“Purple Steele Landscape” for Sara Steele’s 101 Contest

The artist Sara Steele was clearing out old copies of her desk calendars, in celebration of her 35th calendar, and decided to run a little contest, which Jeanne thought looked like fun. Jeanne and I are often looking for excuses to make art together, and I’ve admired Sara Steele’s work since my sister Michelle started using her desk calendars in the 1980s, so this was a lovely bit of serendipity.

I’m posting my collage here so I can pin it on Pinterest. (I’m not a very practiced Pinterest user, and didn’t figure out a way to upload something directly until I had already written this post.)

It’s called “Purple Steele Landscape.” I made it on Saturday (November 22, 2014) from pieces of Sara Steele’s 2005 Desk Calendar (crediting her here for use of her copyrighted work).


The shape of the landscape–and the idea of doing a layered landscape at all–came from the undulating line of the text of the index of the calendar. This might become a diptych, as the index was in two columns. I’m also wishing that I had textured up the purple background-paper more before I started gluing–crumpled it, or painted it. Maybe it’ll grown on me. We’ll see.

Difficult times need an iron goddess

Cross-posted from my first (highly experimental) tumblr, https://www.tumblr.com/blog/wordywoady

Seems to me we’re at a fairly high angst-level, globally. The Weltschmerz is getting schmerzier, all over the Welt. This was keeping me up last night, so I started thinking about Guanyin. She is the bodhisattva of compassion, She who hears the cries of the world. Wikipedia says “Guanyin is also seen as the champion of the unfortunate, the sick, the disabled, the poor, and those in trouble.” One of her epithets is “the Iron Goddess of Mercy.” She also has her own tea. (It’s an oolong. It’s lovely.)

Seeking her image was the root of my most-magical Internet moment to date. I was looking for images of Guanyin to help me work through the psychic overload of Grand Jury duty (two to four dozen snapshots of crime, from the eye-rollingly banal to the most hideous evil, weekly for three months). I found this one.


Kwan Yin, Green Gulch Farm, California | Sculptura (17) | Robert V. Moody

Because this image is on the Internet, I was able to find the photographer, and ask if he would make me a print. I sent him a postal money order, and he sent me two prints and a very gracious letter.

I’m looking for the consolations in the Weltschmertz, and the jewel in the lotus. I have a beautiful artwork from a Canadian photographer (and mathematics professor), of a statue of a Chinese bodhisattva, taken at a Northern California retreat center. Not something a person would have been able to acquire until this day and age.



I have a small mysterious wooden box.

It was a gift from a friend, and an empty house, and a departed soul. At this writing, in January 2014, I have had it for just over a year. It is old, with tiny hinges and half a lid (broken edge, worn splinter-free) and the number “21” on two of its sides.

Inside are four compartments, each carefully filled with carefully-rolled dry leaves. I can’t tell what kind of leaves they are. Something sturdy, like red oak.

There is writing on the inside of the lid: pale pencil marks I could never read before, or only almost-read. Something about the light, or my eyes, or the box’s wishes changed tonight, and I can read it. I know it much better now.

It was a typesetter’s box. box-open

Two compartments, before they held leaves, held dashes (which before tonight might have said “disks” or “darker” or “dishes”)—em dashes and en dashes, the E’s written in loops like backwards 3’s, which contrast sharply with the straight-line E’s above them (a different hand? a different mood?).

Dashes are charming to me, with their elegant herding abilities. I use them carefully and often, and won’t write a double hyphen when I should write an em dash.

The other two compartments held Italic capital X-tildes (X̃) and Y-tildes (Ỹ), which I have never had call to use but which apparently stand for an old statistical mean and a new one.

There are other numbers that are code to me. “10 on 10”, which might be “10 or 10” and on first reading said “IomiD”. “Ital cap” is clear now, when before it could have been “Stele crp” or “Stackage”.

The box felt relieved when it was given to me. It relaxed into my hands, after others had looked at it and shaken their heads and left it on its shelf. But it kept its history to itself, letting me love it on its present merits. I love it even more now, knowing a bit more of its past, imagining it is the twenty-first in a series of boxes that used to sit companionably together on a fitted shelf, or in a cabinet, ready to work, to spell, to indicate pauses and spans, and old things and new ones.


It misses its companions, but it sits among other small mysterious beloved things, and I think it is happy.

Here are all the characters:

10 on 10 | 353E Ital cap X̃
10 on 10 | 353E Ital cap Ỹ
6 on 7 7¼ set | Em dashes
6 on 7 7¼ set | En dashes

Knowledge Management and Beauty

A conversation I’d like to hear more of in the knowledge management and exchange (KME) [1] space is this: It is worthwhile to spend time on design of knowledge products. People will more readily absorb knowledge that is presented in a pleasing way. You aren’t going to share your knowledge effectively if looking at your newsletter makes people’s eyeballs hurt.[2] “Look and feel” isn’t about being pretty or cool; I see it as a genuine make-or-break issue for successful knowledge management.

Look and feel—which I think of as shorthand for the Venn diagram overlap of usability, user experience, and design—is important. In my experience, most people who are vocal about the importance of look and feel are designers, so I think non-designers take that opinion with a grain of salt. “Sure, *you* think it’s important to avoid flashing-spinning-screaming things and Comic Sans, but I love my ideas, and I’m the client.” (There are many excellent summaries of this client/designer tension, including The Oatmeal’s How a Web Design Goes Straight to Hell, so I’ll spend no more time on it.)

I think more people in the KM(+/-)E sphere should be concerned about look and feel—and not just about websites. Anything I produce—from an email to a print piece to a website to a conference presentation—has a look and feel. Considering look and feel, finding out what people think about it, and improving it where possible is critical to effective knowledge management and exchange.

Someone looking at a website for the first time decides in 1/20th of one second whether it looks good. That instant carries over into judgments about quality, usefulness, and reputation of a site and its content. So creating a positive first impression is a crucial first step to improving knowledge use and exchange.

If a website design makes me feel overwhelmed, I’m going to leave (that’s why I picked Google over Yahoo in the search engine wars back in the day—Google gave me a clean search box; Yahoo garbaged the search up with news and entertainment and travel options and and and…). If a brochure has jarring or out-of-context art choices (e.g., a combination of stock photography and clip art), I probably won’t read it. If a presenter is reading words from her own slides, she loses my attention. I don’t get the benefit of the attempt at knowledge exchange. In everyday life, that’s as much my fault as yours—but if you call yourself a knowledge manager, invested in knowledge exchange and uptake, it’s your responsibility to think about whether that initial 1/20th of a second will make your audience think that your website/brochure/presentation is worth more seconds, or even minutes or hours, of their attention.

[1] At some point circa 2011, I started seeing the abbreviation “KM” for “Knowledge Management” being replaced with “KME,” “KM&E”, or “KM/E”—meaning “Knowledge Management and Exchange”. The change didn’t fully take hold—”knowledge management” gets over 13,000,000 results on Google, vs. just under 6 million for “knowledge management and exchange”. I had always read the “…and exchange” as implied: To me, there’s no purpose in managing knowledge unless people use and exchange the knowledge I’m managing. Go back to reference point.

[2] I realize this whole topic marginalizes people with visual impairments. I don’t know the accessible equivalent of “look and feel”. I should probably educate myself much more on that front. Go back to reference point.

Catching up

Wow, a 6-week blogslack. I blame Facebook.

Couple of things:

Macromediocrity: This bit of sophomory goes straight to the heart of why we started this blog in the first place (remember, it was about American culture rewarding the lowest common denominator). The article I link to above is all happy about the possibilities for independent developers making a living from creating applications for the iPhone. I’m happy about that too. I’m just kind of crestfallen that, given a tool with the tremendous capacity for communication and learning that the iPhone has, people want more than anything for it to make rude noises[1].

More things in heaven and earth [2]:
– Frogs eat bugs. It’s the way of the world. But did you know that there are wasps that eat tadpoles?! (Dragonflies eat tadpoles, too. But somehow I found that less surprising.)
World’s smallest chameleon! (For some reason this one is in Tokyo, even though they come from Madagascar.)
Check out the snoutiness! It’s a shrew the size of a rabbit which got discovered last year.

[1] Thanks to Will for the link.
[2] I’ve been watching Life in Cold Blood.

New respect for flying rats

Yesterday on my walk I noticed an explosion of pigeon feathers on the lawn of the Ellipse. It wasn’t gory, but it was impressive. Definitely a whole pigeon’s worth. “Huh,” thought I, “I wonder what’s hunting the pigeons?” Red-tail hawk was my first thought. Then mere minutes later as I was crossing the Washington Monument grounds, I had my answer: Two birds came haring into my field of vision, right on top of each other, flying all rickety in what looked like close formation, until one veered off suddenly to safety among a little copse of (I think) old cherry trees, and the other swooped up to take a scanning perch on a much taller tree at the edge of the lawn. Not a red-tail; a peregrine falcon. Very pointy. Wings almost like a seagull at first glance. Knowing that a pigeon can outmaneuver a peregrine in (pretty much) level flight gives me new respect for pigeons.

Outrage, skepticism, and joy

Outrage, courtesy of my Chinese doctor[1]: A really interesting BBC television program about modern politics, specifically U.S. Neoconservatives and Islamic Radicals and their insidious mythmaking, called “The Power of Nightmares“. (It’s 3 hours in total; I’m only linking to the first episode.)

Skepticism, thanks to Conall: It’s very sweet, but I’m not sure it’s a hedgehog.

Joy: There’s a foundation for toast!! Well, toasters, actually. People who want to make a museum about toasters. But still, it’s a “Choose Toast” thing.[2] (I read about this in Saveur yesterday.)

[1] He’s not Chinese. He’s Australian-born. But he’s my healthcare provider who uses Chinese herbal treatment, acupuncture, and various kinds of bodywork. It’s his fault that I’m driving myself crazy trying not to cross my ankles (which is my default sitting style but is apparently a big part of why my knees hurt most of the time).

[2] About 5 years ago, some reports came out about carcinogens that get created by various high-heat cooking methods, including roasting, grilling, and toasting. (You can Google it yourself.) I was pretty outraged at the thought of people choosing to avoid the joys of the best foods around, like grilled meat and toasty toast. (I have always prefered toast to bread. Even lousy bread can make OK toast. Good bread makes fabulous toast.) So I wanted a bumpersticker that said “Choose Toast”, because it would confuse other people and express something I hold dear, namely, that fear of death shouldn’t interfere with enjoyment of life.