Holiday spirit

San-Pedro_0456-webI’ve been building out the cards section of this store. Some are holiday cards, but most are all-occasion cards, the kind you can keep around for that last-minute birthday or spontaneous gift. Or just to say thank you when an email doesn’t quite cut it. Check them out from the ‘cards’ menu button above.

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TriHexal cards

SOUND (TriHexal 2)

TriHexal cards, 4.25 x 4.25 inches, 12 to a box plus white envelopes: $15

A box of all-occasion cards with an abstract image that is also a poem, created using the geometric TriHexal font. For more information on TriHexals, see this post.

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Study of breaking waves

breaking_wave_1744-webThis study of breaking waves is based on a photo I took on the Mendocino coast a couple years back.

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Fire in space cards

Fiery cross Fire in space cards, 4.25 x 4.25 inches, 12 to a box plus white envelopes: $15

A box of all-occasion cards featuring a fiery cross set against the expanse of deep space.

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Labyrinths cards

Labyrinths 2


Labyrinths cards, 4.25 x 4.25 inches, 12 to a box plus white envelopes: $15

A box of all-occasion cards celebrating labyrinths and an ultra-pixellated aesthetic.

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Cactus flower cards

pink cactus blossom

Cactus flower cards, 4.25 x 5.5 inches, 12 to a box plus white envelopes: $15

A box of all-occasion cards with a vibrant pink cactus flower.

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Freesia mix cards

Freesia mix

Freesia mix cards, 4.25 x 5.5 inches, 12 to a box plus white envelopes: $15

A box of all-occasion cards with golden freesia and pink, magenta, and red geraniums.

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Parrot’s beak abstraction cards


Parrot’s beak abstraction cards, 4.25 x 5.5 inches, 12 to a box plus white envelopes: $15

A box of all-occasion cards celebrating the parrot’s beak plant (Lotus berthelotii) in the abstract.

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White iris cards

white iris card

White iris cards, 4.25 x 5.5 inches, 12 to a box plus white envelopes: $15

A box of all-occasion cards celebrating the symmetry of a white iris flower.

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Water lilies cards

Water lilies

Water lily cards, 4.25 x 5.5 inches, 12 to a box plus white envelopes: $15

A box of all-occasion cards celebrating the floating shapes of water lilies.

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Snowflake cards

Snowflake card

Snowflake cards, 4.25 x 4.25 inches, 12 to a box plus white envelopes: $15

A box of winter holiday cards with a hand-drawn snowflake.

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San Pedro cactus cards


San Pedro cactus cards, 4.25 x 5.5 inches, 12 to a box plus white envelopes: $15

A box of all-occasion cards celebrating the San Pedro cactus (Echinopsis pachanoi).

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Angel’s Trumpet cards



Angel’s Trumpet cards, 4.25 x 5.5 inches, 12 to a box plus white envelopes: $15

A box of all-occasion cards celebrating the inner beauty of the Angel’s Trumpet flower (Bruggmansia species)

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Graffiti cards

Graffiti cards, 4.25 x 5.5 inches, 12 to a box plus white envelopes: $15

A box of all-occasion cards celebrating graffiti and found art from the walls of New York. There are 6 of each of the two images.

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torn-posters_2643-webI haven’t been writing here in awhile—due mainly to all my Wikipedia writing over the past year and a half—but I’ve decided to revamp the store aspect, which never got fully fleshed out. My goal is to put up at least one item a week until the end of the year.

Also posted in 2016

track changes

Here are three word clouds from three phases of the blog. I think they show compactly my changing interests over the last five years.

word cloud 1

generated August 2010


word cloud 2

generated July 2011


word cloud 3

generated August 2016

Also posted in 2016 Tagged |

AIDS Bottle Project

Braun-Munk-bottle-cropThe AIDS Bottle Project is a long-running project of the Institute of Cultural Inquiry in Los Angeles. Each bottle is etched with the name of someone in the arts who has died from complications of HIV/AIDS and contains the fragments of a broken light bulb. A brief biography is printed under the lid. During public displays of these bottles on International AIDS Day, they are left open so that anyone who wishes to can add objects of personal significance. At the end of the display period, the bottles are given away freely to members of the community. Through this participatory structure, the bottles underline the highly personal and ever-changing process of memorialization.

The bottle shown here, originally made in memory of the publisher Eugene Clarence Braun-Munk, has been in my keeping for some years now. I have added to it the military dog-tags of my maternal grandfather, Charles Hercules Boisssevain, from his service as a doctor in World War II. Born a Dutchman and naturalized a U.S. citizen in the 1920s, he served as an army doctor in Great Britain where, towards the end of the war, he was diagnosed with intestinal cancer from which he died not long afterwards. My uncle always maintained that his father was an indirect casualty of the war because he didn’t get proper care quickly enough as a result of wartime constraints. Keeping his tags in this bottle signifies for me the many ways that bad luck, history, genetics, and individual actions can intersect.

The pennies came later, when I found myself thinking one day about how, during my lifetime, people have begun to agitate ever more vocally for the abolition of the penny, and what this says about how we decide that something is valueless. So the pennies in the jar are a reminder of the ugliest side of the AIDS crisis: the indifference or outright hostility of those who feel that people with HIV are worthless.

The bottle no longer sits where it is shown in this photograph from a couple of years ago, but as always it is in a spot where I see it every day.


Also posted in 2014 Tagged , |

an open letter to the definite article

Dear The:

We’ve been friendly for a long time, through thick and thin: from little phrases like the one I’m writing now to showstoppers like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Lately, though, I’ve noticed that you’re getting kind of pretentious. I see you turning up all over the place with an initial capital in sentences like:

At The Ohio State University, The Beatles gave a great concert, reports The New York Times.

So what’s going on, pal? In the old days, we had a nice, simple agreement—and I’m quoting here from our mutual ally, The Chicago Manual of Style, 13th edition, section 7.57, fn 15—”The word the at the beginning of [institutional and corporate] titles is capitalized only when the official corporate name of the institution is called for,” as when the name follows the copyright symbol. Similarly (7.131), “when newpapers and periodicals are mentioned in the text, an initial The … is set in roman type and, unless it begins a sentence, is lowercased.” And a lot of other style guides agree: The only time that the ordinarily gets capitalized at the beginning of a name or a title is when an artwork or book is in question: The Old Curiosity Shop. There are a few odd exceptions like The Hague, and some artists would like us to make an exception for band names, too, but I don’t see any reason to treat bands differently from newspapers, corporations, or symphony orchestras. Ask yourself: do you really want to spend brain juice trying to remember—or waste time looking up—whether it’s The Cure and the Rolling Stones or the Cure and The Rolling Stones?

The general rule is easy to remember and easy to understand: Except at the beginning of a sentence or the title of an artwork, don’t capitalize the. When in doubt, don’t capitalize the. When you suspect that a capitalized The is part of a larger pattern of public relations hyperbole and relentless self-promotion, don’t capitalize the.

Basically: the definite article is informationally undistinguished, so treat it accordingly.

Please understand that I’m not hating on you, my old friend, but rather on those who are trying to twist you into something you were never intended to be, a major player in the information hierarchy. All you do when you inflate yourself is annoy the living daylights out of people like me. It’s not just that we mock the silly appearance of sentences like the example I gave above, it’s that we fear it portends a future that looks like this:

She Told Us That She Reads The New York Times and Wants to Get Everyone Else on Board.

Because if the gets promoted to The in all those uses, then the next thing you know, ordinary nouns, pronouns, and verbs are going to want a bump, too, and then adjectives and adverbs will demand their fair share, and then the longer prepositions will go out on strike, and before you know it we’ll find ourselves Back in the 17th Century When It Comes to Capitalization.

I mean, really, who opened the door on this?

I find myself wondering whether all this Theification is partly a defensive reaction against another style that has been gaining ground in recent years: sentence case, or the habit of capitalizing only the first word in a title. In this approach, for example, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly becomes The good, the bad, and the ugly. Now, in one way sentence case gives you an advantage, my friend, because The is a common titular first word, so you would often find yourself the sole word sporting a capital letter in any given title. On the other hand, as far as I can tell it’s not being applied to  names; I’m not seeing sentences beginning “Today the new york times reported…” I don’t love sentence case myself—though I do think it’s preferable to junking up titles with The this and The that—and at the moment it doesn’t look like it’s going to become the primary capitalization style for absolutely everything. Meanwhile, as possibly the last holdout for lower-casing the as a general principle—well, all I can say is that I’m contemplating taking a hint from Russia and boycotting the definite article. After all, if I don’t use it, I can’t be pressured to capitalize it.

Truly, I prefer meaning shift resulting from lost definite article to ridiculous spread of over-capitalization under thin facade of accuracy. Da!

Please don’t hold it against me if it turns out we just can’t see each other as much in future.

Demonstratively yours,

A theophile





Also posted in 2014 Tagged , |

out with the filler pix

For the last decade or so, has been one of my semi-regular news sources, largely because I am a fan of Dahlia Lithwick and Emily Bazelon’s excellent Supreme Court coverage. Awhile back the site went through a major redesign that aligned it with what a lot of other news-commentary sites are also doing: it shifted from being dominated by text links, blurbs, and small images to being a ‘big-blocks’ construct of interlocking large images with headlines. If you adhere to a standard modernist aesthetic—a minimal number of elements organized in rectangles along invisible gridlines—the visual aspect of the design is arguably an improvement. But from the point of view of information access and readability, it’s a step backwards. Worse, in its attempt at self-improvement it migrated towards what I consider the current scourge of the internet: the filler pic. Also known as a  ‘stock photograph’, a term I dislike because it has been so normalized that I believe we are insufficiently critical of the role such images play in news websites.

slate-4-27-14-loHere is an example of my issue with filler pix: In the screenshot at left—which is just the top half of the Slate home page for April 27, 2014— there are just six large photographic images visible. Of these, five are completely pointless in information terms, and two of them are duplicates of each other (the desert scene). Make the experiment yourself: replace any of these images with a black box, and you won’t be missing any information you didn’t already have. What Slate reader hasn’t already seen a million pictures of deserts, coffee cups, and Vladimir Putin, not to mention some version of the ubiquitous Chandos portrait that might be Shakespeare? The sole exception is the image accompanying the item on the Spider-Man movie: as a still from a movie then in the theaters, it is probably something many readers had not yet seen.

These photos, in other words, are serving mainly as designer filler. But though they don’t add anything informational to the story, they do tend to reify cultural stereotypes of various kinds, as other critics have observed, including writers at Slate itself. There are the obvious ones: ‘attractive’ women being posed in ways that are supposed to signify broadly about womanhood, or jobs, or family; or a national leader posing as authoritative and commanding. And there are the less obvious ones: the spread of highly styled food photos, for instance, which convey messages about what the food should look like that ‘we’ are supposed to be interested in. There is an overrepresentation of middle-class aspirational values: cleanliness, neatness, good design, unspoiled landscapes, tasteful art, well-furnished interiors. By the hundredth time you see a certain type of image, you stop noticing it consciously, but it continues as a kind of subliminal cultural advertising—what was long ago termed “the new heraldry“—reassuring you that nothing you think really needs to change, no matter what the text says.slate-3-4-09b

And then there are the structural problems these kinds of images create or exacerbate. For one thing, their sheer size banishes a great deal of actual information from the home screen. The comparison screenshot at right from 2009 shows the difference quite clearly. In the 2009 design, there are actually more photos (9 instead of 6, not counting the banner ad), but they are so much smaller that they take up substantially less screen real estate, leaving room for many more items: a complete top menu, two side menus, a central listing of stories, and a most-read/most-emailed section. And all of this is ‘above the fold’, meaning it is visible on a laptop screen without any scrolling. The difference in available choices is stark: 10 or so stories and a couple of links in 2014 versus 18 or so stories and a dozen general links in 2009. As someone who likes to visually skim a collection of stories before deciding what to read, the new Slate is maddeningly skimpy.

slate-hamburgerHere’s what I do when I go to the new Slate: I ignore the entire front page and immediately click on the tiny ‘hamburger’ dropdown menu at upper right, because that is now the only way in to the realm of text links that I value because they can be assessed at high speed. Yes, as far as I am concerned, the only item of importance on the entire Slate front page is an icon taking up—what?—a hundredth of the available screen real estate?

The mobile version of Slate is slightly better because it converts the tiled front page into a stacked list of stories, which is much faster and simpler to navigate. But here, too, I usually only glance at the top three stories before moving over to the hamburger menu for further navigation. slate-4-27-14eAnd the mobile version has its own problem related to filler pix: when you do click over to a story, there is usually a significant pause while the image at the head of the story loads. You can scroll down to pick up the text and start reading, but if you do, you will often get popped back to the top of the screen a time or two as the image loads and lose your place in the story as a result. Waiting for a pointless image to load is pretty much my definition of a complete waste of time.

Here’s a suggestion for all these over-image-laden sites (I’m looking at you, too, Atlantic and New Yorker): banish your stock photos. You could replace them with simple color rectangles. Heck, if you want to get fancy, make yourself a bunch of faux Albers squares. Free mockup at right. You’re welcome.

Or better yet take a long, hard look at

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more uncanny valleys

Posted a brief item about the uncanny valley as an extensible trope over at Difference Engines.

Also posted in 2014 Tagged , |

reverting to old theme

I’ve had to revert this site to an older version of the WPFolio theme I’m using because the newer version has some squirrely coding in it somewhere that is preventing me from adding a search box to the site. I use search boxes on every site I go to, including my own, so I just don’t feel the site can live without it. For this, I will give up the nicer type design and much larger images until (big if!) I can get this sorted out. So far, I haven’t had the time to hunt this problem down and slay it.

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two sharks


two sharks
ink drawing
Also posted in 2014 Tagged , |

World of World, softcover edition

WOW softcover

Recently I created a softcover edition of my World of World book. Check out this page for details and price.

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two masks

2 Masks

2 Masks
ink drawing
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