All posts by Murph

Your feet’s too big

Daily Create 1180 asked us to create a soundmap of our town. Instead of following the prompt as written, I picked one moment in my day – walking home in the early afternoon from a Krudas Cubensi concert at Kenyon College.

It was early April – the trees were starting to bud, and you can hear a light spring breeze blowing through the microphone at places. The birds have returned, and you can hear them chattering at each other. But it’s too early for the hum of lawnmowers, not warm enough yet for the drone of air conditioners. Gambier is a rural town; I think in the 6 minute walk you’ll hear 3 cars go by.

You’ll also hear my feet. Boy, will you hear my feet. I really thought I was holding my iPhone high enough to not get so much of that noise, but apparently not. So, there’s an excuse to learn something new – I opened up the graphic equalizer in GarageBand, turned on the analyzer so I could see where the frequencies of my footfalls lay, and turned those ranges down. They’re still prominent – it is a walk, after all – but I don’t think they’re as dominant as they were in the original.

This is my walk to work. I’ve probably taken it more than 4,000 times. But I usually take it with my headphones on and music or a podcast going, so I miss these sounds – which means I miss the chance to contemplate the seasons and the neighborhood. I appreciate TDC reminding me that there is value in taking a walk just to listen.

We can dance ‘neath the carnival lights

It was finally shirtsleeves weather, under a flawless blue sky. April’s last treacherous cold front had passed by, and spring was truly come to Ohio.

A vendor along Middle Path sold bags, sandals, crunchy jewelry. Hanging on the corner of his tent were blue and black coarse-knit cotton sweaters. The block-lettered laser-printed sign said “Mexican Bajas $25.”

My throat caught. Something heavy sat on my ribs. And for a moment I let myself believe that the solitary cars moving through town were the sound of surf. The gravel under my feet was perhaps sand.

I remembered your smile and laugh, and tried to smile and laugh.

I suppose it’s a cheat, telling you that I was reminded of an in-joke and not telling you what the joke was. But every time I try to work that memory into this one, they both get muddled. So we’ll call this an exercise in micro narrative.

Rest in peace, Melanie.

Sketch the trees and the daffodils

We knew the previous owner of our house was an accomplished gardener, and all summer and fall we enjoyed the fruits of his labor – redbuds and crabapple trees, hostas and yucca flowers. But we’d chosen the house in May, and so we had no idea in our first April that the grove of walnut trees was about to explode into a field of daffodils.


Every year, the daffodils return – even as the trees along the driveway have started to crowd each other, even through the many years when the magnolias only have browned and wilted frostbitten flowers, even when the squirrels eat our crocus bulbs and the deer decimate the hostas. Every year, at least for a moment, they surprise and encourage me.

Today was that day.


It’s also a day when I can celebrate the fact that I’m making a little progress as an iPhone photographer, and more as a photo editor. The preset Flickr filters completely let me down on this photoset, and I had no hesitation about fiddling with the sliders myself. The first photo, for example, is unretouched, but on the second one, I added just a bit of saturation to the colors. My goal was to get the yellow centers of the daffodils to pop a little; notice how it also makes the grass translucent, and even makes the downed wood in the back show up better.

(I’m not lazy, I’m grasscycling.)

I also used editing to save a couple shots. This isn’t a bad picture – I like the way the flowers stretch to the background, but the one which fell over messes up the line, and the garage of the neighbors’ damned McMansion is incongruous in the background.


My wife pointed out that it’s really a photo of the two closest daffodils… so I cropped it down until that’s what it was. (I really like the way the Apiary/Flickr photo editor is designed to remind you of the rule of thirds.) A little tweak of the contrast setting and voila:

Two Daffodils

On the next one, I actually quite like the way I got close-up on the flowers, with the vertical lines of the not-quite-awake trees against the sky. But there’s that damned garage again.


I had hoped the Focus tool would make the garage go away; it didn’t, and it became a photo about how I found the Focus tool. So back to the crop tool I went. I had to lose a little bit of the trees, because the vertical impact was too strong in the narrower photo, but on the whole I’m pleased.

Daffodils with Trees

I suppose the next lesson is to see these photobombs while shooting instead of fixing them in post, but it’s nice to have a growing sense of what’s fixable.

Happy Spring to you and yours!

All alone in the moonlight

I used to piss and moan about the cold. I took winter personally, as if the creeping cold and damp grey skies were a direct affront, some rude gesture designed to put me in my place.

The winters of the last few years have disabused me of that notion. Something about 0 Fahrenheit, about -10 Fahrenheit, hit a reset button. Obviously this was not a force which cared a whit for my little existence. This was something monumental; a simple, brutal, elemental force to be endured.

I also know that the last snowfall in this area can be as late as April 15th, but I let nature fake me out with a week of very pleasant temperatures. Yeah, that one felt personal.

So I let it shake a mashup loose, which I’d imagined some time ago. I’m actually surprised I couldn’t find it already in existence:

Mouse of Thrones

The background is an HBO wallpaper of the Iron Throne, and the tag line is the motto of House Stark. (I thought about using a picture of Sean Bean, but let’s be honest, it’s been done.)

The little mouse is Leo Lionni’s Frederick. Frederick is a twist on the tale of the ant and the grasshopper – while the other mice industriously harvest food for the winter, Frederick sits about and “harvests” the senses and stories of summer and fall. When the dark and cold comes, the mice have laid up enough food to go on… and Frederick has kept enough memories to give them a reason.

Technically, this was a nice easy combo to work with – Lionni’s pages are simple, so I just selected all the white in the image and made it transparent. (And then I got to paint the whites of Frederick’s eyes back in.) I wish perhaps I’d spent a little more time cleaning up the edges, but the lighting in the HBO shot is weird enough already (coming from both in front of and behind the throne) that a little highlighting around the mouse and flower isn’t too offensive.

Artistically, I like the juxtaposition of gentle Frederick and the violent Iron Throne. Winter can make us mean. Our bodies even respond to cold by hunching in on ourselves. It’s a time which rewards hoarding and holing up… maybe that’s why Americans put our major food-sharing and gift-giving holidays in it. Frederick responds to this instinct to hoard by preparing to give of himself – his memories, his sensations, his art – because he knows his community will need that too, and he knows no one else is preparing for it.

So make art, dammit.

Hamster Dance


I bought myself an Intuos tablet some time ago at work, on the grounds that I would use it for Big Serious Stuff like annotating screenshots or making screencapture videos. In theory, drawing with a mouse is hard and a pen interface should be easier. In practice, a tablet input is neither like a mouse or a pen (or a touchscreen) and it can be frustrating to get started.

And there it sat, gathering dust, taunting me to read the manual, pick software, practice, prove myself worthy.

Now might be a good time to point out that I describe my drawing talents as “maxed out at stick men.” So when it said I wasn’t worthy, I assumed it was right.

I brought it home a while back, thinking big thoughts about how I’d use it to think about the shape of stories, especially as they relate to the stories we tell when we do technology trainings. Sitting on the dining room table, it caught my son’s eye.

“Daddy, what’s that?”

“Oh, it’s for drawing on the computer.”

“Can I try?”

“I guess so… but I have to plug it in and find the software and all that.”

“OK. Well, can we do that?”

“Um… yeah. Yeah OK. Let me see.”

It’s hard to enter the Kingdom of Technology like a little child, after I’ve debugged and disinfected and documented professionally for so long. It’s a challenge to ask “why not?” But I got the drivers installed, and after dorking around looking for the “right” software,  I figured out that Microsoft Paint would work as well as anything for letting my kid play.

And it wasn’t simple, his learning to match up the pen to the screen. After a bit, he got it and started exploring Paint. An arrow became a house. Green squiggles became grass. A line was the horizon; the fill tool gave him purple grass and a yellow sky.

And he said it was my turn.

Bunny and Rhino (the Hamster)

How about a bunny? I think I can draw a bunny. (It’s like a dog with no neck and bunny ears, right?) Hey, maybe the spraypaint brush will make the fur look more furry. A bunny should be on grass. OK, painting that grass was kind of annoying, what if we do the sky with a fill tool?

Draw your stuffed hamster? Sure, why not. I can draw Hamster.

Oh, the hamster’s name is Rhino? Of course it is. I’ll draw Rhino.

Objectively, I know it’s … primitive. But the fact is, I made it, and making it was fun. And I pretty much killed the excuse that learning how to use the tablet would be too hard.

I’ve tried to get multiple faculty members to try out these tablets, and few of them are willing to put in the work. I wonder if the problem is that I haven’t asked them to just draw a happy little tree.

Everybody Eats When They Come To My House

Cross-posted from my thoughts on education blog, because a daily create for the You Show looks a lot like one for DS106. Starting to understand why Jim Groom is pushing the “write once, publish anywhere” idea of Known.

I love to be in the kitchen. The kitchen is my playhouse. It’s a place where I can focus, where learning and doing emulsify, where this singular moment connects to long tradition. I expect I could find the path from the stove to the fridge to the sink with my eyes closed.

OW! Well, I can if the cat’s not in the way.

So it was easy to drop what I was doing and answer the question “where’s the you in your kitchen?”  I had a quick look around – knives on a magnetic strip on the wall, utensils on hooks, fridge, cluttered counters, the sink…

the Lodge cast iron skillet. The stove is my place in the kitchen, and what I want on that stove is either that heavy black pot frying chicken, or the large brewing kettle full of wort.

Brew kettle, chicken frying pan. My place, in my kitchen.

Yes, the cabinets really are that cattywampus. It’s an old house.

This was a pretty quick shoot – though I did have to get the stock pot down and declutter the counter a bit. No flash, though it took one overexposed shot to learn that.  I’ve loved playing with the presets in the Flickr app, but this shot didn’t need them.

I’m a relative latecomer to the smartphone world, and I’m still getting used to this idea that I am always carrying a camera. I tried to become a shutterbug for a while in my early teens, but it never really took. If playing with the You Show and DS106 only made me better at taking photos (and more conscious/confident of the option to take photos), that would be a big step in the right direction.

I’m not your handyman

A visiting faculty member in Music found out that, back in high school, I played the flute. He fixed me with a stare like a dog gives someone who doesn’t play with a ball and said “well, why aren’t you in my wind ensemble?”

I said “I used to play. It’s been 20 years!”

The corner of his mouth rose. “And tomorrow, it will be 20 years plus one day.”

I’m still not in the Wind Ensemble, but the phrase has stuck with me. And so, before the cobwebs on this blog are “2 months plus one day” old, a few short writeups.


I made this one for TDC 1051. The create starts with exploring Unsplash, looking for a photo which seems to want a DS106-themed caption.

Well, I can’t help it, I’m a punster from way back, so this is the one which spoke to me. A dad joke for a picture of dad’s workbench.

That leads to the visual challenge – where and how to place the text. I still have a lot to learn about color palettes and tricks like drop shadows which can enhance the visibility of text. I remember that brighter colors popped on this image, but they also looked cartoony, fighting with the detailed photo. It was also tricky to find the location – the light and shadow in the upper right, the diagonals of the folding rule, the bright light on the lower left. Ultimately, all those restrictions led to their own solution – if the caption doesn’t fit in a single block, where do two smaller blocks fit?

I’d welcome any comments which might help me think about this kind of design.

There goes the last DJ

I agreed to give a mini-workshop on podcasting on Wednesday, to force myself to learn more about Audacity. Creating a bumper for DS106 Radio seemed like a good way to get started, and it’s a manageable amount of work for a 20-minute demonstration.

Here’s the thing, followed by how I made it:

First, I wanted to know what I’d be saying. The old Outer Limits opening came to mind – “we control the horizontal, we control the vertical.” That speaks a little to the “own your tools” ethos of DS106.

But if “we” control it, that suggests that “you” (the listener) doesn’t. And that doesn’t sound very DS106 at all.  So I rewrote it, for a participatory audio culture, to be “Radio DS106 – You control the gain; you control the Auto-Tune.”

Then I went hunting for an audio track to mix in. A search for “sci-fi” on CCMixter turned up a track called “Space Station Melody” by a member called Gurdonark. (For a 15-second bump on a non-profit radio station, you could probably make a fair use argument for whatever you wanted to sample… but it’s also a chance for me to model searching for Creative Commons-licensed material for my faculty.)

It’s kind of funny, come to think of it… the futuristic pinging of Space Station Melody is more reminiscent of the pizzicato opening of The Twilight Zone than the dramatic strings and horns of The Outer Limits.

Anyway, I recorded into Audacity, imported the Space Station Melody MP3, and arranged the voice track to the point in the music where I wanted it to start. I brought the volume of the music down a hair while I was talking with the Envelope tool, and used the Fade Out filter to get out. (And then trimmed off the end of the music.)

I owe a link of thanks to Nicky Memita for her post on this assignment, which was quite useful as I navigated Audacity’s imposing list of filters and effects.

I almost believe that they’re real

Self-portrait in books

I’ve been intrigued by book spine stories for a while. I probably first saw them through LibraryThing’s contests (which they call bookpiles). Then recently, I was tagged in a wave of Facebook chain posts asking me to “list 10 books which have stuck with you.”

I saw the call for TDC 984 while I was at work. Looking over at my bookshelf, I saw my professional history – a paraprofessional job coding HTML, a transition into reference librarianship, a core text of instructional design, and all the while, a commitment to the broad liberal arts. So I played with different ways of arranging them in my window (it’s work, boss, honest) and snapped a picture with the Flickr app.

Rereading the instructions, it occurred to me that this is something like a Cubist exercise – it’s a picture of me, abstracted from 3 different angles at once. Obviously I didn’t achieve that with the visual style, but the realization helped me decide that I wanted to present different parts of myself more than I wanted to play with the poetic or narrative power of book titles.

The middle panel is just 3 things I like – cooking and storytelling, poetry, and broad humor. The shot is taken on the staircase in my home, largely because the exercise had reminded me of Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2).

Backgrounds are important in these shots – out the window of my office, the staircase, the top panel, which is about my wife and myself, is on our porch. They contribute to the story as much as the titles do. I used the Flickr app’s preloaded filters to get the colors where I wanted them. It felt a bit like a cheat compared to actually understanding how to set color levels, but it’s a start.

I got frustrated trying to figure out how to arrange the three pictures in GIMP. The importance I’d ascribed to the backgrounds fought with the collage arrangements I imagined.  Ultimately I decided to go vertical on the grounds that a finished imperfect create beats a perfect one which never gets published.

I’m not entirely clear if it’s supposed to be read top-to-bottom or bottom-to-top… it hasn’t told me yet.