple of hours on the beach with Frs. Ed and Ruben, and Jeff and his family, ahead of the big celebration before meeting Numenius on the train from Burbank.

I did sneak in a quick trip to Solvang, home of Village Spinning and Weaving, in the morning. I wasn’t spinning yet when we lived in Santa Barbara and it was a delight to drive up past the Trout Club, yuccas all abloom, and over the pass into the Santa Ynez Valley. (I used to climb that hill on my bike! I could hardly believe it.) The following morning, after a walk around Lake Los Carneros and submitting our entries to the final International Flower Report, Numenius and I took Cathedral Oaks Road into town, seeing old haunts and reciting street names as they unfolded through the windshield.

Memory is a strange phenomenon, treacherous and fickle, much poked at by the likes of a different Marcel. It’s triggered by externals we can’t control, befuddled by others (driving through the UCSB campus was an exercise in complete disorientation). How we crave stability, control. How futile that is. How very futile. Best to enjoy the ride, like the bright young things on the beach in Isla Vista, surfing through the weekend…

Posted by at 05:35 AM in Nature and Place | Link | Comment

Sunday May 11, 2014

Whole Earth Festival 2014

Karmaflage The hippies returned to UC Davis this weekend for the 45th year in a row, as it was the 2014 edition of the Whole Earth Festival, held on the main campus quad over Mother’s Day weekend rather to the annoyance of the university powers-that-be. It is my favorite event in the annual cycle of Davis community activities, and love its direct connection to the early flourishing of the culture of sustainability in the 1970s. Pica held down the fort at the booth of the Davis Spinner’s Guild, while the highlights for me included 1) local science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson having a panel discussion with his friend Michael Blumlein, another sci-fi author and a UCSF physician. They talked about the future in the face of climate change and resource limitations, economics, and epigenetics. Thomas Piketty was mentioned often. 2) learning about the Third Space Art Collective, an recently founded group that since August has occupied physical studio space in a third of a warehouse just the other side of the freeway and 3) doing lots of sketching, filling up a small sketchbook over two days. Despite the abundance of tie-dye color, I stuck with monochrome pen, sketching rapidly with a black Gelly Roll or a brown UniBall Signo pen. Here are several of my many sketches. year of the dog

Posted by at 08:23 PM in Nature and Place | Link | Comment