Category Archives: Images


Middle Path crocus patch

I wish it were winter.

I wish it were cold and the wind were biting our cheeks. I’d fix my son’s scarf around his neck and bundle up his coat and tell him that sometimes the rules are stupid, but we follow them anyway. And sometimes the rules are stupid and it’s not that hard to just go around them. We’d sit together at the coffee bar and drink hot chocolate.

But the crocuses are coming up, and our shirtsleeves are poor protection from the wind.

Boy pulling a sled

This little monologue or illustrated poem or whatever it is entered my head last night as I was trying to get to sleep, and it was still there this morning.


Both photos are mine, CC-BY-NC, taken on my iPhone and saturation and brightness tweaked in Flickr. The crocus shot was taken just two days ago; I stopped the car to get the shot just before a rainstorm rolled in. The sled shot is from two winters ago.

Put me in, Coach!

I already drew a map which tells a story, so when TDC 1237 challenged us to make a map which explains nothing, it seemed like a fitting challenge. I was inspired by the map of “Super Bowl Wins By Country” on the TDC page, so here’s:

Change in MLB Batting Average by US State 2005-2014

(Edit: this used to be an interactive map. But Google killed the product. So here’s a screenshot.)

Batting Average by State

This map is made with Google Fusion Tables. The team batting average data comes from; the state shapes are a resource file within Fusion Tables. (This introduces the one unintentional inaccuracy in the map – I couldn’t quickly find a shape file including both U.S. states and Canadian provinces, so the Toronto Blue Jays are just left off the map.)

More importantly, its story is a mess. For starters, who would compare team batting average over 10 years? There are so many differences in lineups and managers (and probably even park effects) that it seems like a pointless comparison. (My baseball geek friends are welcomed to debate that point.)

“Batting average by state” is almost as meaningless as “Super Bowls by country” – maybe more so, because it suggests specificity. But if there’s a useful reason to compare the average batting average of the 5 teams in California with the 1 in Maryland, I’m at a loss to explain it. (And you can barely see the poor Nats in DC.)

The state statistics are actually an average of team batting averages in the state, but every team doesn’t have the same number of at bats, so that introduces a little inaccuracy. Not much, but it would show up out at the 4th digit.

And then there’s design. Google only labels the top and bottom of the legend, so we know the bounds, but not what the middle colors correspond to. I picked a green color for half the scale, on a map which is mostly green – very bad for readability, especially in the Satellite view. I also set green to correspond to the biggest declines, and red for the biggest increases, which I think is the opposite of American expectations.

But I did learn a little about Fusion Tables, and practiced normalizing data, so that was fun!

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.

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.

John, John! I can see your house from here!

I was intrigued by the “Draw Your Own Map of the Internet” project, and moreso when it became a Daily Create. But it was this tweet from John Scalzi which really led me to get out a piece of paper and make my own.

(Oh. There’s a template. And it’s landscape, but I worked in portrait orientation. Oh well.)

This is a riff on Saul Steinberg’s View of the World from 9th Avenue. View of the World from 9th AvenueThat’s why it’s in portrait orientation, and a weak attempt  at perspective. It’s a personal view of the Internet – not an attempt to reflect what I know about the whole web, but how I think of my place in it. It reflects how I spend my time; it also reflects priorities in the way I use the Internet. (And of course, it reflects the way I wish to portray those things.) It’s also, really, a map of the Web, not the Internet. Notice that there’s no App Store, that I think of “email” as “the web” and not a separate thing anymore, that there’s no Netflix or Amazon Prime (which I watch through my Roku and TV, rarely my laptop or phone), that I don’t even think about protocols other that HTTP anymore.

In reflection, I’m a little troubled by the fact that I think of email as my home. That’s where I start and end the day, where I’m most reachable but also most secluded. Facebook is the patio table in my yard where most of my socializing happens; Twitter is the birdfeeder on the tree where lots of things fly in and out. Google+ is that really cool swingset over in the corner which hardly gets any use. Notice the “access road” running at an angle from the main highway, which shows the way my friends lead me out to other points on the web – occasionally their web homes, more often through citation.

Groom, Levine, and Rheingold as the
Don’t blog like my bruddah!

It’s probably Click, Link, and Embed’s fault that I thought of my webspace on Reclaim Hosting as “the garage”. It’s the tinkering place, and the place from which I go places. It’s adjacent to my home, but it’s a detached garage… which may say something about how I think about being “reachable” and “building things”  – or it might only reflect the fact that my real garage is detached. OK, this metaphor is officially beat to death. Sometimes a garage is just a garage.

I dunno why my car is some kind of ’70s-’80s land yacht, except that it’s probably been that long since I last drew a car.

There’s no particular reason that work-y things ended up on the left, and general interests/recreation on the right. It’s not like this is a time diary – but these are the neighborhoods which explain how I think about my time on the Web.

Of course, everything leads to Google, and Google leads to everything. Maybe that’s Oz, and I should draw little feet under my house.

There’s some stuff missing – webcomics ought to be on there somewhere, as should LibraryThing. But it’s a reasonable draft, and a fun project to reflect on the way I engage with the web.

I’m smart, and I want respect

I’m already on Season Two of The Wire, but I’ll try not to include too many spoilers for my comrades in #wire106.

Ziggy Sabotka is a fascinating character – a runt, a screw-up, a dreamer. It was Episode Seven when the penny finally dropped how much James Ransone‘s  characterization reminds me of John Cazale‘s work as Fredo Corleone in The Godfather – little shifty guys trying to walk tall. They even bear a physical resemblance, perhaps made stronger by the fact that both characters dress with a colorful (yet unsuccessful) flash which stands out on camera.

Having found the two characters I wanted to compare in a Triple Troll Quote, I started thinking on a third. Now Terry Maloy is nothing like Ziggy or Fredo… but we got a little brother, we got the docks, we got organized crime, and we got one of the greatest monologues in film history…

And so we get my second triple troll quote:

On the Waterfront posterThis was a fun one to make. I knew I needed the shot to include Ziggy’s orange leather coat; fortunately Google returned a high-quality image. The red text seems to fit the image’s color scheme. I picked an italics serif font in an attempt to echo the poster for On the Waterfront; it’s not really successful at that but I think it does evoke some of the helplessness of the 3 characters, at least compared to the block font you get on most memes. (GIMP could give a better font browser – I couldn’t really tell if I had a script font available to me, and I wasn’t prepared to hunt for long.) I did like working with GIMP for positioning and resizing the text block; that was pretty easy.

Ultimately, it reminds me more of a dorm poster than an Internet meme graphic, but I’m happy with it.