Book: Judy Chicago: New Views by the National Museum of Women in the Arts

This is a gorgeous cover, with the intrusive colored smoke encroaching on the title text. Just fantastic!

Judy Chicago: New Views
by the National Museum of Women in the Arts (U.S.)
published by Scala Arts Publishers, Inc., New York

Judy Chicago’s works, especially her drawings and paintings, always appeal to me. She has a sense shading and gradation that is consistent across her materials, and her drawing compositions are just stunning. She is an artist I have always believed should be more famous, and the folks at the National Museum of Women in the Arts agree! They’ve created and published this excellent book.

There is a lot to appreciate about this volume. It includes works that are held privately, and so you are unlikely to have seen them; it includes details of works you may not have appreciated from a polite viewing distance in a museum, especially for her textile works; and the essays and interview are of exceptionally high quality – and are somehow at just the right length to leave you stimulated and wanting more.

I am personally thrilled to see images of her smoke and firework pieces, which had escaped me previously, but which I should see in larger form at the upcoming Judy Chicago retrospective at the San Francisco deYoung Museum, which opens later this month (August 2021).

I appreciate so much about her body of work. I especially appreciate: the consistency of her compositions across materials (from Prismacolor pencil to sprayed paints on different bases); her elegant use of ranges of color; her direct embrace of female imagery and feminist ideas; her compassion for the suffering of others (including animals), which she renders so skillfully across different media; her in depth, multi-year studies of materials (she enrolled in auto body shop classes, boatbuilding classes, and china painting classes) so she could execute her work at a high technical level; and her utilization and embrace of skilled collaborators to help her achieve some of her monumentally sized works.

While her work evolved in clear directions, I was surprised to be so delighted by some of her early paintings on car hoods, which I wouldn’t recognize has hers (based on later work), but which is charming and bold. The shapes she uses are nearly iconic.

This is an excellent book of very high quality by every measure, with a great selection of Chicago’s work, beautifully reproduced, presented in a well-organized fashion alongside thoughtful writing about her direction and commitment to her themes. I’m so glad I bought it, and feel more prepared to enjoy her forthcoming show!

Book: Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil

Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy
by Cathy O’Neil
published by Broadway Books (Penguin Random House), New York
2016 (afterward from 2017)

I’ve finally read this clear and well-organized book about the design of data-centric automation tools, and how their potential has been often squandered or misused. We can do so much better!

O’Neil is a math Ph.D. and professor who went into industry and was distressed at how proprietary algorithms are being used in potentially harmful real life situations without thoughtful oversight. The fact that technology is involved at all leads to something like blind faith from the businesses and organizations that apply it. She firmly believes algorithms CAN be used for good, but won’t under current approaches. You can’t have good outcomes if the goal is to make a quick buck, keep the approach secret, and never improve it! These tools are too often used in ways which only reinforce existing inequities.

Her examples are thoughtful and described in depth.

A major flaw in data automation is the use of proxy data, and I was glad to see this called out. How do you measure if someone is a good teacher, if they would be a good employee, if they should receive a good deal on your product, or if they are a risk to the community? Without a single, obvious thing to measure, people make stuff up that is easier to quantify, and then encode their wacky idea into an “objective” measurement that doesn’t really measure the subject at all. The wacky measurement is then obscured as proprietary secrets, and sold as as a product to businesses, who want answers cheaply more than they want accuracy. The less regulated the industry, the wackier some of the data and measurements become.

For example, good teaching is hard to measure, so instead the system may measure a change in test scores… but if the students were already getting all As, there is no improvement possible, so the teacher may be marked down, and not know why. Unscientific personality tests may be used to screen potential employees, or robots may just scan applicant resumes for keywords, without any real indication that those tools result in better employees.

Many of these approaches are NOT ready for real world use, but are used just the same. O’Neil cites the Michigan automated unemployment auditing system that falsely accused thousands of unemployment fraud, which destroyed livelihoods (and marriages), as a great example. That error is still playing out, and will play out in the courts for a long time, per this Detroit Free Press article: Judge: Companies can be sued over Michigan unemployment fraud fiasco by Paul Egan & Adrienne Roberts (March 26, 2021). To quote from the article, “The state has acknowledged that at least 20,000 Michigan residents — and possibly as many as 40,000 — were wrongly accused of fraud between 2013 and 2015 by a $47-million computer system, purchased from FAST, that the state operated without human supervision and with an error rate as high as 93%.” Officials blindly launched this system without human checks, because yaaay, technology?

As someone who keeps being asked by one credit agency about cars I’ve never owned and pet insurance I’ve never purchased, I know that we’ve already automated some data projects badly. O’Neil cites other professional data scientists who have proposed sensible industry standards, and she has additional, more specific suggestions on top of this.

I can hope that the popularity of this book, which was a NYT Bestseller, can push decision makers into making better, more ethical, more fair decisions as a result of her ideas.

Life: An Unstructured Day

Yesterday was my first weekday with no appointments or work in AGES.


I completed some chores in the morning, which gave me a sense of accomplishment, and then fled the fog belt to test some film in sunlight. I wandered! I had lunch at a restaurant! I had a beer! (How long has it been?) I enjoyed an iced matcha drink while sitting in the shade! I RODE A CABLE CAR! (Yes, they are back now, after a very long hiatus.) I took more than 17,000 steps!

Unstructured time without appointments or commitments can be so beautiful.

I have countless obligations, chores, and tasks to complete, but taking a day to enjoy myself was a great thing to do. I’m lucky to have chosen to do this, lucky to live here in the Bay Area (and SF in particular), and so very lucky to be in good enough health to freely wander on foot around San Francisco in my purposeful “spare” time.

Climate Emergency Life: Smoke Forecasts

In easier times, we look at the weather forecasts before going out. With the climate crisis making itself more apparent, now now also check smoke forecasts! Our environmental agencies have modeling just for this, and it is smartphone-friendly.

I regularly use or to know if I need to wear a particulate filtering mask. These services are provided by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Park Service (NPS), NASA, Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and host of local agencies.

In recent days, the smoke coverage in satellite photos has been alarming, and sunlight has had a strangely yellow tinge to it. That’s is caused by high level smoke, but we also need to know if the smoke is close to the ground, because then we have to take precautions for our breathing and overall health. Waiting to smell it isn’t enough – it may come and go, and catch us unprepared.

The National Weather Service delivers on this surface smoke forecasting need!

I recommend following your local National Weather Service office on Twitter. Mine is NWS Bay Area, and they do a fantastic job!

Food: Wheat nostalgia (2): steamed buns

STEAMED BUNS. I miss them. I crave them.

I haven’t had the little ones in many years, but the thought of them earlier today has me daydreaming about them. I spent too much time searching on the internet for a place that makes a gluten free version, and came up short.

The ones I like best are filled with stewed spinach or mustard greens (or both!). Yes, there are some good mushroom buns, but the ones with greens have such a fresh edge to them. There are larger ones sold in restaurants, but they are often strangely bland, and have too much dough relative to the filling (for structural reasons?).

I like them with a side sauce of Vietnam-style chili garlic paste mixed with soy sauce and just a little rice vinegar. Spicy, salty, and sour. A little sauce goes far on the absorbent buns.

I last ate them regularly more than a decade ago. I found a brand from China that was available frozen in a favorite local Chinese specialty market. (It was also my source for fresh lychees!) They were a great food to bring to pot lucks, as a few minutes in the microwave and a jar of home-mixed sauce would always get rave reviews. They were a great snack, too, and there were three vegan flavors I could get. (The vegan part is why I rarely got them in restaurants – most don’t bother with veggie versions.)

The internet is suggesting that I’ll need to make them from scratch if I want them, and that I’ll need many ingredients I don’t usually have on hand to do it (rice flour, tapioca flour, yeast, agave sugar(?)…), but the great thing about them was that someone else made them, and made many of them!

I miss you, spinach-stuffed steamed buns!

Internet: Updates to my phone photo blog

When Google+ shut down, I migrated my posts over to my smartphone photo weblog (a Blogger blogspot site) with some fan-made software, and it seemed to go well enough… but it really didn’t. A hundred or more posts were just error symbols, and they’ve been that way since 2019, to my enduring (but mild) shame.

I’ve finally purged all the broken posts. I can hold my head up a little higher now.

It’s “just” phone photos and migrated link-based posts from Plus account, but I want it to be clean. It has more than 3,500 posts (even after all the deletions from the 2011 – 2019 plus posts that were merged in), and I’ve been working on it since 2008, so tidying up seemed like a small investment of time relative to what I’ve already put in!

(While reviewing the older posts, I learned that I’ve been taking photos of our antique streetcar collection for even longer than I remember. 🙂 I am so… Consistent. Predictable. Both.)

Life: A Year of Cheerful Hair

During the pandemic, I decided to change a few things about how I was living, and one of them was my hair color. I had previously spent late 2019 and early 2020 trying to go a respectable shade of gunmetal gray, a color that looks very modern in architectural settings, and which would match nearly all of my black and gray clothes. But, for whatever reason, the gray never really stuck. The dyes were permanent and were being professionally applied by a real colorist, yet it always faded back to an ambiguous, ashy near-blonde that didn’t quite have its own name.

In March 2020, the pandemic ended professional salon hair color visits, and I was left to my own, not-fully-respectable devices. I noodled around a bit with gray, purple, and rose tints, some of which lasted a day, some of which stuck but didn’t stay true. I watched my roots grow out (and out, and out). I had to see my roots often, because I spent five hours daily on video calls for work, and I did not like what I saw. So, I decided to change direction. In August of 2020, I went pink, a color I had never seriously considered in the past. Pink hair. On ME, a middle-aged woman who showed visible signs of being cooped up indoors for too long. It seemed… unlikely to succeed.

September 2020 reflection in pink, with matching shirt and giant, noise-reducing headphones

And yet.

Pink hair inspired people to respond differently to me on video calls. They smiled more. They were more outgoing to me than they had been previously. When my employer was acquired, I met many people at the new parent company by video meeting, and it was fun to watch their faces change when my camera turned on. Yes, I was still a legal department representative, yes, we were going to discuss serious business, but their faces visibly brightened. The mood softened. They were professional, always, but also warmer than people usually are with legal department folks.

During the long, dark dread of the 2020 pandemic, that felt REALLY NICE.

2021 arrived, and as my hometown’s vaccination campaign succeeded and infection levels dropped, I left the house and learned that this cheerfulness toward me also happens in real life. Women say nice things to me every day I go out now. We don’t even need to be talking: I was smiling at a woman walking past with her dog, and she just said, “Yaaay, pink hair!” unexpectedly. I am awash in cheer and compliments, and it surprises me every time. It’s like I’m carrying a kitten on my head, or am dressed as a huggable mascot.

I’d already picked out my next color, but it won’t be as…soft, so perhaps I will stick with my friendly pastel pink (PINK! A color I didn’t own any clothes in until recently, and would not have been caught dead in during my youth!) for a while longer, so it can continue to soften my way as I readjust to the world.

Book: Yarn, Thread, String: Making, Manufacturing and Creating by Janine Vangool

This is one of FOUR covers that come printed on the poster-like dust-jacket

Book: Yarn, Thread, String: Making, Manufacturing and Creating
by Janine Vangool
published by Uppercase Publishing, Inc., Alberta, Canada

Janine Vangool publishes Uppercase Magazine and an increasingly long list of books that have specific art, craft, and design themes. Vangool’s books in her ‘Encyclopedia of Inspiration’ series are collections of profiles + portfolios showing recent work on a given theme. These types of surveys of a creative space are a huge effort to solicit, judge, layout, edit, and proofread! This gorgeous, hefty volume provides nearly 500 pages of full-color, beautifully printed, elegantly designed profiles of artists, designers, manufacturers, and suppliers working with fibers and fiber-like materials.

Vangool and her team included an impressive range of profiles, from flax farmers to wool processors, knitters to fine art portrait embroiders and macrame artists; from people who make natural dyes to those who machine knit; from people shredding used plastic bags to responsibly reuse them for a more durable purpose, to people shredding paper to turn into delicate, nearly lacy fabrics.

I appreciate the effort that went into this compilation and survey, and especially the impressive resulting range of work. Many of us only have a chance to see fiber arts if we happen to be in a region where they are being shown, or have a chance to watch fabrics being made at a textile museum. (I went to an experimental public elementary school, which means I’ve carded and spun wool, but that is a rare experience in a city!) This is a great way to showcase excellent work to a broader audience than most of these creators could otherwise reach, and to give more people a chance to see some great materials and works.

Vangool not only does a great job with the book, but also creates an embedded video for each of her publications on the Uppercase website, so you can view a video of the entire publication before you buy. That takes confidence! You can click on this Vimeo link, or on the book title just below the cover above ,to preview this book.

Summary: this is a high quality publication of some fantastic fiber art manufacturers, suppliers, designers, and fine artists. I recommend it highly if you enjoy well-designed books, textile arts, skeins of freshly dyed yarn (artfully arranged), or understanding how threads and fabrics are made.