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“the mystic mouth / leaves me so defted”

sweet love, sweet love
love

my throat is gurgling
the mystic mouth
leaves me so defted
defted

my throat is gurgling
the mystic mouth
leaves me so defted

and the deep black nightingale
turned willowy

and the deep black nightingale
turned willowy

by love’s tossed treatment
berefted

The lyrics to John Cage’s “Four Walls: Act I, Scene VII”. I couldn’t find the lyrics many places online, so here they are.

Been listening to Symbol by Susumu Yokota a lot recently, finally took the time to look up a few of the songs he sampled. The voice in “music from the lake surface” is particularly haunting and weird, turns out it’s this piece.

“Four Walls” premiered in Steamboat Springs, CO in 1944, and this particular piece was originally sung by Julie Harris. The lyrics are a poem by Merce Cunningham.

I wonder which recording he sampled… It’s my favorite that I’ve heard so far, am not that in to many of others I’ve heard. Though I do think that the version from the 1989 album by Richard Bunger and Jay Clayton is pretty good (Apple Music, Spotify).


Related: I purchased John Cage: A Mycological Foray published by Atelier Editions a while back and it’s gorgeous. I really should send the postcards inside, but I’ll probably hang on to them. Need more pleasurable things to look at during the day-to-day right now.


Related to related: Listen to Mushroom Haiku, excerpt from Silence (1972/69) on UbuWeb. Browse the rest of Ubu’s John Cage artefacts.

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NOW v3

Another Now page update. Previous contents, for posterity:

After a tumultuous few months, we’ve landed in San Francisco 🌉. It is both wonderful and strange to have ended up in the exact place that I left when I moved to the UK 10 years ago. I’m more than a little melancholic—about the friends and family we’ve left, about the complicated state of the city, and more—but I’m also excited to reconnect with old faces and meet new people. As the virus 🦠 allows!

Work-wise 👩🏻‍💻 I’m currently: developing a bilingual website designed by John Morgan studio for a London-based gallery 🖼; developing a new website for Gort Scott Architects designed by Polimekanos; collaborating with Bec Worth on the WIP 🚧 open-source WordPress theme that powers this website; working with Sasha Engelmann and Sophie Dyer on an archive and online community for people that collect NOAA satellite 🛰 weather imagery; and consulting with a few orgs and individuals in North America and Europe.

The most recent sites I’ve developed are the new Open School East site ✏️ designed by Sam Baldwin and “Eternal Return” designed by Jules Estèves for artist Elizabeth Peyton. Read a little bit about “Eternal Return” in the New Yorker. Writeups on the build process for these sites coming soon, hopefully…

I’m still settling in to SF, but I’m very open to new projects and particularly teaching / talking opportunities. Get in touch if you’d like to learn or work together.

Limited free time is currently taken up by: navigating what it means to be an adult in the US; working harder on how I confront obvious and not-so-obvious racism in myself and others; finding a used car 🚗; walking and foraging 🍄; catching up with distant friends on FaceTime or Whereby; figuring out how to make friends in a new place during a pandemic 🤷🏻‍♀️; contributing to the Feminist Open Source Investigations Group; cooking, baking, making drinks; remotely contributing to the choral collective Musarc 🎵; and finding a new choir in the Bay Area.

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More books for the never ending list

More books for the never ending list.

  • What Tech Calls Thinking, Adrian Daub, 2020 (read introduction)
  • The Broken Branch: How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track, Thomas E. Mann & Norman J. Ornstein, 2006 (read excerpt)
  • The City We Became, N.K. Jemisin, 2020 (read excerpt)

And a few excerpts / quotes from current reading that I’m finding extremely useful and relevant.

The cover of the book “The Modern Temper” by Joseph Wood Krutch, designed by Paul Rand with four zig-zag shapes in beige, white, black, and blue

If the gloomy vision of a dehumanized world which has just been evoked is not to become a reality, some complete readjustment must be made, and at least two generations have found themselves unequal to the task. The generation of Thomas Henry Huxley, so busy with destruction as never adequately to realize how much it was destroying, fought with such zeal against frightened conservatives that it never took time to do more than assert with some vehemence that all would be well, and the generation that followed either danced amid the ruins or sought by various compromises to save the remains of a few tottering structures. But neither patches nor evasions will serve. It is not a changed world but a new one in which man must henceforth live if he lives at all, for all his premises have been destroyed and he must proceed to new conclusions. The values which he thought established have been swept away along with the rules by which he thought they might be attained.

To this fact many are not yet awake, but our novels, our poems, and our pictures are enough to reveal that a generation aware of its predicament is at hand. It has awakened to the fact that both the ends which its fathers proposed to themselves and the emotions from which they drew their strength seem irrelevant and remote. With a smile, sad or mocking, according to individual temperament, it regards those works of the past in which were summed up the values of life. The romantic ideal of a world well lost for love and the classic ideal of austere dignity seem equally ridiculous, equally meaningless when referred, not to the temper of the past, but to the temper of the present. The passions which swept through the once major poets no longer awaken any profound response, and only in the bleak, tortuous complexities of a T. S. Eliot does it find its moods given adequate expression. Here disgust speaks with a robust voice and denunciation is confident, but ecstasy, flickering and uncertain, leaps fitfully up only to sink back among the cinders. And if the poet, with his gift of keen perceptions and his power of organization, can achieve only the most momentary and unstable adjustments, what hope an there be for those whose spirit is a less powerful instrument?

And yet it is with such as he, baffled, but content with nothing which plays only upon the surface, that the hope for a still humanized future must rest. No one can tell how many of the old values must go or how new the new will be. Thus, while under the influence of the old mythology the sexual instinct was transformed into romantic love and tribal solidarity into the religion of patriotism, there is nothing in the modern consciousness capable of effecting these transmutations. Neither the one nor the other is capable of being, as it once was, the raison d’être of a life or the motif of a poem which is not, strictly speaking, derivative and anachronistic. Each is fading, each becoming as much a shadow as devotion to the cult of purification through self-torture. Either the instincts upon which they are founded will achieve new transformations or they will remain merely instincts, regarded as having no particular emotional significance in a spiritual world which, if it exists at all, will be as different from the spiritual world of, let us say, Robert Browning as that world is different from the world of Cato the Censor.

As for this present unhappy time, haunted by ghosts from a dead world and not yet at home in its own, its predicament is not, to return to the comparison with which we began, unlike the predicament of the adolescent who has not yet learned to orient himself without reference to the mythology amid which his childhood was passed. He still seeks in the world of his experience for the values which he had found there, and he is aware only of a vast disharmony. But boys—most of them, at least—grow up, and the world of adult consciousness has always held a relation to myth intimate enough to make readjustment possible. The finest spirits have bridged the gulf, have carried over with them something of a child’s faith, and only the coarsest have grown into something which was no more than finished animality. Today the gulf is broader, the adjustment more difficult, than ever it was before, and even the possibility of an actual human maturity is problematic. There impends for the human spirit either extinction or a readjustment more stupendous than any made before.

The final pages of the first chapter, “The Genesis of a Mood”, from The Modern Temper by Joseph Wood Krutch, first published in 1929

I picked up a copy of this and a few other great secondhand books from the Alley Cat Bookshop in the Mission.

I understand that The Modern Temper has a pretty pessimistic outlook overall which might make it tough to finish, particularly in the current circumstances… But I’d like to finish it. Even though it was published almost a century ago, the feelings and psychological maladies that Krutch describes are more relevant than ever. The painful, unending cynicism. That unchecked growth and progress have incalculable ramifications on human consciousness, that we must be more wary of the consequences.

I’d like to follow it up with his book The Measure of Man from 1954 where he supposedly considers the modern world more optimistically, and possibly with the nature books he wrote later in life while living in Arizona.

What follows is a Duchampian door, at once open and closed, logical and whimsical, focused and drifty, academic and anecdotal. Part explanation, part justification, part reification, and part provocation, it’s a memoir of sorts, an attempt to answer a question I often ask myself regarding UbuWeb: “What have I done here?” Is it a serendipitous collection of artists and works I personally happen to be interested in, or its it a resource for the avant-garde, making available obscure works to anyone in the world with access to the web? Is it an outlaw activity, or has it over time evolved into a textbook example of how fair use can ideally work? Will the weightlessness and freedom of never touching money or asking permission continue indefinitely, or at some point will the proverbial other shoe drop, when finances become a concern? The answer to these questions is both “yes” and “no”. It’s the sense of not knowing—the imbalance—that keeps this project alive for me. Once a project veers too strongly toward either one thing or the other, a deadness and predictability sets in, and it ceases to be dynamic.

From the introduction to Duchamp Is My Lawyer: The Polemics, Pragmatics, and Poetics of UbuWeb by Kenneth Goldsmith, published this year

But there is so much more that I’ve underlined and noted in this book. Very worth reading, particularly for anyone dealing with creative copyright and / or the web these days. Get it from Columbia University Press.

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Current listening: “Playing Piano for Dad”

Currently listening to the album “Playing Piano for Dad” by h hunt (2016). Thanks to BL for the rec, by way of SB. It’s all about the piano, but I also like the occasional background talking, bits of humming, snaps, throat clearing, restarts, sighs, hearing the pedals. It’s an antidote to the franticness of the news cycle this October.

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Now online: Open-weather

Screenshot of the Open-weather website showing a storm over Japan

open-weather.community

The Open-weather website is online. A bit about Open-weather:

Open-weather is a project by Sophie Dyer and Sasha Engelmann probing the noisy relationships between bodies, atmospheres and weather systems through experiments in amateur radio, open data and feminist tactics of sensing and séance.

The site is pretty straightforward, a static hub for a bunch of resources hosted in various places including their PublicLab wiki and archive of amateur radio-generated weather data. The homepage is currently a large scrollable nowcast produced in collaboration by people across the globe. We decided to embed the Google Sheet archive directly in the site for now, though that may change in the future. We may do the same for pages such as methodology, to come later on. We’ll see!

The site is hosted on Netlify and the code is in a GitLab repo. Pls excuse sub-par commit messages and the very minimal README.

Sasha and Sophie are giving a talk at 14:30 UTC-4 Toronto as part of Our Networks distributed festival. Definitely worth grabbing a ticket, it’s super well priced considering how much Our Networks is putting on and absolutely worth supporting that org.

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Removing whitespace from around an SVG in Inkscape

For future reference, this is how to remove whitespace from around an SVG in Inkscape according to the version I’m running right now (1.0beta2):

Open up the SVG in Inkscape, then select all elements in the SVG (cmd+A). Click File in the top toolbar menu, then Document Properties. The dialogue box should open to the Page settings. Under “Orientation”, click the drop-down arrow “Resize page to content”, then click the button “Resize page to drawing or selection”.


I used to use Adobe Creative Cloud for loads of stuff but got rid of it a few months ago. It’s just so crazy expensive, and I never need it for client work anymore. Almost all of the designers I work with hand over Figma, Sketch, or Adobe XD prototypes nowadays, and I’m happy using Affinity for personal stuff (Photo for image editing, Publisher for a never-ending cookbook project, etc.).

BUT. I do sometimes have to manipulate SVG icon exports that have excess white space. Previously I used Adobe Illustrator to sort that out, now I use Inkscape. I use it so rarely though that I have no muscle memory, I always forget how to crop to the edges of an SVG to get rid of that whitespace. Now I won’t forget, fingers crossed.

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Good Mediterranean recipe combo

I’m trying to do a tiny bit more meal prep on the weekend so that I don’t default to something beige or unhealthy. Last weekend I came across a great recipe combo, things that are pretty easy to manage all at once on a Sunday afternoon.

* The baba ganoush recipe is fabulous, but I’d recommend either cutting back on the garlic or mincing the garlic directly in to the lemon juice and letting those chill together for at least 10 minutes so that the garlic flavor mellows out a little.

Some tahini is trash, and that makes a huge difference in the resulting hummus or baba ganoush. Good tahini should taste nutty and silky, ideally not overly bitter, and never sour or pungent. It’s not a great sign if it is separated, that probably means that it’s been sitting out for a while. Tahini goes rancid pretty quickly, so the fresher the better and keep it in the fridge.

The best tahini I’ve ever had was Al Nakhil brand (Lebanese, comes in a beige jar with green writing and a green lid) from The People’s Supermarket in London. I don’t think I’ll find that in SF so have been trying whatever I can find. The Whole Foods 365 jar I got recently was ok so I’ll rely on that in a pinch. The jar of Tarazi I had before that was great, but very pricey from the grocery nearest to me. I’ll probably try to do a big shop at Samirami’s on Mission and 26th since I hear they’ve got great tahini and it looks like they do a lot of bulk spices and dry ingredients.

The above dishes combined with diced cucumber, diced ripe tomato, and a little bit of hot sauce is just lovely, great for multiple meals during the week. With falafel it’s even better. We used Ziyad box falafel mix and it was pretty great, but I’d love to try one of the Serious Eats falafel recipes some time. They’ve got a good food lab post on falafel. The Hilda’s Kitchen falafel recipe also looks really good.

If I didn’t have a wildly out of hand mint plant, I’d probably make the Serious Eats Israeli-style tahini sauce.

Edit 2 September 2020: Added notes about baba ganoush recipe and tahini.

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Slideshow butterfly

I’m so tired of anxiety dreams.

I only remember the end of the one last night.

I was walking down to a cove and spotted a little brown butterfly with a faint checkerboard pattern. It started basking, opening and closing in the sun, revealing that its wings were semi-translucent. They were slidesheets, each square held an image of an acquaintance that I wish I had gotten to know better. People I forgot I knew.

My field of vision zoomed in to each one Powers of Ten-style. When I was fully “in” the image it turned in to something like a home movie. I couldn’t influence anything going on and they didn’t know I was there. Usually the people in the image were older than when I had met them. (How could I possibly know what they actually look like now?) Identical twin boys I knew as a kid in southern California, a friend of a friend from Glasgow.

It was incredibly sad.

Green hairstreak butterfly on the moors in West Yorkshire

A Green Hairstreak butterfly on the moors in West Yorkshire in spring 2020. I need to get a better camera.

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Applied to be poll worker

Just applied to be a poll worker in the upcoming US election. It involves setting up your assigned polling place, opening for voters by 7am on voting day, checking in voters using precinct rosters and issuing ballots, closing the polls, and transferring custody of voting materials. The day usually lasts from 6am to 10pm and involves training in advance.

I figured they may have fewer poll workers than normal with the pandemic. My schedule is plenty flexible and I’m not considered at high risk for COVID, so I ought to help out. If you’re interested in assisting in your city, search “become a poll worker in <your city>” online to find the relevant information.


Update 19 August 2020: It took took a bit longer than I’d expected for me to be contacted after submitting my application. I received a followup email today, a little over two weeks after submission. Just mentioning here in case anyone has done the same and is a little confused about when they’re supposed to hear back.